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The State of Flow

For years my favorite TV show has been Jeopardy!. I’ve watched it religiously since I was about 12 years old. I remember bursting with pride and accomplishment when I could finally “beat” my dad at an episode. Although, to this day, Dad refuses to admit defeat. His favorite line is “Of course I knew that one. It was too obvious to say out loud.” Nice try.

Anyone who watches Jeopardy! knows about Ken Jennings. In 2004, he won 74 consecutive games, often more than doubling the score of his closest opponent. What amazes me about Ken is how effortless he makes this incredibly difficult game look. He is so nimble with the buzzer that you almost never see him ring in. He responds to clues with a cool, quick confidence and never appears frazzled. When Ken Jennings plays Jeopardy!, he is in a constant state of flow.


The state of flow is a mental state in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. We achieve this state when we tackle with a high level of skill an activity that presents a high level of challenge.  I used to achieve flow when practicing free throws. Ken Jennings achieves it when he competes on Jeopardy!. Today I saw our kids achieve it as they performed with their teammates in the Raleigh summer camp band.

There is nothing more fulfilling for a child than the feeling of entering a state of flow. Psychologists tell us that it is the mental state of true intrinsic motivation and genuine happiness. I contend that nothing leads more consistently to this state than performing music in an ensemble. I snapped a few pictures as I watched rehearsal today; notice the incredible focus on the faces of Adrian, Felix, and Giovanni. They’re not strained, they’re not anxious, they are fully present and alive with the challenge of the task and the knowledge that they have the skills to achieve it. Let anyone who is unsure of the value of music education watch these kids achieve a state of flow and any doubt will be wiped away. It was a joy to behold.


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