Does the "Flow" Distorted Time Criterion Work in Large Time Chunks, Too?

I’m a big fan of “Flow” — the “mental state of operation in which the person is fully immersed in what he or she is doing, characterized by a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity.”

One of the main ways to identify whether you’re in a flow state is if time flies. If you start on a task at 2 PM, and suddenly you look at the clock and it’s 5:30 PM already and it felt like just a minute.

I was talking the other day to a workaholic. She said, “The past five years have just flown right by.”

It got me thinking. Does the distorted time criterion indicate a flow state for large chunks of time — five years — as much as for short periods of time? I’m not so sure. Although we all process and remember time differently, my sense is people who have rich memories and specific guideposts when asked to consider the last five years probably were more immersed in life than those for whom the time “just flew by”.

5 comments on “Does the "Flow" Distorted Time Criterion Work in Large Time Chunks, Too?
  • When you talk to older people they comment on how time seems to be faster when they get older. Although this could possibly be due to having each year represent a smaller percentage of their total experience, I think it might be due to the fact that their lives are simply more routine.

    Memories don’t seem to be indicative of time, but of the intensity and newness of each experience. Routine activities are blurred over and new or emotionally involved experiences stick.

    Great post, Ben.

  • I believe that flow works in the opposite way when it comes to big time chunks–the more flow you experience, the more you accomplish, the more time seems to have passed when you look back.

    Saying, “The past five years have flown by,” probably indicates a lack of flow.

  • Insightful point. I can’t even imagine 5 years simply “flying by.” 5 years ago, I was 13 and I knew nothing. Now I’m 18 and at least I know that I know nothing.

    Then again, maybe by saying that the past 5 years had flown by, she was implying that so much had happened in that time that she could not even begin to explain it all. It is better to not be able to explain the last five years in a paragraph than to be able to, right?

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