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New Zealand Centre for Gifted Education's Blog

What's the Story? 

Making the world a better place for gifted kids, one yarn at a time.


On Lock-down or Let Loose?

Getting in ‘the zone’ for optimal performance



In the Zone and Feeling the Flow?

Do you ever experience those days when ideas simply flow from fingers to file (or pen to paper), while other days, ideas skittle round and round your brain but you just can’t catch them and feel the sudden need for a USB port to plug into your brain to export the data...and then a means to easily convert it from a .mov file to a .doc file (movie file to document)? Yeah, I totally get that, and yet other days...it is like my brain is a blank slate where I am doing little more than living in the moment and the mere thought of creativity makes me very suddenly acutely aware of the brain fog murkying the way where even the brightest of lighthouses would fail to illuminate a pathway to creative expression. Sigh. You know what I mean right? You've experienced it too?  Those moments when you know you have something you need to achieve or you have an idea you want to craft into reality, but it just won't come together and the whole process seems stilted and difficult. Those moments when you know oh so well that if the stars aligned it would all just come together 'piece of cake' style.


So what makes the difference between times of flow, daydreaming, planning, execution of ideas, and situations when progress is seemingly on lock-down. I don't know...could it be a lack of inspiration, lack of energy, perhaps a lack of 'enough' pressure, maybe perfectionism and risk aversion, or the need to be able to share ideas and enthusiasm, distractions...? Perhaps all of these in different amounts...? It intrigues me...and frustrates me, as it does many of our students. Wouldn't it be great to be able to switch gear and just be in that mode, to do and create as you wanted?! Now imagine being able to teach our kids how to access and hold on to this elusive flow, this ability to get into 'the zone'...

Sheldon: According to a classic psychological experiment by Yerkes and Dodson, in order to maximize performance, one must create a state of productive anxiety...

Amy: Look, your anxiety levels are right in the zone.

Sheldon: Really? Oh, that’s fantastic. No, wait, they’re dropping. Why are they dropping?

Amy: Because you’re happy they’re elevated.

Sheldon: Oh, that is infuriating. Ooh, look, they went back up again. Terrific. Oh, no, they went back down.

(The Big Bang Theory, Series 8, episode 13: The Anxiety Optimisation)


Flow Diagram by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi 


What is flow?

According to AJ Juliani and John Spencer, a  state of flow is the most efficient way to learn, make and create and also increases well-being. Why wouldn't we want this? But hang on, what is flow exactly? What does it look like and how can we support our gifted learners to obtain this optimal experience of learning, doing and creating?


  • Intense concentration on the moment; focused in the moment, on the moment
  • A fusion of action and awareness; when skills are such that you don't focus on the process
  • Greater sense of agency; belief in own control
  • Increased levels of intrinsic motivation
  • Distorted sense of time
  • Balance of perceived skill and challenge of task
  • A constant sense of progress


Flow is driven by both a deep sense of intrinsic motivation and the close matching of skills with challenge - at least the perception of skills matching with the perception of challenge. It is highly relevant for gifted learners, and in particular when working to engage those 'selective consumers'; underachievers opting out of learning. But perhaps a better selling point, is that it is relevant for all learners. If you want to deepen your understanding of what flow is, check out this page.



How to help increase flow

At home, this state of flow might come through extra curricular activities such as sport (whether dance, karate, rugby or...) or from simply having down time where there is the opportunity to do what kids love doing...and for a good chunk of time without interruption. This might be role playing outside, creating with Lego, reading, drawing, writing stories...the list goes on. Whatever your child is into.

In the classroom it can be harder to achieve this given the constraints within the system and within the classroom contexts, but here are some great suggestions from AJ and John for increasing the likelihood of learners getting into a state of flow.

  • Setting up class activities more like extra-curricula activities where much higher rates of flow are naturally occurring
  • Helping students to be aware of what they are learning and understand why they are learning it
  • Promoting inquiry and opportunities for choice and working with student's own definition of success
  • Opportunities for independent and/or group work
  • Focus on skill not just content, to ensure to engage critical and creative thinking
  • The need for success, and endurance in that success, to be able to obtain flow
  • Permission to fail repeatedly
  • The balance of encouraging struggle and scaffolding (Remember from the video above that struggle is the beginning point for flow and that the adrenaline is the cue of being on path toward a state of flow).
  • The option always being made available for learners to continue with work on an activity, unquestioned, while others move on to other activities
  • Ongoing feedback (from teacher, peer, matrix...) that shows incremental progress

Gosh, don't those align so well with some of the key approaches which emerge through gifted education!?!  


In discussing motivation of gifted learners and helping them make the move from apathy to flow, Ian Byrd recommends the following:


Many of the strategies mentioned here are employed in MindPlus classrooms across the country. The NZCGE curriculum, and daily classroom rhythms and expectations, are well designed to accommodate these approaches, enabling learners to become totally absorbed in their learning allowing them to experience flow, and maximising their learning. If you would like to visit a MindPlus classroom to see these strategies in action, contact the New Zealand Centre for Gifted Education.


So...how do you promote flow for your kids? What have your kids got to say about what works to help them to achieve flow? We would love to hear your stories.



'What's the Story?' is a new blog section which is being written for the New Zealand Centre for Gifted Education, with posts being added regularly. The purpose of this space is to share musings and anecdotes relating to giftedness and gifted education to provide a form of information and support for those living with and/or teaching gifted learners. Please do share them along.


We would love to hear from you.  Grab a virtual cuppa and share your story in the comments.

What's the Story? Making the world a better place for gifted kids, one yarn at a time.


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Please note that the views expressed in these blogs are those of the author and not necessarily representative of the views of the New Zealand Centre for Gifted Education.


Lock Down or Let Loose

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