Health Practitioners “In the Zone”

By Bonnie Hutchinson

If you’re a cyclist or a runner, you’ve probably experienced the state of “flow” or being “in the zone.”

You’ve pushed past some limits. You reach a state where your breath, your muscles, every part of your body and mind are in absolute synch. Time disappears. You’re totally in the moment. Nothing else exists. You may be tired but you hardly notice.

If you enjoy any sort of creative activity – painting, carpentry, writing or playing a musical instrument – you’ve probably had similar experiences. You are totally immersed. Time disappears. It feels like inspiration is simply flowing through your body into your medium.

Actually, you can experience “flow” or “being in the zone” while doing almost any activity you enjoy and that stretches you.

A happy state of flow

The granddaddy of the “flow” concept is positive psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi. He has been researching and writing about flow for more than 30 years. (Pronunciation hint: “Mihály” sounds like “me high” and “Csikszentmihályi” sounds like “cheek sent me high” [1])

Csíkszentmihályi gave the name “flow” to that state of being, because people who described it used words that reminded him of water – “like being carried on a wave” or “going with the current.”

Though sometimes we might think we cannot control when “flow” or “the zone” shows up, his own experiences, his observations of others, and then his years of systematic research led him to this conclusion:

“The best moments in life usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile. Optimal experience is thus something we make happen.”[2]

Csíkszentmihályi considers “flow” as the source of true happiness in life – when we stretch ourselves to accomplish things that are difficult and worthwhile.

Almost by definition, being a health care practitioner is both difficult and worthwhile.

“Flow” at work?


In fact, for some health practitioners, those times of “Flow” or being “In the Zone” are what keep them in their profession. Sometimes it’s one-on-one with a patient, sometimes it’s during times of supreme teamwork. It’s times when you instantly understand what’s happening with a patient and the environment, and what’s needed in that moment. Again, you’re totally focussed and immersed, super-aware of everything going on and super good at what you do.

Nothing is more fulfilling than being “in the Zone;” being impeccable, giving it your all, stretched as you do something you know is worthwhile.

Conditions that contribute to “flow”

Csíkszentmihályi and others have identified ten conditions that contribute to the flow state:[3] You don’t need to have all of them for flow to happen:

  1. Clear goals that, while challenging, are still attainable;
  2. Strong concentration and focused attention;
  3. Immediate feedback;
  4. Knowing that the task is doable; a balance between skill level and the challenge presented;
  5. Feelings of at least some personal control over the situation and the outcome;
  6. Complete focus on the activity itself;
  7. Timelessness; a distorted sense of time; feeling so focused on the present that you lose track of time passing;
  8. An activity that is intrinsically rewarding;
  9. Lack of awareness of physical needs;
  • Feelings of serenity; a loss of feelings of self-consciousness.

Who experiences flow?

The capacity to experience flow can vary from person to person. Studies suggest that those with “autotelic personalities” tend to experience more flow. A person with an “autotelic personality” tends to do things for their own sake rather than for some external reason. This type of personality also tends to have a high interest in life, persistence, and low self-centeredness.

As well, people more likely to experience flow are willing to spend time on mastering challenging tasks.[4]

Does that sound like anyone you know?

What happens in your brain when you’re in a state of flow?

Interestingly, being in a flow state is associated with less activity in the prefrontal cortex – the part of your brain that’s responsible for higher cognitive functions like memory. It’s the area of your brain responsible for your conscious and explicit state of mind.

Some research suggests that in a state of flow, this area down-regulates temporarily, which triggers the feelings of time distortion, loss of self-consciousness and loss of the inner critic. That allows the implicit mind to take over, so more brain areas can communicate freely and creatively.

Other research hypothesizes that the flow state is related to the brain releasing dopamine, since curiosity is amplified during a state of flow. [5]

Hone simulation training modules could help you “flow”

Back to those “conditions that contribute to flow.”

Hone Virtual Education’s mission is to “Teach practitioners to perform at peak levels, capable of correctly identifying diagnostic cues, enabling correct clinical decisions.” The over-arching intent is to save lives.

To fulfill its mission, Hone is combining mastery learning psychology with augmented reality technology to create virtual simulation training modules you can download to your augmented reality smartphone or tablet.

Each module allows you to practice specific observations and skills again and again. Once your accuracy is assured, the modules increase the speed with which cues are presented, so you learn to make assessments and decisions more quickly. The ultimate purpose is to improve your diagnostic cue recognition skills.

Happily, the process of using the training modules just happens also to incorporate some of the conditions that contribute to flow:

  1. Clear goals that, while challenging, are still attainable;
  2. Strong concentration and focused attention;
  3. Immediate feedback;
  4. Knowing that the task is doable; a balance between skill level and the challenge presented;
  5. Feelings of personal control over at least some aspects of the situation and the outcome;
  6. Complete focus on the activity itself (because, just as when you’re playing a video game, using the simulation training modules captures your complete focus).

You may also find that using the modules creates a sense of timelessness and that it’s intrinsically rewarding – two other conditions that contribute to flow.

Find out more

The first Hone Cue Recognition modules will soon be released. In the meantime, check out

  • Learn more about Hone Cue Recognition simulation training;
  • Be notified of updates and launch dates;
  • Apply to be a beta tester as new modules are developed for health practitioners in high-stress environments.

See you in the Zone!


Bonnie Hutchinson is a writer and lifelong learner with degrees in Education and Whole Systems Design as well as extensive training and experience in adult learning and teaching. She’s author of bestselling Transitions: Pathways to the Life and World Your Soul Desires.


[1] Mike Oppland (2016), “Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: All About Flow & Positive Psychology

[2] Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1990), “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience,” Journal of Leisure Research, 24(1), pp. 93–94.

[3] Kenra Cherry | Reviewed by Steven Gans, MD (2018), “Flow Can Help You Achieve Goals: Understanding the Psychology of Flow,”

[4] Mike Oppland (2016), op. cit.

[5] A. Dietrich (2003), “Functional neuroanatomy of altered states of consciousness: the transient hypofrontality hypothesis,” Consciounesss and Cognition, 12(2), 231-256, and A. Dietrich (2004), “Neurocognitive mechanisms underlying the experience of flow,” Consciousness and Cognition, 13(4), 746-761

Hone CUE Recognition on the App Store

The Hone CUE Recognition App will soon be available on the App Store for early adopters. When it is available - you will be able to download it via the link below.