Mindfulness decreases some aspects of flow: the incompatibility of mindfulness and flow absorption. Sheldon et al. (2015) presented a strong case for the differences between flow and mindfulness via the metaphor of a stream of consciousness. Mindful people are self-reflective, sitting on the bank of the stream, watching with acceptance as the water/emotions/thoughts move through their consciousness. In contrast, an individual in flow jumps into the stream and loses their capacity for self-reflection, meeting challenges that confront them in the stream (Sheldon et al., 2015). Sheldon et al. (2015) hypothesized that “the two states may in fact be antagonistic, with mindfulness tending to bring one back to the bank of the stream, precluding flow” (p. 276).
Sheldon et al. (2015) argued that the ability to remain mindful during an activity may hinder an individual’s tendency to become absorbed in a flow experience and lose awareness of self. They found a negative correlation between mindfulness and flow for the absorption aspect of flow; individuals who remained mindful had less of a “feeling of being carried away by activity, with an altered sense of time and a loss of self-awareness (Sheldon et al., 2015, p. 281). Past researchers found that being mindful increases general flow (Aherne et al., 2011; Kaufman, Glass, & Arnkoff, 2009). Sheldon et al. (2015) found this was not the case for absorption and loss of self-reflective awareness, which suggests mindfulness increases flow and self-regulation.