A better distraction: Exploring the benefits of flow during uncertain waiting periods.

A worrisome period of uncertainty frequently precedes important life events, and many of the coping strategies people employ during such waiting periods are ineffective. Distraction can be efficacious, but individuals awaiting uncertain news often fail to lose themselves in a sufficiently diverting activity. Across three studies–two observational and one experimental–we test whether flow-inducing activities provide a better distraction and improve the waiting experience. In Study 1, law graduates (N = 125) who experienced more flow while awaiting their bar exam results reported less worry, fewer negative emotions, and more positive emotions. However, they were often unable to accurately identify personally relevant flow-inducing activities. Study 2 replicated these findings in a longitudinal study of doctoral-level students in the academic job market (N = 141). Study 3 experimentally tested the effects of engaging in a flow activity (via an adaptive Tetris game) on undergraduate participants (N = 309) waiting for peers to rate their physical attractiveness. Study 3 successfully replicated the findings of Studies 1 and 2 with a measure of subjective flow experiences, but the manipulation was only effective for bolstering positive emotion and mitigating negative emotions; it did not reduce worry. Our findings point to challenges in moving people toward flow but suggest that engaging in flow may boost well-being during a period of uncertainty and make waiting a little easier. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved)