“It is how we choose what we do, and how we approach it, that will determine whether the sum of our days adds up to a formless blur, or to something resembling a work of art.”
– Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Happy Wednesday to all of you!
Today’s topic is flow.
What is it? In Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s book, “Finding Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience,” he describes flow as a state of consciousness in which one is completely absorbed in an activity, especially, but not limited to, an activity which involves their creative abilities. During this optimal experience one feels strong, alert, in effortless control, self-assured, and at the peak of their abilities.
As an example, maybe you’ve had an experience when you’re completely in he midst of a task or activity and find yourself completely absorbed to the point where you almost forget yourself. You’re acting effortlessly and seamlessly, experiencing a heightened state of awareness in which you are 100% present in the here and now. You lose track of time, of the things going on around you. Some athletes may call this “the zone.” Not surprisingly, this state, aptly coined as “flow” by Mihaly, has been the focus of a lot of recent research in the field of positive psychology.
The key point of Mihaly’s book is that happiness is not at all a fixed state, but one that can be developed by learning how to achieve flow in our own lives. When we’re in a flow state, we are exercising control of our consciousness, rather than letting the external forces of our lives determine our state of mind and being. In other words, happiness comes from within.
He says that the main driver of happiness is determined by where we invest our psychic energy. As we consciously focus on a deliberately chosen goal, our psychic energy literally flows in the direction of said goal, allowing space for harmony within our consciousness.
There are several elements that are involved in the flow state:
- Clear goals
- Immediate feedback to actions
- Balance between challenges and skills
- Merging between action and awareness
- Distractions are excluded
- Lack of worry of failure
- Disappeared self-consciousness
- Distorted sense of time
- Activity becomes an end in itself
As you can tell from the above elements, the essence of flow is the lack of interference of our thinking minds. It falls away and we’re left in a complete state of simultaneously being and doing.
Not only can the flow state benefit our various tasks and creative hobbies, it can also benefit our relationships and situations such as adversities. Mihaly mentions that some people have developed their flow state so extensively that they’re able to translate any perceived threat into an enjoyable challenge, allowing space for an inner tranquility due to a continuous state of mind. He describes this type of person as an “autotelic self,” one who is “never bored, seldom anxious, involved with what goes on and in flow most of the time.”
Another key aspect of flow is that while in it, almost all of the inputs within the brain are focused solely on the activity at hand. This is why we lose track of time, and why we notice the lack of negative thoughts entering or discomfort. It’s pretty easy to see the link between the flow state and mindfulness, something typically achieved through use of yoga or meditation. Mihaly mentions that:
“The similarities between Yoga and flow are extremely strong; in fact it makes sense to think of Yoga as a very thoroughly planned flow activity. Both try to achieve a joyous, self-forgetful involvement through concentration, which in turn is made possible by a discipline of the body.”
Though yoga and meditation can certainly allow us to achieve flow, there are many other activities that open space for us to experience it.
So, my wonder today is:
Have you ever experienced flow? What were you doing? How did you feel during and after? Would you be willing to try to develop this state more fully in your own life?
Let me know in the comments below!
For me, I experience the flow state when I’m painting, reading, and having a quality conversation. I completely lose track of who I am and have entirely merged with the activity at hand. A brilliant liberation of my self.