How you can be in the flow of life more often and increase your happiness
This morning I had my cup of coffee, walked into my empty office and began to apply a polyurethane coat onto the wood floor to seal in the stain that was applied last week. I knew what I had to do and was very focused as I dipped the paint brush in the can and applied the coat back and forth across the floor. I found myself fully immersed in the task. Before I knew it, I had done half the room and was feeling pretty good and energized about it. This reminded me of a certain way of being that artists, athletes, and certainly many surgeons are highly aware of. This is about being in the flow...and it can have a profound effect on our happiness.
Mihályi Csíkszentmihályi (pronounced 'Me-hi Chicksent-me-hiee') is a Hungarian Psychology Professor who emigrated to the United States at 22 and now works at Claremont College in California. For a long time now he has been interested in the nature of happiness. In order to get at the meat of this, he asked himself the question "when are people most happy or when are they experiencing the most enjoyment?" He found that more often than not, when people were happy they were experiencing a state of flow.
So what is it, what are the benefits, and how can we engage in it? The easiest way to describe flow is being in the zone. It's a mind state that is achieved when we feel fully immersed in an activity. We feel a loss of self-consciousness, a sense of control and skill and find the activity highly rewarding. Because of this full immersion, we often lose track of time and the rest of the world seems millions of miles away. Just think, have you ever been so immersed in an activity, work, or hobby that you lost track of time? You might be reading a book, talking to a friend, working on project, or jogging.
Mihalyi would argue that bringing more flow into life and work is a key to happiness. Research has found that those who employ more flow activities in their life experience less stress and increased levels of well-being. So how do we do it? Here are some key components:
Clear goals - In order to enter a flow state, it's important to have a clear goal for what you are doing. If you are at work, define the purpose of the activity and create a short-term goal.
Do-able - It's important to choose a task that you really believe matches your ability to do it. Something too difficult will be overwhelming, something too easy will feel boring.
Concentration on focused activity - Bring your attention to a highly defined place of the activity. Whether at work or home, clear away all potential distractions, and zero in on what the focus of concentration is.
Let go of expectations - When engaging in the activity, try and let go of expectations on how your activity will turn out. Just engage in the activity itself, moment-to-moment.
Wandering mind - While doing any activity the mind may wander onto things of the past or future. When you notice this, bring attention back to the activity at hand.
It may take up to 15 minutes to enter a flow state, so keep at it. When experiencing a flow state, you might notice that the experience feels rewarding in and of itself, not because of what the product ends up being. You may also experience a sense of control which supports you in believing that you can accomplish things.
What are your experiences with this or thoughts on the topic? Feel free to share below.