“With one breath, with one flow, you will know,
Do you ever find yourself so absorbed in a task that time doesn’t really exist for you? When you are so focused on what you are doing that nothing else matters? When you’re not even entirely sure where the task ends and you begin? Or even if it’s really you that is doing the task, as if someone or something else is guiding your body?
If so, my friend, you have experienced FLOW. The psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi spent a lifetime researching what makes people happy and concluded that a state of flow is our optimal human experience. Finding Your Flow is the third element of satisfaction. This is all about learning to live in our present moment. Flow is not about just kicking back into pleasure. Csikszentmihalyi differentiates between ‘enjoyment’ and ‘pleasure’:
“Without enjoyment life can be endured, and it can even be pleasant. But it can be so only precariously, depending on luck and the cooperation of the external environment. To gain personal control over the quality of experience, however, one needs to learn how to build enjoyment into what happens, day in, day out.”Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, ‘Flow’
Flow is where we bring all the parts of the A.C.T.S. system into one place. We assess and accept where we are, bringing ourselves completely into the now. We choose the change, remembering that we often may choose to (or need to) change our approach to the situation. We take action, then we can savour in satisfaction. Choosing our change is pivotal here, and it’s important to consider flow when choosing the path we take.
“A person can make himself happy or miserable, regardless of what is actually happening ‘outside’ just by changing the contents of consciousness.”Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, ‘Flow’
So how do we put ourselves into this magical state of flow? Csikszentmihalyi describes eight parameters to create flow:
- An optimum balance between the challenge and your skill level.
- Clear objectives & goals.
- A sense of control over our actions.
- Direct, immediate feedback.
- Complete concentration and attention.
- Focus to the exclusion of all other information.
- Loss of self-awareness.
- Transformation of the sense of time.
So what changes can you implement in your everyday life to induce flow? You can see from this list that we’ve already – through Finding Your Focus and Finding Your Fire – tackled some of these. We have a clear sense of purpose (2), we have created the environment for complete attention (4) to the exclusion of other information (5) and we have a sense of control over our actions (7).
“The best moments in our lives, are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times—although such experiences can also be enjoyable, if we have worked hard to attain them. The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, ‘Flow’
When things are too challenging we can find the task stressful. If it’s too easy we can lapse into boredom or even apathy. Our optimum experience is at that balancing point between the two. Once we hit that sweet spot, we can often tick off a number of those remaining parameters.
So can we rethink both our work tasks and our leisure time in the context of this graph? Can you consider your impact and purpose within a job that feels unimportant? Can you find new ways to use your strengths? Is your leisure time spent in apathy and how does that really feel? Are you vegging or vegetating? Can you find flow in even the most menial tasks? Or when you feeling bored – can you find a little challenge while you’re waiting in a queue or driving?
When I talk about Finding Your Flow, I also introduce contentment, savouring and gratitude. All these come together to create more satisfaction in every single day of our lives. Why wait to feel satisfied when you can do this right now?
For more inspiration on Flow, watch Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s TED Talk.