Let it Flow

When was the last time you were in your element, completely confident, aware, rising to the challenges facing you, and finding happiness because of it? Maybe you find it happening while you are baking, onstage collaborating with musicians to make harmonious music or, it could even be during the last half-mile of your 10k. Positive psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has given a name for this objective condition: "Flow."

Positive psychologists study patterns of behavior that allow a community and individuals to achieve a fulfilled life. Csikszentmihalyi discovered people find genuine satisfaction during Flow, an “optimal experience” in which the individual feels “strong, alert, in effortless control, unselfconscious, and at the peak of their abilities, characteristics that are often linked to creativity. Csikszentmihalyi believed an individual’s best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile, and while doing so, training us to become more creative.  Csikszentmihalyi suggests those who are regularly in a state of Flow develop positive traits, such as high concentration, improved coping skills, and higher self-esteem.

You may be wondering, “That sounds great, but how do I find my Flow?” 

Fear not, here are some tips:

  • Find a challenge. Choose something that you enjoy doing. It can be anything, whether it’s playing the piano, working on your novel, skiing, horseback riding, playing golf, and so on.
  • Develop your skills in order to be able to meet the challenge. Remember that if something is too easy you will be bored (Think Michael Jordan practicing layups)–and your mind is likely to wander you won’t achieve the flow state, and if something is too hard (Think sewing a dress with no previous knowledge of sewing) you will be overwhelmed and won’t be able to achieve the flow state either.
  • Set clear goals. You want to be very clear on what you want to achieve and how you’ll know whether you’re succeeding. Here’s an example: “I’m going to learn how to play soccer.  I’ll know that I’m succeeding if I can demonstrate fundamentals skills as well understand the rules of the game.
  • Focus on the task at hand. Eliminate all distractions; if your concentration is broken you’re going to exit the state of flow.

Csikszentmihalyi suggests that in order to achieve a flow state, a balance must be struck between the challenge of the task and the skill of the performer. You measure how challenging the activity is versus your level of skill at that particular task. For example, I have never played golf; I will not experience Flow the first time I swing a club. On the other hand, I have studied music since a young age, spending countless hours performing and learning music; therefore I should (And do) experience Flow when tackling a new piece of music. Finding “The sweet spot”, where the level of challenge is high and the skills that you have to meet that challenge are also high, is the point in which you enter the flow state.

Everyone can experience Flow, a state in which we can enjoy the challenge and appreciate the processes necessary to rise to the occasion consistently and become fulfilled.

So, what’s yours?

:: Angela ::

Psst..watch Csikszentmihalyi's TED talk on Flow right here.

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