Finding more flow sounds like I’m telling you to roll out a yoga mat or hit the dance floor and start to “flow”. And while those are two ways that people can find flow, that’s not actually what I mean when I say “flow”.
Have you ever been doing something you enjoy and you were so immersed in whatever it is that time seemed to just disappear?
This happens to me when I read, I can get so absorbed that the next thing I know it’s 2 am. Again.
That is flow.
Finding more flow
If you prefer to listen you can hit play below to listen to the podcast, or you can keep reading to get the cliff’s notes version!
What is FLOW?
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi who is one of the forefathers of positive psychology is best known for his work on flow. Flow occurs when you lose track of time and are totally absorbed in the moment and what you are engaged in doing.
Csikszentmihalyi defines it as,
“the state in which peple are so involved in an activity that nothingelse seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it”
That evokes images of someone in a burning building sitting at a poker table saying, “just one more hand!” which is quite extreme but I guess as with anything, flow can be taken to extremes.
But for most of us, flow activities are things that we enjoy, but do in moderation. Or for many of us, things that we’d like to do more of but they get pushed to the backburner of life in favour of more “important” activities.
“In the Zone” versus “Zoning Out”
Another way to describe flow is by saying someone is “in the zone”. I think it’s important to differentiate between being in the zone and zoning out. Many people say that they love a certain activity (running comes to mind) because they just zone out and let their bodies do the thing while their mind is somewhere else completely.
Zoning out can be an important stress buster too, but it’s the opposite of being in the zone. When you are in the zone our in flow, you are completely absorbed in the activity, while zoning out is more about turning your brain off and not paying attention to the activity.
Both are valid, but only one is flow.
Hopefully, you’ve been able to think of an activity that allows you to experience flow, but that doesn’t mean each time you do that activity you are getting into a flow state.
To achieve flow, there has to be a balance between challenge and skill.
When you are new to an activity, it is harder to get into flow because you are building your skill level. If you are naturally inclined for an activity, you will be able to find flow faster, but most of us have to go through a learning curve before we find flow. But if the challenge is lower, we can still find flow with a lower skillset.
In the above chart, you can see that flow happens more readily when you have higher skills and are taking on a higher challenge. One example I use in the podcast above is Zumba Toning. I love Zumba TOning and find it gets me into a flow state, even when teaching because the challenge is greater. As an instructor not only do I have to verbal cue the routines while teaching them, but my arms are often doing one move while my legs are doing something else. It takes coordination and as soon as I let my mind wander (or zone out) I lose my spot in the song and mess up the routine for my class.
Many participants find that Zumba Toning is a flow activity too for many of the same reasons. They have to pay attention to make sure they know what their hands and feet are doing. Because Zumba Toning combines dance and strength training, it’s not as simple as showing up and dancing or doing muscular conditioning.
Skill and the challenge are higher – – hello flow.
Flow is all about the experience
One more thing you should know about flow, it is experience-driven, not results-driven. So while having a higher challenge and higher skill often come together for a specific result (winning the game if you are playing a video game), that isn’t the end goal. The goal isn’t to finish. People don’t buy a video game to finish it. They buy a video game for the experience they get on the journey to finishing it.
They buy the experience, not the result.
Zumba Toning is a great workout, but that’s not why more people like it. They like it because it’s an experience.
Finishing a book isn’t what makes me pick up books, it’s the experience of enjoying the book.
I’m going to finish this post with another quote from Csikszentmihalyi:
“If we can live in a mindful state, engaged in the present moment, and fully absorbed in what we are doing, we can experience inner harmony, giving our lives meaning. This is not an easy task to succeed at for extended periods of time. COntinued practice and redirection of the mind as well as goals that we are commited to working toward can help us to achieve flow on a more frequent basis.”