November: Flow

FLOW – I am sure every one of us has come across this term at least once in their lives.
I recently had a video call with a good friend when we talked about how we know if things are ‘right’. Obviously, it’s hard to determine whether something’s right, however, we both agreed that it’s often a feeling of flow, when things feel natural, when they feel good, which makes us continue something.

Flow – in scientific terms – has mainly been conceptualized by Mihály Csikszentmihalyi (read more about it here). It is defined as a “mental state of complete absorption in the current experience”. It is that moment when our skills match the requirements and creativity and productivity unite. That is, when we successfully do something we enjoy without getting bored.
Flow is the possibility of extraordinary happiness in our ordinary, sometimes boring lives. We do not have to go to any special place but rather are able to find the absolute contentment in activities that we do in our everyday lives.

I have wondered how often in my life I have really experienced a state of flow. There are some activities in which I can lose myself, such as swimming or writing, but I rarely experience this complete absorption that goes without any thoughts in my head.
I am pretty sure that in our fast-paced world, most of us live a flow state rarely or even not at all. Being distracted by things that continuously steal our intention, such as our phone, destroys the whole flow experience.
However, I do believe that there are steps that make it easier for anyone to experience flow. Since research shows that flow is linked to mindfulness (read more here), and mindfulness is something that can be consciously enhanced, I came across the idea of outlining some guidelines that enable you to come closer to a state of flow.

The feeling of flow makes us feel as if we don’t even exist. Things work automatically, without realizing that they work automatically. You merge yourself with the activity. (Csikszentmihalyi)

HOW TO GET INTO FLOW

It is important to ensure a few things to achieve a flow state (read more here):

  1. The task you practice needs to be one you do with certainty so that you are fully able to lose yourself in the activity without overthinking. But still – there needs to be a challenge in executing them. If you do not have to put any effort into the task, chances are you will not lose yourself in it. However, as my lecturer Yannick Jacob has suggested, you can “adjust the challenge at hand to the individual skill level in order to create flow in any activity”, e.g. by adding additional challenges to it.
    It makes sense to think of activities that you practiced for a while, such as sports that you started at least some months ago or instruments that you have played for a while.  Also, you can think of activities that you enjoyed as a child but have not practiced in a while. Things we loved to do as children are often things we still enjoy but never tried since grown up.
  2. Since flow merges activity and awareness, you will need to limit stimuli that would stop you from becoming one with the activity, such as turning off your mobile phone. Also, taking part in a competition not being able to focus on yourself can prevent you from experiencing a flow state.
  3. You should not be concerned about losing control. If you think too much about how what you are doing looks like, you cannot lose yourself in the activity. Perhaps, if possible, it can be helpful for you to practice on your own (in the beginning) to not worry what others may think.
  4. There is no extrinsic motivation, you do the activity for its own sake.
    You should not intend to improve your skills at the very moment you want to experience the flow state. Surely, you will get better and having a flow experience often leads to more motivation in doing the activity, however, if you focus on improving while performing the activity, you will overthink too much. Instead, try to focus on your physical sensations, feel the activity you’re doing. Mindfulness is an important mechanism when experiencing flow.

To find your own “flow type”, this project might be helpful for you. Also, they share a lot of intriguing research around flow.

You should not try to force yourself to experience a flow state – for its own sake, it can never work. Instead, try to enjoy the journey and give yourself the chance to explore activities that bring you joy. We should never live to achieve a goal but to make the most out of the path that leads us there.

Have a happy day!
All the best ♥,

Kira

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