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

October: Mindfulness

Hi you!

We have already entered the last three months of 2018 – crazy, isn’t it?! I often use the first day of a month to reflect on the last month’s experiences – on successes, on learnings, on my favourite moments. These reflections not only make me happier, they also make me mindful.

Mindfulness! So many people have been talking about this topic recently. But what does it mean? Brown and Ryan (2003) defined it as a “state of being attentive to and aware of what is taking place in the present”. Sounds so easy, however, it is simple, but not easy. In our fast-paced world, we have been taught to do at least two things at the same time. We have been taught to always think ahead. We have been taught to complete tasks as fast as possible. Research, however, shows that this lifestyle can lead to enormous negative consequences: people feel stressed, they suffer from illness, and they make mistakes.

Luckily, we have a simple “tool” that helps us to become more mindful: our breath. Being attentive to our breath has been correlated with enhanced wellbeing and health. People who are able to focus on their breath when they feel stressed can step back and observe the situation from distance – which helps them to see the bigger picture again.

Lots of research has shown the positive consequences of regular meditation and mindfulness in laboratory settings. Nevertheless, there is not much research that has detected the consequences of mindfulness practice in people’s daily lives. Therefore, I have decided to write my dissertation about mindfulness. The study will take place at the end of this month, and participants are asked to use an app that helps them to become more mindful for 2 weeks. The more people participate, the more valid my results, so I am looking for YOU to participate! 🙂

Diss_Advert

The daily amount of time is between 5 and 15 minutes. If this sounds interesting to you, please sign up here to get more information about the study. If you have any questions, please send me an email (u1719825@uel.ac.uk).

I am so excited for the study’s results and will definitely share them with you at the beginning of next year!

Sending you lots of love from my new, old home Hamburg ♥

Kira

September: Expressing Gratitude to others

“Dear Lovely,

having you by my side gives my life so much happiness. I have never met a person who is more inspiring than you are, and only talking to you gives me so much energy.
Thank you for being part of my life.”

Who would not be happy reading these words from a loved one? Right – nobody.
Gratitude is such an important game changer in life (read more about it here), yet it is not sufficiently utilised. It enables us to increase our satisfaction with life and, at the same time, allows us to improve our relationships by making someone else happy. How beautiful is that? 🙂

Writing a Gratitude Letter (Toepfer & Walker, 2009)

How often in life do we not appropriately value how much good others do to us? How often do we keep ‘thank you’s’ to ourselves instead of expressing them to someone who has supported us? The answer is: too often. Expressing gratitude is one of the easiest ways to strengthen our bound to loved ones and it does not even cost a thing. Research shows that we gain so much from it, such as better health, improved wellbeing and enhanced gratitude.

Instructions (click here for source): Call to mind someone who did something for you for which you are extremely grateful but to whom you never expressed your deep gratitude. This could be a relative, friend, teacher, or colleague. Try to pick someone who is still alive and could meet you face-to-face in the next week. Now, write a letter to one of these people, guided by the following steps: Write as though you are addressing this person directly (“Dear ______”). Don’t worry about perfect grammar or spelling. Describe in specific terms what this person did, why you are grateful to this person, and how this person’s behavior affected your life. Try to be as concrete as possible. Describe what you are doing in your life now and how you often remember his or her efforts. Try to keep your letter to roughly one page (~300 words).

If you want to get the most out of this intervention, try to deliver this letter to the person or read it in person. Promise, there will be some magic in the air afterwards!

So, don’t hesitate, grab pen & paper, and start writing. Create magic! 🙂

Sending you lots of love ♥
Kira

August: Becoming PURE

Hello life lovers!

To explore the meaning of our lives can be challenging, yet it has been found to have an enormous impact on people’s wellbeing. It is not in the brightest of our years that we find our true happiness, but in the impact that we bring into the world.

However, sometimes it can be difficult to find out what we’re here for, and even more challenging to act concordantly. But: there are some clues that enable us to act in alignment with our values. Four factors have been found to constitute meaning, and help us in goal setting and goal achieving: Purpose, Understanding, Responsibility, and Enjoyment.

The PURE Intervention Strategy (Wong, 2012)

In life, we do not always have the power to change circumstances, but we always have the choice of how we react to these circumstances. Similarly, we have the power to build our lives according to our values.

In order to be successful in this, we need to act with awareness. Life is always a result of the choices that we have made. So, the next time, you are unsure about how to go on, ask yourself the following questions:
1) Purpose: “What purpose does this serve?” If it doesn’t serve any useful function, then don’t proceed.
2) Understanding: “What matters to me in life? Does my decision support what matters to me?”
3) Responsibility: “Am I choosing the easy way, or am I choosing the right way? Do I take the full responsibility for my decisions?”
4) Enjoyment: “Is there something in it, or an outcome, that brings me enjoyment?”

In my opinion, it is really helpful to be clear about what we want (to give) in life. If we dare to act proactively, rather than reacting to our ‘destiny’, we determine how good our lives are.

Which tool(s) do you already use when it comes to hard decisions?

Sending you hugs, you go girl/man! ♥

Kira

July: Promoting Forgiveness

Hi beautiful soul!

How have you been? Perhaps you want to take some time and reflect on the first six months of this year. What went well? What have you learned? How did you develop?
Taking the time to reflect on our experiences can be extremely powerful and helps us to find our direction in life. What do you want to continue? What is something that you would like to change?

For the last six months, we have focused mainly on interventions coming from an already positive starting point. However, everyone of us has made the experience that life does not always offer us what we wished. (Almost) everyone of us has been hurt during his or her life, or has gone through some challenging times. And this is nothing we should be ashamed of or frustrated by! We grow so much from difficulties, and we can develop a stronger sense of who we are when we are challenged. 

Nevertheless, most of us have been hurt or harmed by someone, and we can’t stop holding a grudge. This is absolutely understandable as well as “normal”.
But: by holding a grudge against someone we mainly do harm to ourselves. We carry all the frustration within us and don’t allow ourselves to let go of negative feelings. Instead, we want to blame the other person, and we want them to apologise. The bad news is, unfortunately it is not always possible and some people will never apologise. The good news is, we can still work towards letting go of our grudge.

(DISCLAIMER: if you carry a traumatic experience, this might not be for you.)

Forgiveness Letter (Worthington, 2005)

Studies show that people who forgive transform negative dispositions, such as revenge or avoidance, into more positive affects, e.g. loving-kindness or compassion. Several interventions have been found to enhance forgiveness, while one of the main practices is writing a forgiveness letter.

“Write a forgiveness letter to someone who has wronged you. You do not have to send it or show it to anyone (These individuals may or may not be part of your life or even alive still). Describe in detail the injury or offence that was done to you. Illustrate how you were affected by it at the time and how you continue to be hurt by it. State what you wish the other person had done instead. End the letter with an explicit statement of forgiveness and understanding.” (Worthington, 2005)

Researchers have found positive correlations between forgiveness-based writing and enhanced levels of forgiveness as well as emotional health. By “modifying one person’s perceptions of and responses to an offense” the forgiveness letter demonstrates a “valuable starting point for the ultimate goal of interpersonal healing” (Romero, 2008, p. 626). Thus, we are able to take responsibility of our feelings and thoughts, and let go of our feelings of being a victim.

Please, if you apply these intervention, be as compassionate and patient towards yourself as possible. It may not change in between a few days, but rather take a while. But I promise you: it is worth it.

Sending all my love ♥,

Kira

June: Build on your strengths

Heeey & happy 1st of June :),

we spend so much time in our lives working on our presumed weaknesses and trying to minimise them, however, this really takes a great deal of our energy. Working against something is always way more depleting than working for something. That’s why I want to encourage you to be aware of your strengths and make use of them.

VIA Character Strengths (Peterson & Seligman, 2004)

Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman developed the VIA (Values in Action) Character Strengths survey, which enables us to find our 24 signature strengths. They range from Leadership to Social Intelligence to Gratitude, etc. I want to encourage you to take the survey, because having done it by myself, it gave me such worthy insights. You can find it here: Free VIA survey

After having the results, go out and implement them. How can you connect your first three (or the other) strengths to your daily life? Are you maybe even already applying them? Is their perhaps something in your workplace that you could change to transform unrealised strengths into realised strengths? Using your strengths regularly has been found to significantly correlate with higher wellbeing and meaning in life.  For example, my first two strengths are Hope and Perspective. By sharing on my blog the positive expectations I have about the future that promote bravery as well as all the experiences I have been able to gain that have widen my horizon, I feel like I can make use of my strengths by sharing them with others, and eventually serve a greater good and that really contributes to my happiness.

Focus on your strengths rather than weaknesses and make use of your unique potential.
I believe that everyone of us is endlessly important in his individuality.

Lots of love ♥,

Kira

 

May: Random Acts of Kindness

Dear life lovers, positivity ambassadors, and beautiful souls,

the fifth month of our happiness journey has just started and I’m curious about what experiences you’ve made in the last four months. Did you realize any changes? Did you learn anything that you want to hold on to?

Last Saturday it was so sunny that I decided to study outside. So I went to Camden, found a really cute cafe with a terrace and listened to a lecture on Second Wave Positive Psychology. If you haven’t heard about Second Wave PP before, it doesn’t really matter, but I want to share one essential learning with you.

Happiness doesn’t emerge when we are obsessed looking for it. Seeking for happiness doesn’t mean that we should look for short-term rewards, but rather that we should behave in a way that, in turn, enhances wellbeing in us. So, we shouldn’t seek for happiness directly, but rather in implicit ways. But – how can we indirectly facilitate happiness?

One powerful way to make not only ourselves, but also the people around us, happy is serving others. Serving others not in a way that does harm to us (does it really ever?), but rather in a way that in term enhances our wellbeing levels to a max. Therefore, I’ve chosen to share the intervention ‘Random Acts of Kindness’ with you.

Random Acts of Kindness (Otake, Shimai, Tanaka-Matsumi, Otsui, & Frederickson (2006))

In a study, Lyubomirsky and colleagues found that by performing behaviours in order to benefit others or make them happy, typically at some cost to themselves (!), people’s own happiness levels enhanced. Foundational to this, shaping the awareness for one’s kind behaviour towards others has been shown to increase an individual’s wellbeing.

So, what do we mean by kind behaviours? It really doesn’t have to be a big deal. No, you don’t need to spend looots of money on it. Instead, you can just smile at the girl that is passing by, pay someone a genuine compliment, buy your partner roses, or write your friend a letter. It doesn’t really matter what you do, as long as it makes another person happy or benefits him or her (e.g. by cooking your girlfriend dinner after she had a long day).

You will see – as soon as you realize how easy it is to make someone happy, you will never stop integrating these little random acts of kindness into your daily life.

Throw kindness around like konfetti!  ♥

All the best,

Kira