Having this sense of being lost in time when immersed in pleasurable activity is called optimal experience or flow. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi defines flow as “the ability to focus on joy, creativity, and a total involvement with life” (1). It is being so consumed by an activity that it has all your focus and can leave you with an empowering sense of accomplishment, a feel-good factor that motivates you to want to get better.
We all have moments where we say to ourselves “I wish I could do that” or “I’d love to learn how to do that”. This want comes from our natural human desire to be more accomplished so we can live our true potential. In the words of Aristotle “All human beings by nature yearn for knowledge” (2).
My “I’d love to learn how to grow cut flowers and make my arrangements” want, was satisfied last year. The process required time, focus and deliberate energy to learn propagation conditions, how to nurture growth, planting and maintenance. I became lost in the process and seem to whizz by. In the end, not only did the process bring me joy, but it has also improved my skillset and boosted my confidence that I can learn new things. All this would not have been possible without the inner desire to want to learn.
How to create Flow
Mindfully Spend your Energy
Our brain has a certain amount of energy to use. Where you focus this energy has the potential to bring enjoyment. Much of this energy can be wasted on negative emotions or on tasks that are not our strengths, however, if you put that energy into something you love, you embrace the potential to bring enjoyment, growth and feel-good emotions which improves confidence and wellbeing.
Notice Your Emotions.
In everything we do there is a choice. Choose to be bored or to learn something new, choose fear or face it and grow. When we choose things like boredom and fear our focus is diverted which can make us feel deflated and ineffective.
Notice your emotions and what they are telling you. If you find yourself bored or feel you do not make the most of your time it may be time to stretch yourself and learn something new. To support this process, it is helpful to have an aim or goal because it becomes easier to divert our energy positively.
Set a Flow Intention.
Sometimes you make a discovery or a situation you find yourself in may resonate, and you want to know more. There is a sense that something is good or worth pursuing. This type of activity or focus of the mind could take you into a state of flow.
We are unique individuals and as such what instigates flow looks different. If I were to create a formula for experiencing flow it would look something like this:
Interest or Natural Talent + Effort into Learning = Confidence, Enjoyment, Proficiency, Wellbeing
Here are some questions to consider what to find your flow intention:
- What could your activity be?
- What are you curious about?
- What have you always wanted to learn?
- How could you grow your strengths?
If you are not inspired, try any activity, and give it your whole attention. It could be painting a wall, potting some plants, creating a craft, reading a book, researching a project. Normally what will get you into flow is something connected with your strengths.
Choose an activity that challenges you.
To grow, we need to push ourselves into the zone of learning and this requires a challenge or gap in skill or knowledge. Enjoyment comes at the edge of boredom and anxiety where the challenge is just at the right level enabling you to act towards learning (1). Having this sense of challenge is important because it requires focus.
You will know when the task is within your interest or natural talent pool when you find yourself immersed in the activity. Your mind does not wander, you feel relaxed and even energised.
What keeps you engaged is that your brain is giving you immediate feedback. You know if what you are doing can be rated good or bad. In some situations, you may end up doing the activity just for the simple pleasure of it regardless of any end goal. This possibly explains the number of arrangements I have around my home!
The more you experience flow the more energy you gain to deal with the unpredictable external environment and matters that require you to cope. The result is the present is more enjoyable, you feel more confident because you have grown your skillset, you feel authentic and have a greater sense of wellbeing.
- Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2002). Flow: The classic work on how to achieve happiness. Random House.
- Aristotle, M. (1941). trans. WD Ross. The works of Aristotle translated into English.
Main image by Rudy and Peter Skitterians from Pixabay
Colour image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay