“The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times… The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.” ~ Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Remember being a little kid and the self-created games you used to play – like avoiding the cracks in the pavement or hopping from tile to tile? Such satisfaction and joy we found in these endeavors, our minds fully focused on the task at hand. For the moment, it was the only thing we noticed as the rest of the world fell away and we became fully absorbed with our “game,” accepting each new and exciting challenge as it was presented to us, never fearing the outcome, no distractions, simply being in the FLOW of our own activity.
This sense of total connection to our actions in the present moment is a specific state of consciousness that psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi called FLOW. During the flow state an individual feels steady, alert, powerful, confident and in effortless control. Csikszentmihalyi’s studies found that people felt a genuine sense of satisfaction and happiness when they achieved a flow state. The flow state is different for and specific to each individual. Where you find your own flow might be completely opposite of what gets others going. The defining aspect of flow is that the activity one is engaged in is neither too easy nor too difficult – being in flow is the same as being right at our “edge” in a physical endeavor or a yoga class. A place where we aren’t pushing past our limits but we are giving it our all right before the breaking point and growing stronger from it. A place of self-mastery.
What activities do you do that make you feel most alive? Where do you feel fully present in what you’re doing, fully active and engaged? What do you love? What makes you happy? What are your passions? Usually, it is in these places that we most easily find our flow.
Ready to find your flow? Follow these steps to achieve a flow state:
#2 – Develop your skills in order to be able to meet the challenge. Remember that if something is too easy you’ll be bored–and your mind is likely to wander so you won’t achieve the flow state–, and if something is too hard you’ll be overwhelmed and you won’t be able to achieve that subconscious competence that is necessary for the flow state.
#3 – 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 write a blog post on how to achieve the flow state. I’ll know that I’m succeeding if I can clearly set forth what the flow state is, what it’s major components are, why it’s beneficial, and how to achieve it.”
#4 – Focus completely on the task at hand. Eliminate all other distractions. You don’t want anything to take your attention away from the task that you’re performing; if your concentration is broken you’re going to exit the state of flow.
#5 – Make sure that you’ve set aside sufficient time. It’s very likely that it’s going to take you at least fifteen minutes to start to get into the flow state, and a while longer after that until you’re fully immersed. Once you enter the flow state you want to make sure that you make the most of it, instead of having to stop prematurely because you have to go do something else.
#6 – Monitor your emotional state. If you meet all of the requirements above, but you’re having trouble entering the flow state, monitor your emotional state. If you’re in an aroused state–angry, anxious, worried, and so on–, try doing something that will calm you down. Do you feel that your energy level is low and you’re feeling sluggish? Do something to pick up your energy levels, whether it’s doing jumping jacks, having a healthy snack, reading something motivational, or calling a friend who makes you laugh.