Think back to a time when you were totally immersed in an activity; that activity was challenging, yet doable, and brought you great enjoyment. You totally lost track of time, and your physical surroundings became a quiet backdrop as you focused on your progress.
You were experiencing flow!
One of the “Founding Fathers” of positive psychology, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, researched this state of being totally absorbed. He and colleagues found flow to be linked to greater happiness, healthy relationships, positive engagement, and intrinsic reward from being in the experience.
Athletes experience flow when they stop overthinking or being overly critical of their performance and rather become absorbed by the love of playing the game. In our daily lives, we can experience flow through working, playing, exercising, creating art/music, or writing.
I have certainly been craving more flow experiences these days as we all toggle back and forth between the many responsibilities in our home, work and family that require our attention. How can we create moments of flow throughout a day that is peppered with interruption/disruption to our normal routine? I made a list of flow state habits that I am trying out this week.
Prime your body and mind for the day ahead. Before opening your laptop or extending help to a family member, begin by resting your eyes and turning your attention to your breath for several inhales/exhales. Notice your experience, without judgment. I like to picture my “mind chatter” as a cloud that is drifting away and no longer attaching to my focus.
Create pockets of time to escape from your smartphone. It is a flow-stealer! When checking a notification or responding to the “ding,” we disengage from the task at hand, and we are abruptly thrown back into a space with many elements competing for our attention.
Appreciate what is, rather than what isn’t. My daily “routine” looks a lot different right now. I am working to let go of comparison to what I used to do and rather view this as a season of life. Change is hard, but we can do hard things. Adopting this mindset is challenging, and I have several moments throughout the day where I slip back into comparison mode. In that moment, I take a breath to stop the negative thought, and try to focus on the next right thing in my day. During my busy work season, I long for more time with family. I’ll keep working to lean into this experience and create positive family memories with the time I’ve been given.
Be clear with what you want to achieve. Block off a time of day where you are confident you can get something done. Maybe this takes place in between phone calls/emails, after a lunch break, or before kids wake up (eeek...I am working on this one…). In that period of time, dedicate your full attention to one task, even if it is for 10 minutes. Resist checking email or bouncing back and forth between tasks. Being absorbed in the work rather than being distracted by multitasking can lead to feeling greater satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment. Stretch that time out as you are able, or seek out several small time blocks to do similar singularly-focused work.
Whatever you love doing, find a way to do it. Even if your time is abbreviated, the act of doing an activity that is challenging yet attainable to your skill set is an essential part of flow. Go for a run; read a chapter of your book club book; call a friend you haven’t connected with in a while; write down five things you are grateful for in your life. These small, intentional actions add up and can contribute to your overall well-being.