This year, find ways to experience “flow” .
Many of my clients struggle with chronic boredom or anxiety. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a psychologist who has researched the psychological experiences of people as they engage in activities, has described the antidote for boredom. His research began when he observed artists at work, and noted that they become engrossed in painting and planning to the exclusion of all else. During interviews, the artists described how they felt during these periods of intensely focused activity, and this is the psychological state that he dubbed “flow”.
Flow is the natural anti-boredom, anti-anxiety secret… good to know about, right?
A state of flow is characterized by focusing on the activity to the degree that you are completely absorbed, without intruding thoughts or concerns. Time goes by unnoticed, and the activity is pursued for its own sake. There is a sense of deep satisfaction and well-being during flow, and a lack of self-consciousness or anxiety.
As an occupational therapist, I have seen the healing power of flow. Clients who have been in states of great distress due to injury, illnes, or mental health problems are greatly relieved and visibly improved during and after periods of flow. They express hope that their lives can become happy and normal again, and are often surprised that they have skills that they did not realize they had. They are also surprised that the session “flew by”!
How can we attain flow in everyday life? Here are some clues, based on the research to date: 1) Seek and engage in activities that challenge you, and require concentration in order to succeed; in other words, push yourself!; 2) Choose activities that you care about, and that produce results that you feel are important; 3) Cultivate your curiosity and learn new skills.
Achieving flow is partly a matter of choosing well-pitched activities, and partly a learnable set of skills. Flow requires focused attention… so, no multi-tasking or distracting surroundings if you want to get flow going. It also requires active engagement, so some kind of physical interaction with a task helps to get flow going (i.e. actually playing a sport, cooking, or fixing a car, NOT just watching TV shows about doing these things).
Csikszentmihalyi found that all kinds of people of all ages and cultures experience the state of flow. Each one had individual portals to flow; for one it was sewing dresses, for another it was playing a musical instrument, or painting a wall, or performing heart surgery.
I’d love to hear from you about times when you have achieved the magical experience called flow. When have you been so involved in an activity that time flew by, you felt at one with the task, and you could focus exclusively on what you were doing?