Do you ever go out jogging and feel completely in a groove—it’s not hard; it’s not easy, you are in a zone and you feel like you could run forever? Or do you get so enthralled with your yoga class that your stressful day melts away, time disappears and you are surprised when class is over? While that feeling may not happen as often as you’d like, it’s an example of flow, a coin termed by Mihaly Cskiszentmihayli, a professor of psychology and author. Why is it important? Happiness and positive psychology experts believe experiencing flow is tied closely to personal happiness. And studies in the past few years indicate that your happiness and outlook can lead to a longer, healthier life.
Experiencing flow means you are in the middle of an activity or task with complete, intense absorption and you’ve hit just the right combination of challenge and skill. Flow can refer to any activity or task when you are completely engaged and absorbed. You have a sense of accomplishment and you feel happy.
If you want to experience more moments of flow in your life, Cskiszentmihayli outlines the following eight conditions of flow:
- Goals are clear. You know what you are trying to accomplish. You have a sense of clarity. You know what you need to do.
- Feedback is immediate. Results are measurable. You know if you are doing well.
- A balance between opportunity and capacity. It has to be the right mixture of skill and challenge. If it’s too easy, you get bored. Too hard and anxiety and frustration creep in.
- Concentration deepens. You are totally absorbed.
- The present is what matters. No worries about the past or thinking about tomorrow, you are only focused on the task at hand.
- Control is no problem. You have a sense of control and satisfaction.
- Your sense of time is altered. Time flies!
- The loss of ego. You are lost in what you are doing, and feel part of something larger. Self consciousness disappears.
What are you doing when you experience flow? What tasks require full involvement and are the right combination of challenge and skill for you? Finding activities and environments conducive to flow can increase your happiness whether it’s at work, at home, or during your workout routine. Here are some guidelines and suggestions to help you find your flow!
- Flow happens when you are doing what you really love to do.
- Flow has a strong correlation with the development of skills and personal growth.
- Once you have mastered a skill, seek greater challenges to keep you in a state of flow.
- You emerge from flow with a feeling of personal growth and feelings of competency.
- You are motivated to perform and perform well.
- Pursue your expertise or specialization, where you can improve your knowledge over time.
Don’t just pursue an activity to achieve something, enjoy the activity for its own sake. Be in the moment. As Cskiszentmihayli writes,“Know what matters is not the result, but the control of attention one is acquiring.”
Related: 7 Ways To Get Happier
Yoga is an example of flow for many people. In his book, Flow, The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Mihaly Cskiszentmihayli writes, “The similarities between yoga and flow are extremely strong. In fact, it makes sense to think of Yoga as a thoroughly planned flow activity. Both try to achieve a joyous, self-forgetful involvement through concentration which is made possible by the discipline of the body.”
You also can achieve the flow experience at work (especially if you love what you do), resulting in deep concentration, high and balanced challenges and skills, a sense of control and satisfaction.
My flow has to do with my playlist! A new playlist helps me find my mojo. Around 10 minutes into my workout, endorphins begin to release, and I let my mind sink into the music. That endorphin rush—sometimes called runners high or a natural high—boosts mental fitness and mood! I forget about everything else for the time being!
So, what’s flow for you? You will know when you find it because you will experience a happy state of mind resulting from complete engagement in a creative, playful or planned activity. Your experiences can be shaped to have a more joyful life!
“People who learn to control inner experience will be able to determine the quality of their lives, which is as close as any of us can come to being happy.” – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi