The most exciting life-enhancing idea I’ve come across in recent years is Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of flow. It made such an impression of me that I quickly learnt to understand what flow is and how it works and having identified activities that potentially could create flow for me I began to transform my lifestyle.
How I experience flow
When I become totally engaged in flow inducing activities I lose track of time and I feel focused, competent and in perfect harmony with myself. The flow I experience is more akin to an athlete being on song than awesome but more importantly the exhilarating degree of gratification I experience lasts long after I’ve completed the activities.
With practice I have begun to experience flow when I’m completely immersed in gardening, writing, reading, listening to classical music, completing sukoku and crossword puzzles, outings to the cinema and theatre, travelling and interacting socially with my wife, family and friends. Each of these activities provides me with varying degrees of highly satisfactory gratification that unquestionably brings a little bit more joy into my life.
“It is the full involvement of flow rather than happiness, that makes for excellence in life”, argues Csikszentmihalyi. While my experience isn’t quite as awesome as his I do enjoy the natural pleasures of life all the more since I began to supplement them with regular flow inducing activities.
I’ve found that the goals and rules of sudoku and crosswords make them amenable to flow by allowing me to act without questioning what I should do and how I should do it. So when you are searching for flow inducing activities look for ones you enjoy that have clear and compatible rules and goals and provide immediate feedback. And when your skill level just about enables you to manage to complete them you will learn new skills that increase the level of flow you experience.
Research shows that up to one in four people in Europe and one in five in the US often experience flow. It generally occurs when they are doing their favourite thing such as gardening, listening to music, bowling or cooking a good meal. It was also found to occur when driving, talking to friends and while working. On the other hand people very rarely reported flow when engaged in passive leisure activities like watching television or relaxing. It is very much a matter of personal preference and you can take it from me the payoff for building a portfolio of flow inducing activities and accommodating them in your daily and weekly routines is well worth the effort.
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1997) Finding Flow, Psychology Today.