You know that feeling when you lose track of time – when you’re so absorbed in something that an hour has passed, except when you notice the time, you realize it has only been 20 minutes? Yep, I know, it doesn’t happen very much. That rare mental state is called flow.
Think of it as being in the zone. It doesn’t occur when you’re doing something mundane. No – performing a mundane task makes time stretch out in unrealistic increments. You watch the clock and you can’t wait to stop doing whatever nonsense it is that you’re doing – the complete opposite of flow.
A distinguished psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, has spent much of his life studying flow. In the world of Positive Psychology, flow is defined as a mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.
Seneca the Younger, the visionary Stoic philosopher, identified flow long before Csikszentmihalyi ever did. Seneca knew that putting things off – procrastinating in doing what you want to do and instead, doing things you thought you needed to do was the biggest waste of one’s life. He understood that to truly live, one should seek out those activities that make you feel alive. Avoiding the routine and mundane is the key to discovering that “life is long if you know how to use it.”
It is my belief that many people in western society go through life without ever truly experiencing flow… and more importantly, its benefits. In his writings On the Shortness of Life, Seneca states, “No one will bring back the years; no one will restore you to yourself. Life will follow the path it began to take, and will neither reverse nor check its course. It will cause no commotion to remind you of its swiftness, but glide on quietly. It will not lengthen itself for a king’s command or a people’s favor. As it started out on its first day, so it will run on, nowhere pausing or turning aside. What will be the outcome? You have been preoccupied while life hastens on. Meanwhile death will arrive, and you have no choice in making yourself available for that.”
It is my intention to follow my flow. To grasp and hold on those benefits. To use it as an engine – a driving force that propels me from one adventure to the next or even from one footstep to the next; living in a near-constant state of movement. To pursue the passions that inspire and challenge me – the activities that bring me happiness.
“In many ways, the secret to a happy life is to learn to get flow from as many of the things we have to do as possible” – Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi
How can you find flow? Start by asking yourself the question, “If I could be doing anything right now, what would it be?” I’m not asking you to quit your job, sell your house, and become a nomad like me. I’m only suggesting that you identify your passions – something you’d rather be doing than slaving away in a life-sucking cubicle, your time regulated by others who care little about your well-being.
If you’re having difficulties identifying what it is you’re good at – something you could be doing that you’re passionate about while also making your way in life, then maybe you should think about what you’re grateful for. In your life, your current job, in those around you. Being grateful is the catalyst for identifying what moves you into a state of flow. Before you start racking your brain… start slowing down. Eliminate distractions and strive to live deliberately.
Below are some steps anyone can take to find their flow.
• Change your environment. Probably the most important of all… you must put yourself in a place that changes your mood and opens doors to new possibilities.
• Do what you are good at and be prepared to do it often. Keep close to you those resources and people that make it possible.
• Avoid the takers – those toxic people that never give any meaning to your life.
• Set a high standard, but be realistic. Don’t accept the idiom it is what it is. Set goals that are in line with your capabilities.
• Accept your faults and do not let them create failures where there are none to begin with.
• Stop blaming others. You are your own worst critic. Eliminate toxic thinking and catastrophizing.
Live your life the way you want to live it. It’s yours! Don’t let anyone hijack your time. Only give your time to those that appreciate it and will in turn provide meaning to your life. It’s a circle. You give and then you receive.
“Putting things off is the biggest waste of life: it snatches away each day as it comes, and denies us the present by promising the future. The greatest obstacle to living is expectancy, which hangs upon tomorrow and loses today. You are arranging what lies in Fortune’s control, and abandoning what lies in yours. What are you looking at? To what goal are you straining? The whole future lies in uncertainty: live immediately.” — Seneca