"Flow is the process of achieving happiness through control over one's inner life. The optimal state of inner experience is order in consciousness. This happens when we focus our attention (psychic energy) on realistic goals and when our skills match the challenges we face."
- Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
"Find out what you like and what you hate about life. Start doing more of what you love, less of what you hate." - Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
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It's natural to desire to live a meaningful life filled with joy and happiness, but we're often lost as to how to achieve or even begin working towards it. One major way that we can begin to do that is by introducing ourselves to the art and science of flow, a term coined and then studied extensively by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. This concept describes the sensation that occurs when we are fully dedicated to an activity that perfectly matches our skillset and skill level. Let's go ahead and look at the basics and then get ideas of how to use it.
How do we know about this? A part of positive psychology, flow first began to be studied in the 60's and is now known to be a major part of feeling fulfilled and that one's work has meaning. If interested, there's many studies out there that you can take a peek at- we're only going to cover what you really need to know! I referenced two different articles on to make sure I had my facts straight, and then one on flow and ADHD (this one was mostly for personal reference to make sure I remembered correctly- I used to study this topic). I've linked them at the end of this post if you'd like to check them out! They also have a list of reference articles you can dig into for even more information.
Csikszentmihalyi settled on calling it "flow" due to how time and sense of self ceases to be in our awareness, just like hyperfocusing for those with ADHD (that's right, it's actually an attention regulation disorder). In the flow state, we're totally focused on that task, it feels easy, and we're entirely in control, and we're able to watch our progress unfold. You'll notice that the completion of one goal leads to the next and so on, until you've completed the project you're working on entirely (or you're pulled away for an obligation, but don't worry, you can get back to this space). It's a constant cycle of reward.
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The thing about flow is that we're more likely to experience it when we do things just to do them- usually because we enjoy it. We're living in the moment and fully immersing ourselves in the experience. A trick I like to use at my day job is to stop thinking of the task as a chore, and view it simply as something to experience. I get satisfaction from watching the task progress and eventually be completed. I set little goals for myself throughout the task so that I constantly get a feedback loop (a term from psychology to describe when people get in-the-moment information about the consequences of what they're doing) that encourages me to continue.
A major thing to remember is to just let yourself experience what you're doing. What does it look like? What does it feel/sound like? Keep doing it without worrying about being perfect or telling yourself you need to stop and redo it- that'll throw your whole enterprise off the rails. Let yourself be curious and open about what you're doing and what comes next. How far can you go? Let yourself explore.
Another vital step in staying in the flow state is to set a clear end goal for yourself, whether it's anything from finally cleaning out that closet to finishing your passion project you've put on the backburner to mastering a trick, note, or song. Once you've done this, break it down into clear, achievable steps so that you know exactly when you've accomplished something in your journey.
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If you tend to struggle with "getting productive" or entering flow, it might help you to look into study groups or something called body-doubling. You can do this in person, over the phone, or over a camera meeting. There are also content creators (myself included) that offer body-doubling streams or videos to help people get into focus with whatever they're wanting to do. Seeing someone else in a flow state inspires our own.
One of my favorite things about this concept is that we can stretch it out and make it long-term in a way. We can make our lives flow from one goal to the next, a feat often achieved by coaching. If this sounds like something you're interested in experiencing, look into getting a coaching session or program with us! I'll be offering online programs soon, as well, if you prefer a more private, impersonal approach.
Challenge yourself to flow with at least one task today. Don't worry about doing it "right" or "perfectly." Just do it. See what happens!
"8 Traits of Flow According to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi." 16 December 2016. https://positivepsychology.com/mihaly-csikszentmihalyi-father-of-flow/. Accessed 19 September 2023.
"What Is Flow in Positive Psychology? (Incl. 10+ Activities)." 8 January 2019. https://positivepsychology.com/what-is-flow/. Accessed 19 September 2023.
Reference for those with ADHD:
"Q: 'How Can Distracted ADHD Brains Slipstream into a Flow State?'" 24 April 2023. https://www.additudemag.com/flow-state-deep-work-stay-focused-adhd/. Accessed 19 September 2023.