Getting Into & Chasing Flow Experiences
Updated: Mar 17
Have you ever become so involved in a task that time literally flies by? You aren't checking your watch? You forget that you're hungry or that your back hurts from hunching over? We often hear of people experiencing this when they play a sport, pray, talk with a dear friend, play a game, or work on a beloved hobby.
The Flow Experience
I’m sure that you have felt this before, but there is actually a name for it and a way to use it for your own happiness. This concept is called a “flow state,” and it was coined by Mihaly …hold on…gotta type this slowly….Csikszentmihayi (chick-SENT-me-hi). Phew..that was hard! We are just going to call him MC from now.
When MC coined this term, it was with the definition that a flow state is when a person enters a state of intense absorption and involvement with the present moment. Essentially, you are ALL IN with the moment, with very little concept of your surroundings or the passing of time. Prior to learning this term, me and mine called it “being in the zone.”
MC believed the key to a good life was frequently achieving the flow state. Sonja Lyubomsirky points out that this is a delicate balance. An activity, no matter what it is, that is too challenging and goes beyond one's skill can create stress or anxiety. Whereas an activity that is too easy can leave one feeling bored and restless. The flow state sits right in that sweet spot between, challenging you just enough to keep your full attention but not so much that it freaks you out.
How Flow Experiences Affect Us
Fortunately, we can experience the flow state in almost everything we do, whether at work, hanging with friends, or even cleaning the house. But why is it good for you? First of all, you are obviously deriving enjoyment from the activity. Second, it is rewarding. You know that feeling when you get so in the zone that a ton of stuff gets done? It's a significant accomplishment! We feel good about doing it. So good, usually, that we try to replicate it.
Now, here is where people run into problems. As you know, the more you do something, the easier it gets. So, for example, if practicing rollerblading gets you into the flow state, eventually, it will no longer be challenging enough to hold your attention. Your body adapts and it becomes something you can do with no thought. Therefore, you will have to make the activity harder, like learning spins or tricks, to achieve the same flow state. Challenging ourselves and making it just a bit of a struggle is the key.
How to Increase Flow Experiences
So, how does one increase flow experiences? I want to share a few methods which Sonya Lyubomirsky writes about in her book How of Happiness.
1. Control Attention
The first recommendation she makes to increase flow experiences is first to control attention. Essentially, to control your attention, you must give it your full focus. Rather than wondering what’s for dinner or checking your phone for the 10th time that hour, you must rid yourself of distractions to keep your attention on the task at hand. It isn't easy, but with practice, it will get better.
2. Adopt New Values
The second method to increase flow is to adopt new values. What she recommends to do this is be open to new and different experiences as well as activate a drive for learning something new all the time. When you are trying or learning something new, do it with the wonder of a child rather than an adult who is too afraid to fail.
3. Learn What Flows for You
Third, she recommends learning what flows for you. Recognizing when flow works for us can be tricky, especially when we have preconceived notions of what or when we flow. For example, a study performed demonstrated that workers actually flow more when they are at work when performing high-skill tasks than they do when they are completing leisure activities at home.
However, when asked what they would rather be doing, workers regularly stated that they would rather be doing something else while working but keep doing the same thing at leisure. This misrepresentation is not beneficial, so it is important to evaluate yourself with an open mind.
4. Transforming Routine Tasks
Next, Sonya recommends transforming routine tasks. Let's face it; not every chore we complete can be fun, but by inserting microtasks into it, we can initiate a flow. An example she gave was us tapping our fingers to the beat of the music when driving. It is simple, but it takes effort and will keep your mind from wandering away from the road.
5. Flow in Conversation
You know those times when you get so deep in a chat with someone that you lose all concept of time…and end up being the last table sitting in the restaurant? This is what you call flow in conversation. If you find your mind wandering off in a conversation, give your all to listening to exactly what the person is saying, explore internally how it makes you feel, and expand the discussion with follow-up questions. The key point here, though, it to listen more than you talk.
6. “Smart” Leisure & Work
Sonya also recommends pursuing "smart" leisure and "smart" work to increase your flow experiences. What does this mean? Smart leisure means taking on fun activities that activate your flow. While decompressing by watching tv or playing games is fine, you don’t want to spend the whole night doing it.
Smart work means identifying meaning in what you are doing. Rather than thinking of it as a 9-5 requirement to pay the bills, think of it instead as a way to help someone achieve their dream, improve their lives, receive comfort, or whatever works for you. Through a positive lens, you can enter the flow state easier than if you dread every minute of the day.
Lastly, you want to aim for superflow! Superflow is when you are all in on whatever you do with no concept or care of the outside world. You love it and want to keep going. Just keep in mind that superflow must come in moderation, as it can be addictive. You never want superflow to hinder your responsibilities.
That's all on flow experiences for today, but I am curious. What gets you into a flow state or even a superflow state? Share your ideas on Instagram and make sure to tag me @everydayhappinesswithkatie!