Why Study This Mantra...To determine what activities motivate and energize you, or help you achieve "transcendence" or "flow." To optimize your life around achieving them!
When you get super engaged in an activity, so much so that you lose track of time, it has a powerful and healing effect. Psychology calls this state of being 'transcendence,' or 'flow.'
This month, you'll learn what activities get you into flow, and work toward keeping them in action. In other words, you will re-calibrate your life to ensure you reach flow on a regular basis.
Being in flow is intrinsically rewarding. It has a powerful healing effect. Knowing what gets you there will also come in handy in future months. But it's also valuable in other ways. It will greatly improve your productivity. You'll enjoy ongoing learning and skill development. It will teach you to rise to challenges. You'll find your creativity heightened and your stress reduced. A life in flow is a more energetic and happy life!
Today's affirmation: "My focus is sharp and effortless."
As I put on my mantra this morning, I will identify when today I can fall deeply into something. If necessary, I will carve out time to do so, and ensure nothing gets in the way of this activity. I will hold great value in it. If I don't yet know what gets me in flow, my nightly flow journal and my monthly challenge will help.
Advice if You're Stuck
Choose work you love. Try to make sure it's something important that you're skilled in, but also challenging (but not too much so). The goal is to strike that balance of skill and challenge – between too easy (boring) and too difficult (anxiety-inducing) – to maintain a level of arousal that facilitates concentration, interest, and engagement.
Keep raising the stakes. Start with hobbies you love and work your way to work and relationships. Eliminate distractions; find a quiet place. Make sure when you're striving for flow, it's at a time of day that's peak energy for you and you can concentrate. Learn to focus on it for as long as you can. (You'll get better at this with practice.)
Just as a note: the activity where you find flow does NOT have to be work. It can be play!
After a couple of weeks of writing in your flow journal, read through it for themes. What pops out? What were the times when you felt MOST in a state of transcendence or flow?
Your target should be to reach flow a minimum of 3-4 times a week, but more is okay. How did you do?
The hard part comes in later months. Soon, you will design a re-architecture of your life. When you do, revisit this page. How could you find yourself engaged in flow activities more often? It could be close at hand and there really isn't that much change you need to make. Or perhaps you're NEVER hitting flow and you've got a lot of work to do.
As I remove my mantra tonight, I will take 5-10 minutes to write down in my journal:
- When was I engaged and/or energized?
- What was I doing during those times?
- When was I totally in flow, losing track of time?
- When was I bored?
- What activities boosted my energy?
- What activities drained it?
What Exactly is Flow?
In the words of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (the father of the concept of flow and its foremost researcher), “The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.” This implies a series of factors all intertwined to help a person achieve their full potential and experience a state of flow in the process.1
Csikszentmihalyi goes on to describe flow as “the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.”
He highlights 8 key elements that typically exist as commonalities across a wide variety of activities various subjects have experienced during the course of a flow-like experience.
- A challenging yet achievable activity that requires skill
- The ability to concentrate on the task at hand
- Clear goals for the task
- The activity provides immediate feedback
- Deep yet effortless involvement without experiencing one’s normal daily worries
- Enjoyable experiences allow people to exercise a sense of control over their actions
- Concern for the self disappears
- A sense of the passage of time is altered
What Type of Environments Facilitate Flow?
Flow can arise in a variety of different environments. The workplace, a sports competition, the study hall or a computer lab. Societal, social and developmental factors may all contribute to one’s ability to experience flow. A variety of studies have been conducted and historical examples documented indicating an environment that helps the individual avoid stagnation, reduces the likelihood of alienation based on a person’s behavior, has a clear set of rules and criteria for success, and facilitates focus can all contribute to this phenomenon.
In the workplace, periodically adjust your environment, your roles and tasks to take on new challenges to remain engaged.
A differentiator identified in 2012 is the importance of the perceived challenge being a stronger predictor of enjoyment than perceived skill. So be daring! Push yourself to achieve what you thought was a little out of your reach.
What Types of Activities Are Ripe For Flow?
When trying to consciously achieve flow, do your best to identify activities that more directly possess the attributes outlined above. For example, identify challenging activities that allow you to disassociate yourself from reality, release you from inhibitions and daily worries, and provide immediate feedback on successes and failures. Learn a new piece of music on your favorite instrument that is currently a little outside your reach and practice that troublesome musical passage with concentration until it’s performed properly. Challenge someone with a slightly higher ranking in chess to a match. Tackle the project at work you know will be difficult but will result in a big positive impact for the organization while also satisfying your curiosity and helping you develop new skills.
Flow occurs in the space where the challenge of a task pushes you to the point of intense concentration, but short of the point of anxiety. Conversely, the task must not be simple enough to result in boredom. Once the new skill is honed and the challenge met, a new baseline in performance is set and a more difficult challenge must be identified to remain in a state of flow.
Flow isn’t just an experience, it’s a statement about who we are as people, and what it’s possible for us to become.
- For more detail on how to incorporate flow into your daily life, check out the following link: https://zenhabits.net/guide-to-achieving-flow-and-happiness-in-your-work
- For more information on the benefits of flow, we recommend visiting: https://flowleadership.org/flow-benefits/
- Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly, and Mihaly Csikzentmihaly. Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. Vol. 1990. New York: Harper & Row, 1990.
- Abuhamdeh, S., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2012). The importance of challenge for the enjoyment of intrinsically motivated, goal-directed activities. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 38(3), 317-330.