Thursday, November 10, 2005

Finding Flow

Do you ever get involved in something so deeply that nothing else seems to matter and you lose track of time? When was the last time this happened?

According to Psychologist, Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi (say that name three times fast!) these exceptional moments are called "flow" experiences. He writes:
The metaphor of flow is one that many people have used to describe the sense of effortless action they feel in moments that stand out as the best in their lives. Athletes refer to it as "being in the zone," religious mystics as being in "ecstasy," artists and musicians as "aesthetic rapture."

Flow tends to occur when a person faces a clear set of goals that require appropriate responses. It is easy to enter flow in games such as chess, tennis, or poker, because they have goals and rules that make it possible for the player to act without questioning what should be done, and how. For the duration of the game the player lives in a self-contained universe where everything is black and white. The same clarity of goals is present if you perform a religious ritual, play a musical piece, weave a rug, write a computer program, climb a mountain, or perform surgery. In contrast to normal life, these "flow activities" allow a person to focus on goals that are clear and compatible, and provide immediate feedback.

Flow also happens when a person's skills are fully involved in overcoming a challenge that is just about manageable, so it acts as a magnet for learning new skills and increasing challenges. If challenges are too low, one gets back to flow by increasing them. If challenges are too great, one can return to the flow state by learning new skills.

So when does this occur for you? In your garden? When your are immersed in your work? When you go for your daily walk? Driving along the Saint John River Valley in the summer with the windows down and the breezes blowing in? When you have an idea and you decide to write about it? Attending a meaningful church service? When you are in the middle of planning an event? Listening to your favourite piece of music? Painting? Cooking? Working out? Paddling a canoe? Walking along a beach? Playing with your kids? Walking your dog?............. When you are with a friend and the discussion.......... well..........just flows and all of a sudden two hours has gone by............poof!

Flow is generally felt when a person is involved in one of their favourite past times. Lucky individuals in challenging jobs suited for them enjoy it in their workplace as well as during their leisure time. When this occurs, the work task at hand is challenging, which in turn is motivating. When one is in "flow" or " in the zone," there is a high level of concentration, and creativity. Most of the time, it is only after the project or work is done that one takes the time to enjoy a tremendous sense of satisfaction.

Often one finds it a struggle to get going. It takes energy and focus to get started. The best "Flow" experiences go hand in hand with the goal of completing a task. That takes energy and drive. The activity may be as banal as washing dishes...........and you find yourself with your hands immersed in the hot soapy water, your favourite music is on and time just ticks on by. It's often these type of activities that allow us to explore new ideas, resolve issues in our heads, plan personal goals. It is the thinking time that enhances the mundane. Projects are like that. At first, they seem overwhelming. Where to start? Why start? Is there enough time to complete it? Procrastinate, procrastinate. Finally, goals set, materials purchased, and a gameplan laid get started and you lose yourself in the experience.

The most predominant "flow" activities for me revolve around anything creative, be it in my garden, in my kitchen cooking and planning a party, or at my dining room table making a wreath for Christmas. This year, I have rediscovered my deep satisfaction in writing again. I had forgotten how uplifting it is to get lost in the words, the ideas and the self-learning connected to the solitary activity. When the words started pouring out of me last summer, I wasn't cognizant of where it was coming from or why all of a sudden I had this insatiable desire to put pen to paper. But, once the tap was turned on, I surrendered to the "flow"...........the flow of ideas, the flow of the words, the flow of the immersed feeling.

And yet, I have been anxious to continue to allow the words to tumble out, for fear that the creative window may shut. What I have learned though is that there are going to be days or even weeks when the writing will be a struggle. I know now that if I make the extra effort to push through those moments, that the end result will be another period of self-satisfaction and creative learning. My goal is clear, attainable and yet still challenging; key to at "finding flow." I want to write everyday..........even if it's a short piece. What I write about, I have left up to the ideas that strike me that moment; whether it is formed from reading new material, or from a conversation I had, or from a new thought. What continues to motivate me are the times when the stars align, the universe unfolds, I'm focused and the words channel through me, and out of my fingertips. It doesn't happen all the time. But, when it does it feels so good.

Find your own opportunities to experience "the flow" if you havent in a while. I guarantee you'll feel rejuvenated again.

1 comment:

Marta said...

I use to feel that when I listen to classical music :) I use to lay down on my bed and relax for a while... And yes, time flies and I don't seem to notice...
But I think it's important that we have moments in which nothing seems important :)

Nice blog!