In daily life, everyone is involved in several activities in different environments, either professional or personal. Each one of them absorbs our energies, attention and effort to be achieved. Investigating about what can make these activities more enjoyable and less stressful can be fascinating. How can we find the activities where we experience a state of flow?
A flow is a smooth uninterrupted movement or progress. This is a literal definition from the dictionary, that can help us comprehend the meaning of this word and its possible relevance to our daily life.
According to the positive psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi “Flow is the optimal experience. The short and simple word describes well the sense of effortless movement.” Csíkszentmihályi introduces this concept of flow along with his studies about happiness and the optimal experience in life. “The Flow is 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.”
The common characteristics of a state of flow are:
- Concentration about what you are doing.
- Action and awareness.
- Loss of reflective self-consciousness.
- Feeling in control of the situation.
- Time running faster.
- A sense of accomplishment.
This concept of flow clarifies the modality through which our consciousness interprets and interacts with reality. Consciousness is a state of mind characterized by sensations, emotions, volitions, and thoughts. In order to learn to have control over consciousness, it is important to be aware of the impact of external reality on our inner world and emotional states. When we encounter a situation where we don’t feel in control, a sense of anxiety and incapability takes over us. When this happens, it could be because we established unrealistic goals or because the external conditions didn’t match them.
How is it possible to experience a state of flow during our own life? What can facilitate it?
Some key elements are:
- Clear goals
- Focused energy on a specific aspect of your life.
Having clear goals and learning from feedback are two important aspects of living an experience of flow: we feel in control of the situation and we believe our skills to be adequate to face the challenges. We experience a sense of learning and we are in a process of development and growth, where concentration, involvement, enjoyment and motivation all work together in the same direction in order to reach something worthwhile in our lives.
The state of flow is like a river that runs between two banks: Boredom and Anxiety. We are moved toward Boredom when we lose interest, our abilities and competencies are not used at their best or there is no more challenge. On the other hand we perceive a sense of Anxiety when the challenge overcomes our abilities. “Enjoyment appears at the boundary between boredom and anxiety, when the challenges are just balanced with the person’s capacity to act.”
The dimension of challenge and pleasure is well balanced when a dynamic equilibrium between action capacities and action opportunities is established: under these conditions there is little opportunity for the self to be threatened.
In order to recognise the moment or experience of our life when we can experience a state of flow, we have to think of the moments when we feel a sense of joy, when we perceive a strong connection between us and the reality outside, when we don’t feel the pressure of our judgmental self and we are enlightened by a sense of fulfilment, discovery and growth. These are the situations when we can do our best, our performances improve and we are in control of our inner life.