Much of what we do at Pattern is meant to give people chances to slow down and get present. In doing so, we hope to offer chances to experience the flow state.
Here, we’ll share a brief overview of what that means, plus simple ways to help you find your flow. Next week, we’ll share some of our favorite ways to bring more flow into your routines and daily life.
There’s a good chance you’ve experienced the flow state before. Many of us can recall a time when, while deeply engaged in an activity, time seemed to slow down and the senses heightened.
Athletes might know it as being “in the zone.” Cooks often refer to it as “the dance.” Musicians might know the feeling of “getting lost in the music.” Whatever we call it, the experiences are active, and they’ve been proven to offer measurable impacts on happiness and mental wellbeing.
The term flow state was coined by a Hungarian psychology professor named Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (Me-Hi Chick-Sent-Me-Hi 😊). He described it as: “A state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter.”
There are a number of different qualities that precede what he also refers to as optimal experiences. Challenges and skills are balanced—so you’re focused, but you don’t want to be thinking about every little step. Your awareness and action become one. You let go of your fear of failure. You forget yourself in the action. And the activity becomes an end in itself.
Csikszentmihalyi reasons that because this allows us to control our own consciousness rather than leaving it to external forces, we learn to create our own happiness.
Unfortunately, our modern world isn’t set up well for daily opportunities to experience flow. Here’s a little help.
Start with something you know how to do.
The flow state is easier to access when you’re comfortable and confident with the activity. If something requires you to try, but you still have some muscle memory, that’s perfect. Here are some examples to get you pointed in the right direction: painting, playing music, writing, jogging, or yoga.
Do one thing at a time.
There’s a time and a place for multitasking. This isn’t that time. Remember that the goal here isn’t necessarily to produce measurable results or maximize efficiency. It’s about the quality of your time.
Get really interested in how it feels.
Hone in on the details of your experience. Notice your breathing, the sensations of touch and sound, the quality of your thinking. If you pay closer attention, you can transform even the simplest feelings into entry points to optimal experience. Even your work can become a chance at experiencing flow if you get really into it.
Respect the ritual.
Routines can help us shift our focus from everything surrounding the activity to the substance. Try to create pre- and post-activity rituals that provide clear boundaries between that and the rest of your day.
Practice, practice, practice.
The flow state can take time. It requires the right level of challenge and a matching level of skill—sometimes it takes a while for those to line up. Whether you get there or not today, know that you’re learning and getting better as you go.
Getting into the flow state offers chances to feel better and increase your happiness. But it doesn’t happen every single time we try. That goes for everyone. So, don’t put too much pressure on it. No forcing. Ironically, trying too hard to get into the flow state will take your focus away from the activity at hand. Create the conditions for it, then detach yourself from the results. Enjoy the ride.
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