Flow is a really interesting concept that has a close relationship to human happiness. It is the experience you have when you are fully and completely absorbed in an activity and nothing else seems to matter.
You lose all sense of time and your concentration is so intense that there is no attention left over to think about anything else. You feel focused, productive, and deeply satisfied. It is actually the root of creativity and productivity, and it is strongly associated with happiness.
Flow is the optimal state that results from a deep engagement with an activity you enjoy, the time you feel that you are in the zone, or in the flow. It is the opposite of the distracted mind-wandering. With flow, your whole attention is at its best and dedicated to the task at hand, that’s why very often you forget about time. When you are in the flow you lose track of time or just feel that the hours pass really quickly. Flow really feels good. It’s like a quiet joy.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi – one of the leaders in the positive psychology movement described it as the experience someone has while being totally absorbed in the doing of something. This is how he describes flow:
“Being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”
He and his colleagues have discovered that people are more likely to achieve flow when they are engaged in a task that is moderately challenging – not too challenging to make them feel discouraged, but challenging enough to keep them engaged. That actually explains the fact that people are more likely to experience flow when they work on something they enjoy and that challenges them a little, then when they are relaxing (or hibernating). People usually experience flow – the exhilarating, satisfying feeling – when there is this nice balance between the challenges they face and their abilities and resources they have.
You’re more likely to get into a state of flow when:
- You are fully present, focusing on the task, and in control of your actions.
- You are doing what you really love to do and you feel a sense of serenity, timelessness, and clarity.
- You have a clear goal.
- There is a perfect balance between your challenge and your skills. If the challenge is too difficult, you get frustrated. If the task isn’t challenging enough, you get bored.
- You have continuous feedback about how close you are to achieving the goal.
How can you cultivate flow as a mental habit of happiness?
- Identify the qualities you are best at, the talents that set you apart from others. Think about what you are uniquely good at and find your signature strength. Identify the work that produces moments of flow and do that more often.
- Choose to do work you love and you can be passionate about.
- Find work that lets you use your talents every day or try to incorporate more of your unique talents in any work you do.
- Try to increase the number of experiences that keep you engaged and totally immersed in what you’re doing.
Studies have shown that people who cultivate the state of flow daily as a mental habit become significantly happier. In fact, flow is about finding a sense of zen and happiness in your work. And who doesn’t want that…?
Have you ever felt “in the flow” or “in the zone”? What do you usually do when you get into that state?
For more tools and resources on happiness and productivity check out my Resources page.