Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, the researcher with an impossible name, not very much unlike my own 🙂 (his is read “Cheek sent me high”) is the father of one of the most mind-opening concepts in psychology – Flow. He wrote a book by the same name, which should be on the reading list of all who are concerned with personal development and would like to make the most of every moment of their lives.
“Flow” is that state we get in doing something that we truly enjoy – a state where time seems to fly by, where you may be working hard, but work feels more like play, where you have clear goals to focus on and progress is palpable. There’s a great article on Flow – what it is and how to achieve it in your job and in day to day life – which you can read in the online edition of Psychology Today – here, so I’m not going to focus so much on what it is, but on how real people experience it.
I’ll share with you 3 real life stories of what Flow can look like, hoping they will serve as inspiration.
1. Reading and Training
Since this is about sharing real life Flow experiences, it seemed logical I should start with my own. There are quite a few instances in my life when I am in Flow, but two are most significant – when I read and when I’m delivering a training.
I am not the only one who loses track of time when reading – actually this is on top of most lists of flow-generating activities. Of course – the condition is you should be reading something you enjoy and are interested in.
Why is Flow so easily achieved while reading? Because books provide a portal into a fascinating world. It is a world of discovery, where curiosity is stimulated at every step. Also, books provide immediate feedback on progress (one of the conditions for achieving flow) – you always know how far you’ve come and when the end is in in sight.
To me reading is very much like developing a profound friendship – I’m attracted by a book’s idea or by the author’s writing style and, as I go along, I feel like I’m getting to know the author, getting a glimpse into his/her mind (same goes for characters in a book, if I’m reading fiction). By the end, I feel as if we’re already friends and I always get a nice feeling of familiarity once I get to read a second book by that same author.
Training is also a flow-generating activity for me. Something magical happens in the training room. Something I can’t even begin to describe.
It always starts a bit uneasy – 12-15 people in a training room at 9 am, all staring at me, assessing me, trying to make up their minds whether or not they like me and whether or not I deserve their attention. By 13.00 we’re all usually much more relaxed. And by the end of the second day of a seminar we’re laughing together, I’ve learned quite a few things about each of them and I am amazed at how different they are and how beautiful their minds and thoughts are.
During those 2 days time flies by, yet somehow I still have a sense of it’s passing. It often happens that I feel like it’s time for a break and only then I take a look at my wristwatch to find it’s indeed time for the break.
Why does delivering trainings deserve a place in on the list of flow-generating activities? Well – it definitely has a clear purpose (that participants find something valuable and helpful in that seminar), clear steps and, most of all, immediate feedback (there is an unmistakeable look on peoples faces when they are engaged, curious and going through genuine “aha” moments, as it’s equally unmistakeable when they’re bored).
I have a friend whose favorite pass-time activity is building puzzles. Ever bigger. Ever more complex. 1000 pieces, 2000, 4000, aiming for 8000. He says nothing relaxes him more after a day’s work than working on a puzzle.
Why is it so enthralling? There is definitely a clear goal here too – creating that big picture and seeing it hanging on your living-room wall. There are clear steps and also a clear sense of progress – “when I’ve managed to build the outer frame of my puzzle I get really excited”, my friend says, “and then again I get really happy whenever I’ve figured out an important piece and can go on to the next one, whenever I feel I’m getting closer to the final goal”.
I have another friend who is very passionate about cooking. Despite having a complex and challenging day job in the corporate world, she finds the time to cook something different every day and to write about it on her wonderful blog (which is a real treat for all food lovers out there!). She’s turned cooking into an art, into an escape from the confines of life as defined by others, into a journey towards authenticity.
Because she loves it, she manages to keep up the discipline of cooking something new, creative, surprising every couple of days. She’s determined, focused on her goal and celebrates success by taking amazing pictures of her completed works of art and sharing them with the world.
She, among all people, got closer to convincing me that cooking is fun! And it can bring you into Flow!
This goes for demonstrating how such different activities can bring us into such a similar state of mind. And the list is open!
So what is your own source of flow?
Please share your thoughts with us in the “comments” section and I’ll centralize your replies to make up a top of such activities, so we’ll all find out which is the most popular, and which is the most unusual!