Flow is what happens when we are fully involved in what we are doing. We derive energy from this experience. Our creativity heightens, and we feel a sense of fulfillment.
Flow is the opposite of what happens when get stuck in problems that beget more problems. For me, the opposite of flow is like a downward spiral that can worsen when I respond to problems by getting in a bad mood. This irritates my family or colleagues, which makes me feel worse. My tension and irritability inhibits my ability to solve the original problems, because I can’t think clearly and make good decisions. When I relax and get back into the flow, however, I am actually more productive!
The flow state is when we are totally immersed in what we are doing NOW, not thinking about results or time or outcome.
All we have to do to remember how much flow could be a part of everyday life is to watch children at play. We too can be in the flow as we paint, play music, or write a story. Flow can happen over a fun family dinner, while spending quality time with friends, or taking a long walk in nature. It can happen when we do work we love or do any work with love.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a psychologist who has spent decades studying the state of being he calls “flow,” says that, “The flow state is accessible to everyone … and can occur at any level of skill, and is in fact necessary for real enjoyment of life beyond simple pleasure-seeking. We really don’t get much out of the passive consumption of pleasure, compared to enjoyment which is much more active and creative and self-directive.”
Being in the flow can happen when we are really engaged in our work, when we bring our creativity and aliveness into it.
It can happen when we have lunch or a conversation with work colleagues and really get to know them as if for the first time. It can happen when we believe in what we’re doing and we know our work makes a difference in people’s lives.
Most of my personal examples of being in the flow at work revolve around team projects. I love the excitement that is created when we begin our group brainstorm, then see how it evolves as roles are defined and our plan is established, as we check in with each other, support others as needed, and end up with a product we can all be proud of. None of us could have done this alone. I usually (not always) feel closer with my team members at the end of the project.
How do we best achieve flow? Here are my favorite tips:
- Have an open mind, be curious and open to possibilities, awe and wonder. If you have forgotten how to do this, imitate how a baby watches the world.
- Put your full self into what you do and how you do it. Trying to get by is not a way to achieve flow. Nor is doing the same thing over and over because it’s easy.
- When something doesn’t go the way you hoped, stay flexible. Accept bad things gracefully, rather than resist them. Otherwise, says a common spiritual principle, what you resist will persist. As you accept and work with what is, you can soon flow naturally into enjoyment and fulfillment again. I love the John Denver song that goes “All this joy, all this sorrow, all this promise, all this pain, such is life.”
- Tap into your innate knowing and creativity. Don’t limit yourself by saying “Oh, I’m not creative”, “I can’t write”, “I can’t ……………” Just start acting as if you believed you were creative, and soon you will be creating.
- Give yourself permission to have silent time, get lost in your thoughts, experiment. This is where our inspiration and creativity comes from. When we stop trying to multi-task, we can be more present to right here, right now.
Ask yourself, when are you normally in a state of flow? What takes you out of it? How can you achieve greater flow in your life? Wishing you many opportunities to be in the flow.