“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them – that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.” – Lao Tzu
Have you ever had the experience of being totally immersed in what it is that you are doing, so much so that it feels like you’ve disappeared? Mental or physical performance seems to hit a new peak, and everything just works. The body, mind, and emotions all pull together, and everything is focused and harmonious. This is Flow.
How does one learn to flow?
Does it just happen automatically, or is there a way to make it happen?
Throughout history and across the globe, people have reported experiencing this special state of balance, where everything just goes right. The Oriental Sage Lao Tzu, quoted above, was a master of flow, and knew the value of putting the idea into practice. His simple, concise teachings have inspired millions to find their own way to go with the flow.
More recently, psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, was inspired by watching artists get so lost in their work that they neglected to eat. He wondered about this state of mind, and has spent his life studying artists, athletes and others who regularly achieve this state to try to pinpoint exactly what occurs in their minds and bodies during flow, and to figure out how to make it happen.
Here are some of the things that he discovered. The state can be achieved while performing any task wholeheartedly, but the following conditions are most often present when achieving the state of flow.
- The activity must have an active goal – like creating a masterpiece, slicing two seconds off your time, or making $2 million. Taking a bath doesn’t exactly qualify, although even that has a goal.
- Clear feedback needs to be involved. You need to see the work developing, check your time, or see your bank balance growing.
- There needs to be balance between the perceived goal and your own perceptions about your ability to achieve it. See the chart to get a better idea.
How to Improve your Flow
Learn the Rules of the Mental Game. You need to know that the mind has an automatic defense mechanism to prevent overwhelm and distress. The challenge is that while processing all sensory information the mind deletes, distorts and generalizes all communications it perceives. This means you must intentionally see things as they really are and not worse than you think they are. Once you know what they really are then imagine how you would like them to be and by filling in the gap you achieve flow. If you don’t know how to fill in the gap you should consider hiring a peak performance coach.
Relinquish ultimate control. Part of the secret to achieving the state of flow is to realize that the mind is not ultimately in control of everything. Set the intention, commit to it, and just let it happen.
Don’t try to control others. Besides trying to obsessively control ourselves, many of us struggle with control issues related to others. We can only motivate and inspire others, never control their free will. Teach, motivate and inspire – then let go.
Learn to Laugh. A balanced perspective helps. Learn to laugh at disappointments and failures, and keep your motivation up.
Be Curious. Achieving that magical flow has a lot to do with your mindset about the task that needs to be accomplished. Be interested, and curious about it, this sends subliminal messages to your mind and body that the task is worth doing wholeheartedly.
Set a Realistic Goal. As mentioned above, this is a must. You can’t expect to flow effectively if you’re not sure about where it is all going, or if you have unrealistic expectations.
Pay Attention. As soon as the mind wanders, the attention is lost, and the flow is interrupted. Learn to pay attention for extended periods of time. Stay in the moment, presence and mindfulness are key to achieving flow.
Would you like to learn more about flow? This is one tool in the toolbox of life that can truly transform your ability to deal with failure, and to enhance your happiness and your success. In my own experience I have learned that successful people naturally hit this state of mind on a regular basis. There are proven ways to enhance your flow. Please browse the resources on this site, and don’t hesitate to contact me to begin the journey into better flow and abundant living.