Let’s imagine this for a minute. You are ready in your starting pose, all set for your dance competition.  The music starts, and you feel as-one with the music, focusing on each movement of your body, feeling your muscles stretch and strain (but barely noticing the pain). You are so absorbed in the moment that you don’t hear the baby crying in the audience, nor the exchanging notes on your performance. The few minutes of your routine fly by in what feels like mere seconds.

This, according to positive psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, is the experience of “flow”, a state of complete immersion in an activity.

What is Flow and Why it’s Important

“The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times… The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”  Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi .

Through years of research, Csíkszentmihályi found that we enjoy genuine and lasting satisfaction when we are in flow. The key experience and components of flow are summarized in this graphic:

Finding Flow_what is flow

In short, you are completely and utterly in the zone. The experience of flow can differ from person to person – you may experience it through a sport like dancing, skiing, tennis, or you may find flow through painting, writing, designing….

The crux is, because you are using your skills fully, applying complete focus and stretching your limits to overcome a challenge, it’s a natural magnet for personal growth and fulfillment.

Check out Csikszentmihalyi’s talk @TED on flow and happiness:

How to Build Flow into Your Daily Life

Many of us may have experienced flow during seemingly random occasions.  In his book Finding Flow, Csíkszentmihályi explains how we can systematically get in the zone, and convert seemingly-routine activities into opportunities for flow. Here are 3 key areas you can work on:

1. Finding Flow in What you Do (for both work and leisure)  

It is not true that we get into flow only when we are at work. “Active leisure” activities (e.g. sports, arts and crafts) can be equally great opportunities to get in flow.  The key is to treat the activities as an opportunity for mastery, rather than mere relaxation.

For example, you may be a cleaner by profession – instead of treating it as a mundane job, you can make each day at work an inspiring one by setting meaningful challenges for yourself (e.g. completing your job better/ faster/ with more resources).  Or, you may enjoy baking as a hobby, and use each baking session as a way to express your creativity, hone your senses, or even inspire others.

In short, use these simple tips to guide what you do:

Finding Flow_work-leisure2

2. Finding Flow through Relationships (when you spend time with yourself and others) 
It may be comfortable to spend time with friends and family members who love us as we are, make us feel “safe” and assure us there’s no need to change. However, when we are with people who share our goals and invest time and effort to achieve these goals, it creates opportunity for flow and stimulation for growth.


Finding Flow_relationships1

The ability to feel good about being alone is an important ingredient to developing self-awareness, focus, and to enjoying a fulfilling life. Here are some quick tips to optimizing the time that we spend alone:

Finding Flow_relationships2

 3. Building your foundations through Personal Awareness 
In order to make the most of what we do and our relationships, personal awareness can be really important.  People who are constantly fretting, complaining, rushing, pushing for external rewards will probably find it much harder to get “in the zone”. Or, they may experience flow in only random and rare moments when they quieten their minds.
Developing personal awareness lays a foundation for us to enter the state of flow more easily, frequently and deliberately.  Here are some tips for that:
Finding Flow_awareness1
Click here to download the complete book summary and reading graphics of Finding Flow, or get a copy of the book here. 
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