Feeling flow is one of the most important psychological aspects of feeling good and experiencing happiness. Often the experience is called “being in the zone”. When I feel flow it feels like you are floating. It’s intense and nothing else is out there, only the activity I’m involved in. Whether the activity is running or reading or being involved in research, its a great feeling. When you are enjoying what you do, flow comes naturally. It involves being fully immersed, without self consciousness and often involves feeling as though your actions, such as running and breathing merge with a sense of weightlessness and loss of cognitive awareness of time.
Flow is a fantastic way to relieve stress and to experience an almost out of body positive mental state. It’s great. You know it when you are achieving flow and in the zone. Marathoners and other athletes often speak of experiencing flow when their concentration is at its highest and the results are almost automatic and effortless. Flow also gives you a sense of achievement and that nothing is too hard – its easy – even if doing something difficult.
Jeanne Nakamura and Csikszentmihalyi identified six elements of flow:
- Intense and focused concentration on the present
- Merging of action and awareness
- Loss of reflective self-consciousness
- A sense of personal control over a situation or activity
- Distortion of temporal experience. Your sense of time is altered
- Experience of he activity as intrinsically rewarding (sometimes called autotelic experience)
Kendra Cherry also identified three other aspects of flow:
- Immediate feedback
- Feeling that you have the potential to succeed
- Feeling so engrossed in the experience, that other needs are insignificant
Flow became the name associated with this experience because during Csikszentmihalyi’s interviews in 1975, several people described their experience as a water current carrying them along. For me, I would call it more like floating on a cloud, above yet intensely involved in the experience.
If your life is ho-hum, perhaps you are not seeking out experiences that can provide you with flow. The feeling of having flow in any particular moment, can happen to anyone if you are deeply engrossed in something you find challenging and enjoy. In fact, even as a photographer, I have experienced flow. When I am at the beach and it is a particularly beautiful day it is hard not to experience flow. This is the magic of living and happiness and love and life itself. If you want to live a happy life, you have to find what gives you flow. Staying in flow is the opposite of being bored, or lonely, or having anxiety. It is the experience of ultimate happiness. If you want to increase the levels of experiential flow, then try new things, or give yourself challenges, be persistent and curious. Explore your world! Think about visualization and letting go while doing the activity. Often the letting go happens when we enter the state of flow. That’s why, for example, when running, it often happens when we hit a rhythm without conscious thought of running. It’s just breathing and moving and floating on air.
Next time you want to increase your happiness and feel young, think of flow and go!
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