Finding Our Flow to Happiness
If you really think about it for a minute…what is actually the aim of our life?
I am sure at a granular level the reply of each of us to this powerful question might be slightly different. You could say in a way it depends entirely on factors such as our personality and expectations, cultural background and upbringing, current state of health and finances, our unique work context, our relationship and family status and the stage we are at in our life overall.
Some of us might be just starting off with a family, with a new career, or might be saving for moving home, buying a new car, or for a life project. Others might have their last kid leaving home to go to university or others are close to retirement and in the process of identifying what might be the best way to transition into this new phase.
Regardless of the uniqueness of each of our individual situations, at a more ‘macro level’ you could argue that here is one thing we all do have in common: we want to be happy.
Let us for simplicity’s sake say: ‘the meaning of happiness’ here refers to feeling fulfilled, worry free (or at least if not completely worry free – is this actually possible?- feeling ‘worry light’).
We might be aiming for this ‘state’ because we know that not only at an individual level it makes us feel good but we know that when we are happy we also have a more positive impact on those who surround us and who might need our support (family, friends, colleagues, people we interact with).
As we mentioned at the beginning of February: This month Badiliko is raising awareness about the benefits and the ‘how to’ of being more in the flow. Being in a state of flow or ‘being in the zone’ has been reported as one of several things leading to greater feelings of happiness. (Mikhail Csikszentmihalyi, 1996)
These flow experiences lead to positive emotions. The more frequently we can experience these flow experiences the happier we tend to feel and the more creative and productive we are.
At this point you might ask yourself: So what is new about this then and why the need to refer back to something discovered almost two decades ago?
Even though this mental state of extreme focus and absorption (‘flow’) has been first explored two decades ago, increasing scientific research over the past decade (Harvard etc al Publication, 2016) confirmed the benefits of being in the flow for mental health, balance and well-being.
Sometimes it is worth reminding ourselves of things we might have lost sight of because of the sheer amount of data, duties, obligations and distractions we are having to deal with on a daily basis. There might be a need for a ‘back to basics’ moment.
This is what this blog is about: a call for action to stop ‘being’ controlled by internal and external interferences and to go ‘back to the basics of being focused’ intentionally, deliberately and with some degree of self-leadership.
Maybe in these crazy times of daily overload and influx, that we are exposed to, a brief reminder of a simple, yet powerful activity such as how to identify our own sources of flow and intentionally creating opportunities to expose ourselves to them, leading to enhance our mental focus, creativity and inspiration might be a powerful gift.
The state of ‘flow’ is linked to experiences which involve an optimal balance of challenge relative to our skill. We can become deeply absorbed in an activity (whether this might be cooking, playing chess, working on a new concept at work or playing a sport) because our skill level is just slightly challenged, not too much not too little. We are equipped for the task at hand but not over equipped. If the task would be too easy we would end up bored by it and that precious focus would be lost. So a slight amount of challenge is important to help creating this flow state.
When we are in the flow we are completely focused, absorbed by what we are doing, we lose awareness of time, we don’t think of ourselves, we are not interrupted by external thoughts, we are focused on the goal of the moment but not anxious or worried about a longer term ‘goal’, we work effortlessly and we enjoy the experience reflecting upon it afterwards.
The real beauty of this state is not only that it sparks creativity but it is also a moment void of critical self- judgment. We usually judge ourselves on a constant basis, sometimes without even noticing it consciously: “Oh I dropped the ball, how embarrassing…”, “I knew I would not make it…”, “I am still not ‘good enough’ at this”, “I will never really learn this game” … “by now I should have already mastered it” , “all the people I know who also play this, are much better at this” and etc.
I think we are all familiar with this unproductive self-talk ... no need to elaborate further.
Experiencing a state of flow whilst doing an activity does not mean we are doing it flawlessly but it means that we are truly absorbed by it, enjoying it despite ‘mistakes’ and staying completely focused on it regardless of anything else. Given all the benefits we discussed , why not trying to enhance in the flow opportunities for ourselves ?
5 steps to help us recognizing our flow and creating flow opportunities:
- If you know what activity you really enjoy and you haven’t done much of it lately- well: why not stopping and reflecting on how you can build that activity back into your life on a regular basis?
- If you don’t know what the nature of this activity might be, try and find out, be curious. Try out something new you always felt intrigued and interested by.
- Can you recall a time in your life and work where you truly enjoyed doing something? Is there a way you can do more of this activity at work or home?
- Remember that ‘flow activities are not merely related to leisure (i.e. such as painting, cooking, sports, games etc). Research shows that often ‘people found themselves in the flow” during a work activity (i.e. focusing on getting a new document layout or similar) Activities such as watching TV and enjoying a glass of red wine although might no doubt feel relaxing, are not what ‘flow’ is about. A flow moment is linked to an activity which requires a small stretch of your existing skill compared to the activity at hand. Whatever it might be, identify it clearly, and dedicate time to it on a regular basis
- Apply some level of discipline and intentionally avoid or try to reduce multi-tasking for just one day. During that day: Try to do one thing at the time calmly, allowing no distraction and finish it. Most probably you will surprisingly discover that you were quite in the flow and absorbed by doing that one thing in a way you never were when trying too many at once.
If we could increase our ‘flow experiences’ consciously and more frequently, we would enhance our ability to focus, more focus would mean more productivity and creativity. Would getting things done not increase our sense of achievement, hence make us feel more content and ultimately bring us one step closer to feeling happy?
About the Author
Natalie Schürmann is the founder of Badiliko, a consultancy, which offers collaborative, customised coaching and development solutions to promote leadership excellence, positivity, well-being and fulfilment.
Badiliko is a valuable learning partner and social entrepreneur for people and organisations across the world, nurturing authentic, balanced and purpose driven leadership for a more fulfilled workforce and a happier world.