“Why in the world would I want to be Mihály Csíkszentmihályi?” you may ask. And what in the world are flow activities?
I’m glad you asked!
Before We Begin: A Recap
I’ve written a series of articles based on research from positive psychology on strategies that can enhance your happiness levels.
Live Happy Strategy #1: Live Life to the Full: Enhance your well-being by cultivating an attitude of gratitude.
Live Happy Strategy #2: Optimism: Key to Success: Enhance your well-being by learning how to consistently think like an optimistic person.
Live Happy Strategy #3: Learn Two Secrets of Being Happy: Increase your level of well-being by learning contentment with who you are and what you have; and learn to tackle problems of living head effectively.
Live Happy Strategy #4: 10 Acts of Kindness To Change the World: In this article I review one of the principles of ancient wisdom: It is in giving that we receive. I’ve provided 10 easy and practical ideas to get you started in a lifestyle of changing the world.
Live Happy Strategy #5: Friendship Thoughts to Enhance Your Life: You can use the strategies from this article to both solidify your current relationships and mend relationships that may have fallen into disrepair. Relationships are one of the most essential ingredients to a happy and meaningful life.
Definition of Flow
Mihály Csíkszentmihályi was a social scientist who studied and formulated the concept of flow.
Here how Wikipedia defines the concept of flow:
Flow is the mental state of operation in which a person in an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity. Proposed by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, the positive psychology concept has been widely referenced across a variety of fields.According to Csíkszentmihályi, flow is completely focused motivation. It is a single-minded immersion and represents perhaps the ultimate in harnessing the emotions in the service of performing and learning. In flow, the emotions are not just contained and channeled, but positive, energized, and aligned with the task at hand…The hallmark of flow is a feeling of spontaneous joy, even rapture, while performing a task although flow is also described (below) as a deep focus on nothing but the activity- not even oneself or one’s emotions.
Hallmarks of Flow Activities
Life coach Tim LeBon wrote an excellent resource article on the concept of flow. Summarizing Csíkszentmihályi’s research, Mr. LeBon points out that flow activities have the following characteristics:
- You have a feeling of ecstasy: almost an out-of-body experience.
- You feel completely involved, engaged, and concentrated/focused in the flow activity that you are doing.
- There is challenge involved in the activity, and you feel that it will stretch your abilities, but you also feel that you can meet the challenge of the activity.
- You experience a sense of energy and serenity while performing the activity.
Examples of Flow Activities
One of the first examples that came to me when I thought about flow activities was Eric Lidell from the classic movie, Chariots of Fire. Eric Lidell, the main character of the movie (a true story, by the way), loved running. He expressed the joy he felt when he would run competitively:
“I believe that God made me for a purpose….He … made me fast, and when I run, I feel His pleasure.”
Another example of flow activities occurred to me as I recalled a recent re-make I watched of The Karate Kid, starring Will Smith’s son, Jaden. As we watch this 10-year-old character increasingly perfect his skills in the martial arts, we sense the joy with which he performs very difficult and demanding tasks after hours and hours of practice.
Here are some other examples of flow activities:
- Michael Jordan playing “in the zone”, when it seemed he could miss no shots during high scoring games.
- Champion concert violinists when they are performing an exquisite solo number.
- An actor who is performing on stage.
- A high school student performing in a debate.
Why Is Flow Important to Happiness?
According to positive psychology research, the more we can engage in flow activities, the more energized and happy we will feel. When we engage in these activities, we feel challenged and energized. We lose a focus on ourselves in service of the task at hand.
This doesn’t mean that we have to only do flow activities. But research suggests that if we can purposefully harness the concept of flow, we will experience greater levels of well-being in our personal and professional lives.
How To Create Flow Activities In Your Life
Become Aware of Flow Activities Already In Your Life
You’ll find some helpful advice from Marcus Buckingham, author of Go Put Your Strengths to Work: 6 Powerful Steps to Achieve Outstanding Performance.
You can follow the steps outlined in that article.
And you can also benefit from following a grid put together by life coach Tim LeBon.
In both your personal and your work lives, pay attention to the following criteria, and when you do different activities, both at work and outside of work, ask yourself, on a scale of 1-10, how completely does this activity meet this criteria?
- Losing my sense of myself (because I’m so engaged in the activity)
- Feeling a sense of serenity
- The activity is worth doing for its own sake
- I feel a sense of control when I am performing this activity.
- It’s a challenge, but I have the confidence to take the challenge on.
Once you have identified your flow activities, plan them into your week.
You can’t expect that you’ll be fully engaged in flow activities all the time, and that every time you’re involved in one of these activities you will experience all the criteria listed above. However, research shows that the more intentional you are at planning these activities into your life, and doing them, the more happiness, contentment, and well-being you will feel.
At work, notice the activities you engage in that you really enjoy and look forward to. They have a “pull” factor to them. They’re challenging, but you feel invigorated after taking them on. On the other hand, you may havetasks that you absolutely dread. You might even be good at them, but they bore you. Work on taking on more projects that will allow you to put your “flow activities” to work. You’ll find yourself performing at higher levels and producing greater results.
At home, or outside of work, take note of activities and hobbies that you feel challenge and “flow” with. I’ve discovered a love of writing, reading good literature, and running as flow activities that center me and energize me. What are some of your “flow” activities? How can you plan them intentionally into your life?
Bring the Concept of Flow to Every Day “Mundane” Activities
The Bible teaches that in everything we do, we should work to bring glory to God. The way I like to think of this is that, in every single activity I do, I can do it with an attitude of excellence, gratitude, and joy. As I focus on thinking that I am doing this very activity to bring glory to my Creator, I am “in sync” with my Creator’s life giving energy.
The Bible teaches that God created the universe out of nothing! God, the source of all creativity, is with me as I perform every single activity throughout my day with awareness of communing with my Creator.
A relatively unknown priest, Brother Lawrence, wrote this classic out of a desire to cultivate a daily habit of being aware of God and His presence. As he did this, he found that every single activity he performed, whether peeling carrots, or washing dishes, became filled with joy.
How do you intend to plan for flow activities in your life this week? How can you bring an extraordinary attitude to the “mundane” activities in your life, so that you can practice the concept of flow on a more regular basis?
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photo credit: joeszilagyi