How to Achieve Flow

goals mindset Mar 06, 2018

The year was 2002. I was running my first marathon in L.A., but this was not the sunny California weather you’d expect. It rained about 6 inches, and it actually hailed once during the run.

But despite that, I ran, and by mile 12, I’d hit my stride – I was in a state of flow. Effortless action and enjoyment. Complete immersion. Being in the zone. Have you ever felt that way when you’re doing something you love?

I ran up Highland Ave, a pretty boulevard I’d had driven hundreds of times. But today it looked different. Despite the clouds, it was bright, and the rain had softened to a light drizzle. Everything was in sync—my arms and legs moved in perfect time; I could breathe deeply; the theme song to Chariots of Fire blared in my headI felt like I could run forever.

Then something changed. By mile 20, I was dragging. Every part of my body ached, and all I wanted to do was lie down on the pavement and sleep. People can just run around me, I thought, seriously considering it. All my hopes and energies were pinned on meeting my running partner’s wife, Debra, at our rendezvous point at Mile 23.

When I got there, though, she was nowhere in sight. I was devastated. I felt like I couldn’t go another step.

Fortunately, this story has a happy ending: I managed to finish, and to this day, it’s one of my proudest accomplishments. But what’s most interesting about this story is the drastically different experiences within one event. For the first half, I was in “flow.” The second was so painful and difficult that I almost gave up. What changed?

It turns out “flow” isn’t this magical, mythical thing that we have no control over. On the contrary, it has very distinct characteristics, as observed by Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi (pronounced “cheek-sent-me-high”), a brilliant scientist known for his research on this subject. After years of studying flow, he narrowed it down to these qualities:

  1. Complete involvement (you’re totally focused)
  2. The task is challenging and requires skill
  3. Inner clarity (you know what needs to be done, and how)
  4. Sense of control (the belief that you have the skill, and can handle the challenge)
  5. Sense of serenity (no worries, no ego)
  6. Time stops (or you don’t notice it passing)
  7. Intrinsic motivation (you want to keep doing this)

Those things all describe the first half of my run. But at some point, I started to tire out. And instead of keeping my focus on any of the elements of flow, like my sense of control or serenity, I started to focus on aches, pains, and fatigue. And once I let them in, they took over.

We all have the power to create flow. It comes down to what actions we take, and what we choose to focus on. (Isn’t that just like life?)

So what are some ways can we create – and stay inside – flow?

Here are 5 of my favorites:

  1. Know – and discover – what you love. It may sound simple, but a lot of people don’t actually know what makes them happiest. Keeping a journal and reflecting on your day can help you find influences your moods. When you know what you love, you’ll know where to spend your energy.
  2. Perform small tasks with great mindfulness. Even the most routine tasks, like washing dishes or mowing the lawn, can be rewarding if we approach them as if we were making a work of art. This trains our brain to focus and be completely involved – so that we’re more prepared for that state of mind when we’re doing something we love.
  3. Find out what rhythm works best for you. If we feel “stuck” in our 9-5 routines, it’s often because that’s somebody else’s schedule, not ours. Everyone has a time of day that feels most awake and creative to them. Try getting up earlier, taking a nap in the afternoon, or eating at different times, to help you find your peak time – and then arrange your day around that.
  4. Make a creative change in your surroundings. Throw out excess stuff. Rearrange furniture. Buy some plants. Anything to make your space more psychologically comfortable. This will help you take charge of your life, as well as cultivate enjoyment – one of the main tenets of flow.
  5. Set constructive goals that you’ll enjoy working toward. Choose to spend your time doing things that are fun and rewarding for you. Some people think that in order to be successful, they have to be stressed out and do lots of hard things. That isn’t the case. Find ease and enjoyment wherever you can, and flow will find you.

 It’s really all about what we choose to focus on. Look for flow, welcome it into your life, and you’ll find it.

Where in your life have you experienced flow?

 What are some things you can do to experience it more?

Tell me below – I love hearing how and where other people find flow!

Then go out and shine.

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