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 head. I 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:
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:
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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