How to achieve more flow: being in the zone
Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them, that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like. Laoizi.
Laozi already defined the concept ‘flow’ 600 years ago for Christ. A term that is so popular nowadays. There’s even a Dutch magazine called Flow. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, an American psychologist from Hungarian background, found that flow-experience is a pleasant state of absorption of a person during an optimally challenging activity. During flow, the acting person shows undivided attention to a limited stimulus field, while time experience is typically distorted and self-referential thoughts are faded out of the mind. This experiential state occurs when the skills of a person and the demand of the activity are in balance and both above average. What does it mean to be in flow in our daily lives and how can we achieve this?
Imagine you are at a dance festival, and you hear this terrific music playing by the DJ. You can’t help but move your body. You are starting to feel the beats everywhere. In your belly, in your legs, in your arms, and in your head. You don’t pay attention to who you are, where you are, or what time you are in right now. The only thing you care about is dancing because you are fully absorbed by the sounds of the DJ. That is flow.
When you are in flow there is no room in your awareness for conflicts or contradictions; you know that a distracting thought or emotion stops the intense moment you are experiencing right now. The music is so perfect that you want your dance to last forever…
This experience can occur in different situations. It depends if the activity is something you really enjoy. It can happen for example during a sports activity, writing, reading a good book, painting, singing, playing chess, or even during work. This may occur during writing a report, closing a business deal, performing a treatment, etc. Flow experience can also arise during social interactions, when talking with a good friend, playing with a baby, or talking to someone about something you are really enthusiastic about. This happened to me several times. For example, when I was at work I was talking with a colleague about spirituality, one of my favorite subjects, and I completely forget I was working! But I also experienced this during writing an article or poem. I couldn’t stop until I finished it! I only cared about writing and nothing more.
According to Csikszentmihalyi, there are 8 necessary and jointly sufficient criteria and features that allow a flow experience to happen:
- One is engaged in an achievable task;
- One is able to focus;
- One has a clear goal;
- One has a sense of control about the situation or activity;
- One receives immediate feedback, success and failure are immediately clear that makes adjustment possible;
- One moves without worrying;
- One has suspended the sense of self;
- One has temporality lost a sense of time
This seems a lot and it makes one wonder if flow experiences are really difficult to achieve and therefore rare. But the key to finding more flow is actually to stop searching for flow. Because there’s actually one bigger condition above these 8 ones. That is intuition. Flow is like inspiration. You can’t create inspiration, inspiration comes to you. Trust your intuition and creation will emerge. The flow will enter spontaneously. Of course, you need the self-discipline to get started. But when your focus is there, creation will come by itself. There’s no need to work hard, slave and plod. Because:
‘’When the flower blooms, the bees come uninvited’’. Ramakrishna.
And when you are in flow you will experience that you are able to achieve things you were normally not capable of doing. The right people will emerge on your path, everything will continue easily and life seems to fully work along with you without throwing any obstacles at you. Because you have used the power of your heart.