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Is Flow The Secret to Happiness?

One thing that drew me to study with the Functional Medicine Coaching Academy was that one of the program’s focuses was positive psychology. Psychology Today states that Positive psychology focuses on “the character strengths and behaviors that allow individuals to build a life of meaning and purpose—to move beyond surviving to flourishing.” 

One of our lectures was about “flow,” a concept introduced by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. You can watch his Ted Talk “Flow: the Secret to Happiness” at the bottom of this post. In his Tedtalk, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi states that most people don’t spend their lives in flow and choose many activities which contribute to apathy. He mentions that watching TV is one common activity that contributes to apathy.

Csikszentmihalyi has also written several books, one of which is “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.” If you want to learn more about this book, go to this link. It is a helpful book filled with so many nuggets of material you can apply today. 

Csikszentmihalyi first experienced flow during World War II when he was in a POW camp at the age of 10.
He learned that if he became completely absorbed in an activity, he could forget about everything else going on around him.

What is Flow State?

Flow State Defined

Csikszentmihalyi defines flow as “the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.

When you’re in a flow state,  you’re fully immersed in the task at hand, to the point that you lose track of time and find immense pleasure in simply completing the task at hand. Except for what is directly in front of you, everything disappears into the background. You can concentrate deeply on a single task without distractions. When you’re in a flow state, your mind is 100% engaged. 

Is flow the secret to happiness?

The Flow Experience

Have you ever been so absorbed in a task that time just got away from you? You look at the clock to find that hours have passed when it only seemed like minutes. During this focused time, you accomplished a great deal because you were laser-focused and engaged with your task.

How often have you experienced the above? Unless you are a productivity wizard, I would guess you have experienced this only a handful of times. The times when I experience flow are when I’m writing, or rehearsing, or performing. Occasionally, social interactions do this for me if the conversation is equally engaging to both parties. 

Our society and our environments do not support the flow state. Modern day distractions constantly bombard us with notifications, social media, and other forms of electronic interrupters.

What if I told you that you could get into this flow state more often, that your everyday life could be more productive, and that you could reach your life and wellness goals? Do you want to be happier and healthier? Let’s dive in and learn more about flow.

An Example of Flow State from the Perspective of an Actor

It is rare for me not to enter a flow state when I am performing. Here is how I describe my experience with flow.

When I’m performing in a play and acting a role I know inside and out, I lose all sense of self. I’m no longer thinking about what I have to do when I get home, the daily chores I need to do, or anything else. I am not even thinking about my next line or what the audience is thinking of me. Instead, I am immersed in the experience, losing track of all time and just being the character. The actions seem to flow out of me without even having to think about them. When the performance is over, I can’t believe it went by so fast. There is no room for extra thoughts, distractions, or worries. It’s as though I have blinders on to any outside or internal distraction.

What Happens When You’re In Flow?

Greater Productivity: Because you aren’t trying to multitask, your productivity skyrockets. When you concentrate on a single task, you aren’t scattered. You’re not trying to do five things at once: checking Facebook multiple times, texting friends, checking email, etc. When you multitask, you make little progress on anything. Focusing intensely on one task for an hour can bring greater productivity than if you switch gears every 15 minutes.

I use time-blocking strategies to improve my flow and productivity. As a business owner, I have set days to do certain tasks, and I do only that assigned activity on that day. This focus has allowed me to get a lot more done in a short amount of time. When you concentrate all your thoughts on the work at hand, you can achieve extraordinary things

Elimination of time-wasters and distractions and a greater calmness. The flow state allows you to either eliminate distractions or not notice them as much. When you are working in a flow state, you are so in the task at hand that you are oblivious to the extra noises and interruptions around you.

Imagine being able to shut out: 

  • Notifications
  • Buzzes
  • Dings
  • Alerts
  • And any other electronic distraction

You lose track of time, but you have spent that time well. When you are entirely immersed in an activity, time goes by quickly. You may not even realize how long you’ve been working, which allows you to get more done. You are dedicating more time to that activity than you usually would, which improves your productivity.

Increased enjoyment of life and less worry. When you are experiencing a single activity and are in flow, you are not thinking about life’s problems. You aren’t worrying about mistakes you’ve made. Your only concern is that one single task. 

You live your greater purpose and enjoy a happier life. While productivity is a benefit of the flow state, the most significant benefit is greater meaning and purpose. You can’t achieve flow while doing mundane activities. The activities must be meaningful to you. Flow state ensures that you are working on projects or activities that are meaningful to you. When you complete meaningful tasks, you will experience more joy.

What does flow have to do with my well-being?

People who can get into flow more often are happier people. And studies show that happier people are healthier people.

Happier people often experience these health benefits:

  • Pain reduction
  • Longer life expectancy
  • Less stress
  • Healthier lifestyle

How do I get into flow?

Now that you are aware of the benefits of being in flow, you might wonder how to get into flow. While some activities like performing or engaging conversations are naturally flow-inducing, we spend little of our lives in flow. And you need to set up circumstances for flow.

I will go into more detail in my next blog post about these steps.

Step 1: Challenge yourself. Flow doesn’t happen with mundane activities.

Step 2: Set clear goals.

Step 3: Remove distractions.

Step 4: Don’t multitask.

Step 5: Improve your concentration.

Step 6: Check-in with your emotions.

Are you ready to flow?

Based on the information above, what steps can you take to improve your life and well-being? How can you get into flow?

Is flow the secret to happiness? Watch the TedTalk

Want to take a fun quiz to find your purpose? It might help you find your flow. 😉

Disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor, therapist, Registered Dietitian, or financial advisor. The information presented is purely for informational purposes.  Check with a doctor or other professional before making any nutritional, fitness, lifestyle, or financial changes. The author and blog disclaim liability for any damage, mishap, or injury that may occur from engaging in any suggestions or ideas from this site.

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