You know that old phrase, “Time flies when you’re having fun.” And I’m sure you have experienced it, too. A conversation with a friend goes on for hours, but it feels like minutes. You start working on a project, and suddenly half the day has gone by. You decide to read a few pages before bedtime, and suddenly it is well after midnight.
This experience is what the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls flow. Flow is a heightened state of attention in which you are completely absorbed in a task.
One of the wonderful things about flow is that it feels good. Generally speaking, fast thinking makes you happy (that is one reason why fast music often makes you feel good). When you engage in something that leads to flow, it is highly enjoyable.
If you are in search of flow, there are a few things you have to do.
Build up your skills. You can’t lose yourself in a task when you are first learning. You have to spend a lot of effort paying attention to what you are doing early on. After you have become more expert, you can pay attention to what you are trying to accomplish rather than how you are trying to do it.
Challenge yourself. Flow seems to happen when you are engaging in something that is at the limits of what you are able to do. When something is too hard, it is frustrating. When something is too easy, your mind starts to wander to other things. So, look for something really challenging.
Put away the distractions. Flow requires that you lose a sense of what else is going on in the world. Cell phones, email, Facebook (and even YouBeauty) can distract you from what you are doing. Put those distractions out of reach by turning off your phone and computer.
Quiet the chatter in your mind. Another source of distraction is the running monologue that you probably have going on inside your head. This voice in your head can get in the way of flow. Some research suggests that meditating and doing yoga help people achieve that elusive state of flow.
Engage the world with your body. You may think of your brain as the computer that controls the body. But, it turns out that your body and mind are deeply interconnected. The more that you engage your body in something you are doing, the more that your mind will follow along. So, engaging your body in a task can help you achieve a state of flow (though it isn’t necessary).
In short, when you are skilled, challenged, focused and sometimes even physically engaged, you can find your flow.
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