Finding Pleasure in Unexpected Places

Bored at the gym? Overwhelmed at work? Harness the power of flow to make you happier and healthier while doing everyday tasks.

| May 3rd, 2012
Finding Pleasure in Unexpected Places

You’ve heard the expressions “in the zone” and “go with the flow,” but have you ever stopped to consider how to make that work for you on a regular basis?

Back in the 1960s, psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and his colleagues were intrigued by people such as artists who seem to “lose themselves” in their art, working long hours consumed by production. But painters and sculptors aren’t the only people who experience this state. “The way I explain flow is when you feel fully immersed in an activity, with an energetic type of focus to the point where your awareness of time has suspended,” says Maryann Troiani, Ph.D., a psychologist in Barrington, Illinois and co-author of pro-flow tome “Spontaneous Optimism: Proven Strategies for Health, Prosperity and Happiness.” “It can occur when you’re reading, gardening or doing something else you truly enjoy. I even experience it when I’m playing with my nephews!”

MORE: Meet the Mind: The Man Who Discovered Flow

It’s no surprise that going with the flow comes with heath and beauty benefits. “There is a multitude of medical literature and studies on how if you’re constantly lacking flow you’re more likely to be stressed and get sick,” Troiani points out. “The benefits are more energy and health and mental stability. When the unexpected occurs, you’re more likely to handle it better.”

Chances are, if you’re lucky enough to have a passion and you indulge it, you “flow” already. Of course, while achieving flow may sound easy enough, it’s not as simple as, say, clicking the remote to watch your favorite show. That’s because there are certain criteria: “An important distinction is that the activity has to be a meaningful task and something you are guiding,” says Troiani. “But it should be accompanied by a pleasurable, positive feeling.”

The good news? You don’t need to go on a quest for the ultimate flow-inducing past-time. In fact, there are ways you can increase your enjoyment of more mundane activities we usually perform on a daily or weekly basis. Check out these unexpected ways to find flow and boost pleasure in everyday tasks.

Work It Out
You know that getting in exercise is non-negotiable, but sometimes running that mile or four requires every ounce of willpower you’ve got. Rather than counting down the minutes and seconds on the treadmill screen, mix up your exercise routine to cure workout ennui and keep you engaged.

MORE: The Best Exercises for Finding Flow

“There are numerous studies that prove that muscle confusion [mixing up your workouts] is one of the most effect way to see results,” says Caroline Levy Limpert, co-founder of Fitist.com, an online fitness booking service that matches people with new boutique workout classes. While Fitist is only available in Los Angeles and New York City for now, the concept translates anywhere. Check out your gym or local YMCA for classes you’ve never tried before—from tennis to ballet to Zumba—and seek out what you love.

“By mixing up your workouts, you prevent boredom and hitting a plateau in your fitness routine,” says Limpert. “Doing the same workout day in and day out is just boring. Mixing up is not only more effective, but it’s more fun.” And having a good time is what flow is all about.

Office Max(imizing)
There’s no getting around it. Unless you’re sitting on a serious trust fund, most of us have to schlep ourselves off to some form of employment. But while most people can relate to the feeling of Monday morning dread that takes hold on Sunday evenings, there are those smug Suzies who broadly smile and don’t hesitate to remark, “I love my job!” What’s their secret? Troiani points out that the trick to flow is confidence—if you’re overwhelmed by the task or feel you’re not skilled enough, you simply can’t switch to a pleasurable state. “Especially today, when lots of offices are understaffed and people are tasked with multiple jobs, it’s easy to get overwhelmed,” she says.

Getting better at breaking daunting tasks into more doable, bite-size chunks you can easily accomplish certainly helps. So can brushing up on some skills that can help you at work. “Go to the library and learn a new skill that’s relevant to your job,” suggests Troiani. “When you’re in control and feeling good, that’s when the day goes by really fast.”

And if you still can’t handle your workload, it’s up to you to make the boss aware. Ultimately, employers want their workers to be happy and productive, not frazzled stress cases.

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