Flow is that state where you are completely absorbed in an activity; you lose track of time and space to an extend where you forget about the grocery list, or the fact that you have that outstanding list of things to do, and all that is left is a complete absorption in what you are doing.
People have been documented in reaching Flow in a wide variety of activities including participating in sport, artistic pursuits and activities such as cooking, however anything, including writing a document, can easily include flow. Russian social scientist Mihaly Czhicksentmihalyi lists the 5 conditions necessary for flow:
1- Have a clear goal that is important to you
2- Understand a set of rules about how you will get there
3- Be able to recieve feedback about your progress towards the goal consistently
4- A crucial balance exists between your skill level and the challenge of the task at hand
Annie, a client of mine, can get into flow when she sets herself down and pours over a lengthy legal document, looking for mistakes or inconsistencies. She can do it for hours and finds this kind of task very satisfying.
Flow is satisfying. Regardless of whether you are rock climbing or checking a legal document, it is a satisfying experience because of one reason: to get into flow you must identify with the task in a certain kind of way. Let me explain:
Flow is actually the result of a series of boundaries around your human experience that allows complete absorption of attention in a task. Lets pull back for a minute and think about the concept of attention briefly. Through our senses we have an incredible amount of information available to us at any one time. It is well documented that the part of our brain, the prefrontal cortex, that handles information processing is severely limited. Thats why we create ‘rules’ for filtering things in, and filtering things out. Examples of when its easy to notice evidence of this kind of filtering is the phenomenon that occurs when you purchase a new car, and then you start to notice that particular kind of car everywhere, or when you are in a conversation at a busy gathering and you are able to notice someone mention your name, or a subject you are interested in.
This process starts early, where an infant we begin to filter important information in, and disregard other kinds of information, usually as a result of some kind of reward or punishment that is associated with that kind of information. Lets say one child gets positive reinforcement for pointing out butterflies when they are around, things of beauty, while another child notices trucks and things mechanical. Once you start to notice things, you start to filter in certain types of information, it becomes part of who we are. We become ‘artists’ or ‘engineers’ of the world. This then means that we are likely to filter in more of this kind of information. Thus a feedback loop occurs, when we paying attention to this kind of information we are actually confirming a part of ourselves, our identity.
This brings us to a crucial part of flow theory that i have found crucial in helping people to navigate change: we get into flow only in areas where we can set goals that reflect who we are.
Annie, while achieving Flow during her work as a lawyer, is not able to reach the same level of absorption during exercise. It just doesn’t do it for her. My goal as a coach is helping Annie to become intrinsically identified with exercise. Part of who she is. And this is exactly what the processes I have developed allow her to do.
List down five areas that get you into flow and
Five areas you find boring and difficult to concentrate on