By Poornima Vijayashanker
During my staycation a couple weekends ago I watched the documentary Happy. While the documentary highlighted a number of sources of happiness such as support from friends and family and the ability to overcome adversity, the one source of happiness they talked about that resonated with me the most was operating in a state of flow.
Most of us know this as being in the zone. Once we’re there we are just so deeply involved and focused on a particular activity, that we forget problems or other issues that we might be dealing with or are around us.
I am quite fortunate to experience flow most days, but that’s because for the past few years I have created a mindset that is conducive to achieving it quickly and consistently.
But it took me awhile to get there…
When I talk to others about flow, a number of misconceptions arise, and I want to clear up some of these misconceptions and share how to get to a flow-like state consistently.
Misconception #1: Everything around you has to be perfect or rosy.
Contrary to what some may think, you can find flow even in chaotic moments. They key is to put the chaos aside by taking some distance from it. I know this is easier said than done! I’ve had my share of days where people have yelled at me or I’ve had to fight a fire (not literally). In both of these types of moments, I’ve learned to detach myself from the words that people throw at me or the gravity of the situation, and instead focus on resolving the issue.
To do this effectively, you first have to choose to put the emotion attached to the chaos on the backburner. You can acknowledge it, but you don’t dwell on it. Instead you choose to focus on resolving the issue, and that revs up your mind into a creative state.
From that point on you’re immersed and start to feel like the chaos is manageable possibly even extinguishable!
Really what you’ve done is put the chaos into perspective, and chosen not to mull over it. This is an act of will power.
Misconception #2: You have to wait around to find inspiration.
Sometimes it’s not about chaos, but instead a feeling of melancholy. Everything seems so banal. You may be waiting for your mood to change so that you can be inspired to act.
Once again this moment doesn’t magically appear, you have to make an active choice. And that choice can be something small and simple.
Each week when I start writing this newsletter, I am not inspired, sometimes I’m tired. But I usually make myself turn off my phone, shut down email, and just start writing! It doesn’t matter what. I just start typing words and I don’t stop until I have written a full rough draft!
The decision to roll up your sleeves and start doing is all the catalyst you need even in moments when you feel the least inspired!
Misconception #3: Flow can lead to workaholism.
I don’t know what more to say than this is a complete contradiction. Workaholism is the choice to drown yourself in work that you might find unsatisfying, and use it as an excuse to avoid other enjoyable activities.
While flow is about pursuing activities that are are enjoyable and knowing that the moment won’t last forever, but you’ll stay present for as long as you can.
To conflate the two would be like saying someone who enjoys a meal and eating food in moderate quantities to nourish themselves is the same as someone who just binge eats without any sort of appreciation for the food or respect for their own bodies.
Misconception #4: Once you’re interrupted you’ve lost it.
When beginning any activity you have to reduce the number of interruptions so that you can be present. But despite your best efforts something may happen around you, chaos rears it’s ugly head yet again! When this happens you have to take a moment to decide if the interruption can wait, and if it cannot, then know that it’s OK to deal with it.
However, once it’s dealt with, get back to your original flow-filled activity. Making the commitment to return is how you find flow again!
I’ve talked to a number of people who tell me things like, “Oh you know I used to exercise.” “Oh I used to speak a foreign language.” “Oh I used to have time to do XYZ.”
Then some major life event either positive or negative happened like they had a baby, got divorced, got a new job, or lost a loved one, and have yet to return to the activity that led them to flow.
Sometimes it’s not even an event, but a gradual decline in engaging in the activity. In this case the gradual decline is because people didn’t place a priority on the activity because they felt guilty about the joy they received when doing it!
Happiness is the absence of feeling guilt. So if you want to find flow and be happy, do what you love and just enjoy it, tell guilt to take a hike! I’m of course assuming, the activity is something that is healthy and constructive 🙂
Regardless of whether it was a life altering situation or a gradual decline, you can get back into it!
Misconception #5: You have to be good at something first.
Often times people think they have to be amazing at an activity in order to reach flow. But one characteristic of flow is the actual transition from sucking at something to getting good at it. In order to do this though there are two key ingredients:
- Putting aside limiting beliefs and quieting the critical voice. If you yourself don’t believe you can do something, then it doesn’t matter how many hours you put into the activity, you won’t achieve flow. You’ll just continue to hold yourself back!
- You have to feed flow by taking the time to rest your mind. You cannot expect flow to be endless or to show up immediately. If you’re starting something new, your mind will tire quickly, which is normal. It takes time and alternating between rest and rehearsal to get to the breakthrough moment!
I got back into public speaking back in 2008 after about an 8 year hiatus, I was super rusty, and not really sure how to do a technical talk. But I wanted to get back into it, so I quieted my critical voice, practiced, and then just did it. 6 years laters I know I’ve improved dramatically, and I’m constantly experiencing flow in my talks!
If you’re still on the fence about flow coming consistently then use this blog as proof that it is possible, I’ve been writing consistently for nearly 2 years now 😉
Remember one key to being happy is finding flow, but it’s not about searching for it, it’s about getting started on something and keeping at it!
Did you recently experience a flow-like state? What was the activity and how did you achieve flow?