Have you ever been so intensely involved in something that you lose all track of time? Been so engrossed that you were unaware of anything going on around you? An activity that is so fully absorbing that you forget about hunger? thirst? fatigue?
Go With the Flow
You were most likely engaging in an activity that gives you great satisfaction, and requires a certain level of concentration. Psychologists refer to this phenomenon as ĎFlowí and it seems to be a major factor in achieving happiness.
So how do you know when you are in a state of flow? There are some key characteristics that most people will exhibit whilst in this state.
Losing Awareness of Time
You never watch the clock and hours can seem to pass like minutes. You could start an activity at 4pm and before you know it, its 9pm and you are sure that only a few minutes have passed.
Losing Awareness of Self
You stop thinking about your level of comfort completely. You donít care less about your appearance or what others are thinking about how you look. You stop feeling hungry, thirsty, hot, cold or tired. You may even forget about needing to use the bathroom.
No Intrusive Thoughts
At most times of the day our brains are constantly thinking about random and minor things such as the need to buy milk or what show is on TV tonight. When youíre in a state of flow you will stop having these stray thoughts and be only absorbed with thoughts and feelings that relate to the activity at hand.
A flow state is not achieved through doing something passive. You will be actively engaged in what you are doing, and being in control of the process.
Everything is Effortless
Although flow activities always require a level of concentration and work, when you are in the zone or state of flow, everything will seem to happen effortlessly.
How to Recognise Flow
So why is flow so important to happiness?
Flow has intrinsic rewards. The activity is a reward in itself. It brings much fulfilment. People often report the greatest sense of wellbeing and positive emotions when they have experienced flow. Long term reports indicate that those who are able to experience flow more frequently are much happier in general.
So how do I experience flow?
Some people find it easier than others to achieve a state of flow. For the lucky ones it comes naturally.
Psychologists have tried to isolate the factors that allow people to enter this state. Their findings suggest a need to match your skills and abilities with the challenge and difficulty of the task.
For example, an activity that often allows me to experience flow is photography. I have been trained in photography so that I know how to use the controls, and the light, and how to best compose to achieve the look Iím after.
Still, capturing the perfect shot requires skill and effort, along with considerable concentration and thought, even when youíve learnt how. Therefore photography is an activity that matches my levels of skill with an appropriate level of challenge that allows me to experience flow.
Make it a Challenge
If the challenge is too difficult and you donít have sufficient skills you will likely struggle and experience too much frustration to enter a flow state. An example of this would be learning to draw or as a beginner.
On the other hand if the activity is too easy, and does not provide enough challenge, you are likely to become bored quickly.
Most people who frequently enter a flow state do so when they take part in a preferred hobby or leisure activity that has taken time and effort to build up their skill in.
So if you find that you have never experienced flow then maybe itís time to take up that new activity youíve always wanted to try. Just remember to be patient as flow will come when you build up your skills.
You can even experience flow at work or with study. These are often good ways to experience flow as you have probably already learnt considerable skills over time.
You need to remember to set challenges for yourself that require your active participation and concentration and you will be soon experiencing flow even in compulsory activities.
Thanks Tracie, Flow is one of my own personal best mood lifters so was keen to share this. I do like to find pics that say something about the message in my articles and these pics were the obvious choice in this instance, glad you liked them.