Friday, August 31, 2012

Flow is Not Just the Name of Your Secratary

There are times when we are so consumed with what we are doing that time seems to let go of its hold on us, are bodies are in-sync and our conscious flies on auto-pilot. No... I'm not talking about walking up the stairs to your bedroom after a night of drinking, I'm talking about being in the moment or what I call "driving in your lane, with the windows down." This may come to a teacher when they are deep in a pedagogical moment with childrens' eyes fixed on them in wonder. It may come to a tennis player, when they are no longer thinking about what shot they are going to hit next; driving a backhand cross court. Or it may even come to a mother as she scaffolds her daughter through the moment of riding a bike for the first time without training wheels.

We can call this moment of full immersion: Flow. This concept was developed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (huh?????? yes he is almost as famous for his name and is generally just know as Mr. C) and really provided the basis for the Positive Psychology movement. Mr. C talks about Flow being "a state of concentration or complete absorption with the activity at hand and the situation. It is a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter (Csikszentmihalyi,1990)." He writes about this experience in his book "Finding Flow" :

I find this idea of Flow very similar to the mindful awareness that is fostered through a daily mindfulness practice. With the practice of mindful meditation and yoga we are able to influence our capacity to experience Flow in our everyday lives and increase the wonder and happiness of the fulfillment that accompanies it. Mr. C writes "To achieve a flow state, a balance must be struck between the challenge of the task and the skill of the performer. If the task is too easy or too difficult, flow cannot occur. Both skill level and challenge level must be matched and high; if skill and challenge are low and matched, then apathy results (Csikszentmihalyi, 1997)." I believe this is an over statement. When we make focused attention part of our daily experience, Flow will become part of our reality no matter the challenge level of the task at hand. Acknowledging this feeling of Flow helps us make meaning in our lives. It also helps us be confident in our life's lane (or purpose).

I was listening to one of my favorite rock bands the other day and could help to think that this song not only represented the wonder of being in the moment, but also how we can reach the feeling of Flow from focusing our attention on even the simplest daily activities.

The full lyrics can be found here, but I found this verse to be particularly germane to the post above.
Like a tropical forest
Like a cop on the beat
When all is in order
You get lost in the heat
With focused attention and a mindful approach to life we can stay in the moment and experience Flow in the world around us. This will help to increase our ability to enjoy life as fully functioning human beings. It will also give us the keys to the ignition so we can drive in our lane with the top down and the wind blowing through our hair!
Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (1998). Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement With Everyday Life. Basic Books
Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (1990). Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: Harper and Row


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