“The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times… The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”
Traditionally, psychology has concentrated on mental illness and other psychological problems. Positive psychology is a relatively new branch of psychology which instead focuses on mental wellness. It examines how ordinary people can lead happier and more fulfilling lives.
The founder of positive psychology- Mike Csikszentmihalyi- states happiness is often derived from personal development and growth. To achieve this development, he emphasises the importance of a mental state called flow. Flow is best described as absolute immersion in an activity, or being completely ‘in the zone’.
For flow to occur, you must be engaged in an activity which has clear goals and immediate feedback to indicate process toward these goals. There is a balance between the challenges posed by the activity and your available skills. In other words, the activity must not be so difficult that you become anxious nor so easy that you are bored. The tasks involved require total concentration- so much so that you no longer think of the worries and frustrations of everyday life. You experience a loss of awareness of both your sense of self and of time passing. You believe the activity is worth doing for its own sake.
Flow experiences occur in different ways for different people. Generally, people report flow when doing their favourite activity- be it skiing, painting or cooking a good meal. Rarely is flow reported in passive leisure activities, such as watching television.
In support of Csikszentmihalyi, several studies have found flow experiences and positive affect to go hand-in-hand (Rheinberg et al., 2007; Schüler, 2007). Flow is closely linked to high performance in artistic and scientific creativity, learning and sports (Perry, 1999). Flow experiences are also associated with an increased sense of competence and self-esteem.
While we have all experienced the positive effects of flow at one point or another, these activities don’t tend to be something we prioritise in our daily lives. Take this article as the push you need to foster more flow into your life.
Start by making a list of activities you think you might experience flow in. Think about how you could change your weekly schedule to incorporate more of these activities in. What would be the costs and benefits of making these changes?
For the next two weeks, commit to making some of these changes. Pay attention to the impact this has on your well-being- you may be surprised!
Shelley Grady (BA, MSc)