I love watching people light up with enthusiasm as they describe something they can get lost in; where they lose time and forget the world around them. 85% of people can remember at least one time when they felt this way, and often these moments have become a highlight of their lives (Hari, 2022). Known as flow state, this mind and body phenomena has extraordinary health benefits (Hari, 2022). Please keep reading to find out how.
Flow state has been shown to be extremely beneficial to the mind and body: the more flow you experience, the better you feel.
Johann Hari, in his latest book Stolen Focus (a fabulous book I couldn’t put down), interviewed a lead expert in psychology Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who was disillusioned by post WW2 psychology where he felt the emphasis was on ‘the mechanics of the mind’ and negative drivers influencing mental health. He was much more curious to explore the more positive aspects of being human and ways people naturally ‘nourish the mind’.
Remember this was post war thinking and provided a startling re-think of human psychology. He began by observing artists who appeared to be in a hypnotic trance, where time seemed to fall away from them, and as a practicing psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi had rarely seen this level of focus anywhere. He was confused by the end of the observation when the artists were setting the artwork away and reaching for another canvas, not so concerned with the outcome, or for stepping back and observing their work. They appeared driven by the process of painting itself. It was the same for rock climbers, poets, writers, and cooks that he observed. Mihaly was able to observe what was naturally occurring and relatively easy; “if humans drill down in the right way, we can hit a gusher of focus inside ourselves - a long surge of attention that will flow forth and carry us through difficult tasks in a way that feels pleasurable “ (Hari, 2022, p.52).
Based on over five (5) decades of research into what Mihaly coined ‘flow state’, he was able to demonstrate that the more flow experienced, the better we feel. Other well-known authors have shed a light on accessing the benefits of flow state to bring relief and healing from past trauma (Emmerson, 2014: His Holiness the Dalai Lama et al., 2016; Mate & Mate, 2022; van der Kolk, 2015).
Flow state is another powerful tool and antidote to anxiety (see previous blogs https://baysidehealthyliving.com.au/research/), offering access to the Now; the sweet present moment where Ekhart Tolle (2004) reminds us that we can always access the resources to cope with the Now.
Drawing on Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi‘s flow state research Johan Hari (2022, p.263) summarises the pivotal steps to accessing your own flow state.
Flow state can only come when you are mono tasking. When you choose to set aside everything else and do one thing.
“The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times . . . The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile (Csikszentmihalyi, 2008).
Once you have created these conditions, and you hit flow, you will come to recognise the elevation and glimpses of positive flow, a state of being, where self-consciousness does not exist. It’s a sensation that you have ‘merged with the task’ (Hari, 2022, p.53) and perhaps you will recognise it because it’s a distinctive, elevated, mental state; the experience of being purely present in the moment. An experience which always welcomes mental relief. I finally got into flow state writing this blog. I needed to switch off distractions and replace them with a source of flow.
Which leads me to some final tips for this blog, to help you feel calmer and clearer.
Hari (2022) was horrified to hear from lead smart phone developers that 2/3 of people with a smart phone, never change their notification settings, which have been set during manufacturing at maximum pestering levels, to keep you distracted and attached to your phone. And perhaps you will be open to utilising the time you just gifted back to yourself to make a pact to you - to play more, laugh more, walk in the outdoors undistracted more regularly, allowing your mind to recall a time when you had 7-8 hours of deep refreshing sleep. Even the smallest of these changes has the potential to enhance energy flow in your mind, body, heart, and soul.
As I flow to the end of this blog, I truly wish you the motivation and inclination to explore your flow state and to welcome the benefits back into your life. We would love to hear your stories and reflections along the way.
Amanda and Tara from Bayside Healthy Living, where we are committed to empowering people to be the best version of themselves.
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2008). Flow The Psychology of Optimal Experience. Harper.
Emmerson, G. (2014). Resource Therapy Primer. Old Golden Point Press.
Hari, J. (2022). Stolen Focus: Why you can't pay attention. Bloomsbury Publishing.
His Holiness the Lama, D., Archbishop Tutu, D., & Abrams, D. (2016). The Book of Joy: Lasting happiness in a changing world. Penguin Random House.
Mate, G., & Mate, D. (2022). The Myth of Normal. Penguin Random House.
Tolle, E. (2004). The Power of Now. Hachette.
Van der Kolk, B. A. (2015). The body keeps the score: Mind, brain and body in the transformation of trauma. Penguin Books.