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What is flow state and why do you want more of it?

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).

Lose yourself in an activity so you feel like you are flowing into the experience and notice the benefits to your body.

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.

Accessing your flow state is easier than you think!

Flow state can only come when you are mono tasking. When you choose to set aside everything else and do one thing.

  • Choose one single goal; make sure your goal is meaningful to you.
  • Ask yourself: What would be something meaningful to me that I could do now?
  • Once you have identified something that inspires and lifts you, write down what you will do, when you will do it and the time you will allocate to this.
  • Focus on something that is at the edge of your abilities; if it’s too easy you’ll go into autopilot, and if it is too hard, you may get stressed and quit before flow state emerges.

 

“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).

 

  1. Make a Choice.  Clients light up as they have shared their flow state with me; walking into a sewing room or studio, digging in the garden, planting seedlings, curling on the couch with a book and open fire, making bagels, practicing golf, walking in nature, standing on a paddle board, cooking to favourite music, cleaning cupboards (really – someone does this for flow 😉 ) lighting a candle and writing on beautiful paper, the list is endless …
  2. Set a specific date, today and time aside to invite a flow state opportunity into your life.
  3. At the allocated time, turn off all distractions, set the timer if you need to (that’s what I do and I don’t stop until the kitchen timer rings!).

 

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.

Book 5 minutes with yourself to re-set your phone notification defaults.

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.

Warm regards

Amanda and Tara from Bayside Healthy Living, where we are committed to empowering people to be the best version of themselves.

References

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.

We are moving!

Amanda and Tara are looking forward to welcoming you to our new rooms from Monday 3 June.

New location:

Unit 2, 107 Carpenter Street, Brighton 3186

Until then, sessions continue at 108 Willis Street Hampton.