American psychology professor Mihai Csiksentmihaii has written more than 120 articles and several bestsellers about the state of flow, which he has been researching for several decades. Flow is total involvement in the events taking place. Not observing one's feelings, emotions and experiences, which is assumed in mindfulness theory, but living them. Attention, motivation, and situation come together, and one becomes fully engaged.
Mihai's research has shown that people experience the greatest joy and satisfaction when they exert their best efforts, skills, knowledge, and physical abilities to achieve a goal. With such involvement, a sense of time and self is lost, social roles are erased, and there is complete unity with the reality around us. Or, to put it simply, we think about what we do and do what we think about in the present moment, living life rather than observing it.
This state of oneness is not only possible if we are engaged in some creative activity or something extremely exciting. According to the author of the books, a sense of flow can be achieved even while performing monotonous, monotonous activities, working on an assembly line, if stress, management pressure or personal stereotypes that "work should not be something pleasant" do not interfere.
Everyone has experienced the state of flow many times, but may not have realized it. Such a phenomenon is not possible without several major elements. These include:
- autotelic activity. It means that the activity you have chosen you like. A poet writes poetry because he enjoys writing, an educator enjoys interacting with children. Despite the presence of some negative or annoying moments, the work as a whole should like it. A person sees its pluses and is able to immerse themselves in the process enough to enjoy it;
- Precisely defined goals. A clear understanding of where you are going gives energy and strength. Dividing one large-scale task into many small achievable steps motivates and disciplines;
- Matching the complexity of the task to the skills available to the person performing it. If the task is too difficult and inherently unattainable, such as running a marathon in the absence of any training, or painting a copy of Claude Monet's painting when first picking up oil paints - the tasks are unattainable, and therefore do not generate enthusiasm. Or the other side: if you have already reached a certain level of mastery in a certain activity, then in order to return to the state of flow you will need to set new, more difficult tasks, otherwise a feeling of boredom and pointlessness of actions will appear. In order to have a state of flow, you must perform difficult but manageable tasks. And for the same person, the "feasibility" of the work may vary depending on their physical and psychological state at different points in time;
- clear feedback. When doing something, you should constantly listen to your feelings, read the attitude of others to your work, notice positive improvements, victories at each stage. This will be the best motivation and energy generator, will give a sense of importance and significance and inspire new achievements;
- control. The flowing state allows you to control your circumstances. For example, fans of extreme sports, such as mountain climbers, love not only the risk, but also the control over the situation in which they put their lives in danger. In this case, crossing a busy highway, hovering in their thoughts, is much more dangerous than performing stunt stunts in a state of flow;
- structured activity. It is "playing by the rules." Actions in the flow are not uncoercive and chaotic, but subject to set, conscious algorithms. Even the creative clutter required, for example, by the creator of computer games is his "rule" supporting environment. If purpose is an awareness of what exactly we want, then the structure of activity is an awareness of how we can achieve it.
What does it mean to thrive, succeed, and be satisfied with life? Researchers in positive psychology have been studying this question for over twenty years and have identified many elements of a happy human life. The main ones are purpose, interest, and pleasure.
To arrive at a state of flow, one must:
- find an activity that is exciting to you or an interest in the activity you are currently engaged in;
- Give up multitasking and concentrate on the situation at hand;
- Break down big goals into small tasks and improve your skills;
- Practicing regularly and with discipline.
The quality of life will be much better if we learn to love what we do.
"Buddhists give good advice on how to do this: always act as if the future of the universe depends on what you have done, and laugh at yourself if you think your doing makes a difference. It is this kind of serious humor, this combination of participation and humility, that allows one to treat things with full engagement and at the same time at ease. One does not have to win at all to feel satisfied; maintaining order in the universe becomes a satisfying goal in and of itself, without any subsequent benefit to the individual. It is then possible to experience joy even when you are fighting a losing war for a good cause," writes Csiksentmihaii in Flow. In Search of Flow."
Flow is not a universal recipe for happiness, but one way to "cook" a delicious reality from the "ingredients" available to each of us. And like any diet, it is worth trying before deciding whether or not this lifestyle is right for you.