Go With the Flow
Today’s portion of our series from the article by Jay Dixit (Psychology Today, 11/1/2008) discusses something that many of us have an extremely difficult time doing, but something that is absolutely vital if we are truly going to learn the art of living in the moment.
To make the most of time, lose track of it (flow)
Perhaps the most complete way of living in the moment is the state of total absorption psychologists call flow. Flow occurs when you’re so engrossed in a task that you lose track of everything else around you. Flow embodies an apparent paradox: How can you be living in the moment if you’re not even aware of the moment? The depth of engagement absorbs you powerfully, keeping attention so focused that distractions cannot penetrate. You focus so intensely on what you’re doing that you’re unaware of the passage of time. Hours can pass without you noticing.
Flow is an elusive state. As with romance or sleep, you can’t just will yourself into it—all you can do is set the stage, creating the optimal conditions for it to occur.
The first requirement for flow is to set a goal that’s challenging but not unattainable—something you have to marshal your resources and stretch yourself to achieve. The task should be matched to your ability level—not so difficult that you’ll feel stressed, but not so easy that you’ll get bored. In flow, you’re firing on all cylinders to rise to a challenge.
To set the stage for flow, goals need to be clearly defined so that you always know your next step. “It could be playing the next bar in a scroll of music, or finding the next foothold if you’re a rock climber, or turning the page if you’re reading a good novel,” says Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the psychologist who first defined the concept of flow. “At the same time, you’re kind of anticipating.”
You also need to set up the task in such a way that you receive direct and immediate feedback; with your successes and failures apparent, you can seamlessly adjust your behavior. A climber on the mountain knows immediately if his foothold is secure; a pianist knows instantly when she’s played the wrong note.
As your attentional focus narrows, self-consciousness evaporates. You feel as if your awareness merges with the action you’re performing. You feel a sense of personal mastery over the situation, and the activity is so intrinsically rewarding that although the task is difficult, action feels effortless.
Here’s to going with the flow . . .
CLICK HERE for part 6 – “Move Toward Your Pain”
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