Recently, I had the pleasure of spending an evening with a friend and colleague of mine - Maddy Swinnen. Maddy is a Well Being and Business coach (http://www.Happinex.org) with a Masters in Positive Psychology and an MBA. She is also a mom who has built a successful business helping others while still keeping her family first priority. That alone makes her an amazing woman. Despite the fact that it is often difficult to take time out in our busy lives, we spent a few hours discussing 'flow' and it was truly fascinating.
Maggie described flow as a state of intense absorption and involvement with the present moment, where people expand their mind and body, based on the research insights of flow guru Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. As writing is my passion, the concept of flow for me usually equates to creative expression. My own definition of flow is 'a state of heightened awareness that allows for imaginative freedom and inspired thought'. Although it seems easier to get into flow when doing a task that challenges us to use and expand our skill-set, I also learned that we can get into a state of flow when even doing small daily activities when we choose to be attentive. Although I has always 'known' this, Maddy brought this idea to the forefront of my awareness. Throughout our discussion, we often chose different terminology or experiences, but we agreed on the commonalities of what 'being in flow' feels like and the benefits that being in flow can provide for personal well-being.
When asked, many people describe this state of being as 'having everything going their way'. It has been characterized with feelings of joy, peace, and appreciation. When experiencing flow during different activities, many talk of losing track of time, and that if disrupted during such a pleasing activity and state, they feel almost disoriented for a moment. I shared my own experiences with Maddy of how I have had this disorientation following interruptions while I was writing and compared it to the breaking of a hypnotic trance. Even though one can be completely aware of their surroundings, a disruption while in this state can cause a sensation of being startled. Through the sensory inputs does flow begin. Our sensory input creates the emotional state, which allows for the creative imagination to become playful and to provide inspired thoughts and images. This is 'the way of the artist'.
Obviously then, learning how to increase flow in our lives is a goal worth striving for. The benefits are many - improved health, mental clarity, calmness of mind and spirit, joy, and overall well-being. It stands to reason that if concentration and focus lead to flow, exercises such as simple meditations would be a good first step towards preparing for a state of flow. Physical activity also aids in the development of flow. Many athletes have experiences inspired 'flashes' while running or exercising. A quiet walk everyday allows not only for your physical well-being, but this inner reflection can also prepare us to arrive quicker into a state of flow when doing a more challenging task. You just need to take the time out to 'stop and smell the roses', as the saying goes. I am thankful that Maddy and I took that time together. It brought me to my creative flow, and what an amazing place that is to be. Thank you Maddy!