The Happiness of Flow

I recently received some feedback from a friend trying out our Rezl app.  Rezl builds resilience by delivering  a course in Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) though a series of audio tutorials and guided meditations.  The early steps involve becoming more aware, to avoid distracting thoughts… and to become more able to focus.  My friend’s feedback represented an enthusiastic response to his early progress. One comment caught my eye:

“My brain has become much better at absorbing information, there seems to be much more clarity – that sounds strange. It’s different… and it makes me happier.”

It’s true that less detraction and more focus enable us to concentrate on what we read, hear and see… and to retain more; yet there is something else here.  My friend is starting to  experience “flow”.

Flow is a state of engagement and heightened awareness while participating is some activity.  It is beautifully described here in Melli O’Brian’s blog:

“Time seems to slow down, your sense perceptions are heightened – colours are sharper and brighter and each sound seems to ripple right through you.  Your mind shifts into a new space. A sense of vibrant aliveness, connectedness and peace infuse your being. You feel in tune with life, moving with a precision and poise you don’t fully understand but at the same time relish. You’re in the zone. You’re in flow.”

The state of flow is often associated with elite athletes, actors, writers or even with scientists and mathematicians. The basketball superstar Larry Bird said that, for him,  at critical moments in the game, the court would go quiet and the players would seem to be moving in slow motion.  This state allowed Larry to see the whole situation; to see opportunities and to be crystal clear on and what he had to do.

So what’s going on? Well I believe that it’s about being able to shut out external distractions and quieten any internal mind-chatter and thoughts of the past or of the future;… and to set aside bigger goals… so you can focus, right now, on the task in hand;  and this leads to an intense focus… that builds engagement… and total absorption… to achieve “flow” … where time distorts… your senses are heightened… everything become clear… as you take the actions to succeed. Flow delivers a state of happiness that leaves a lasting glow.

“In flow, your ‘ego’ withdraws, making way for the process to happen, unimpeded— you’re not conscious of inhibitions, hunger, thirst, fatigue, aches or anything outside of the activity. All worries, thoughts and memories seem to melt away,” says Melli O’Brian.

Dr. Mihaly Chentmihalyi, studied this state of being and coined the term “flow”  (see his book  “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience”); he tells us that things, possessions, money  don’t play much part in how happy someone is. He found that humans are at their happiest when in flow –  in part because when we are so absorbed in a single task, we don’t have enough attention left over to get lost in the inane chatter of our “monkey mind”, to worry about things beyond our control, or to stress about our endless to-do-list.

The new experience of flow is especially rewarding for those setting out on embedding the skills of mindfulness – grounding to eliminate any distractions or mind-chatter; and awareness so that you are able focus and to  refocus should the mind wander.  Why not give it a try?

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