I recently had a conversation with an athlete regarding happiness. I suggested that happiness is relative, and that for me reaching a Flow state appears to bring me happiness. ”Working” towards completion of task, events, competitions brings me great pleasure and happiness. This is something I e-mailed a few years ago on the topic of FLOW.
“The best moments usually occur when a person’s body
or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort
to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”
I have recently been combing the book FLOW by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced me-high chick-sent-me-high). Mihaly set out initially to discover what conditions made people happy. During the process he discovered something that caught him by surprise. Contrary to popular thought, happiness or optimal experiences do not happen through leisure activities but rather through work (tasks) or challenging experiences. Athletes, painters, musicians even assembly line workers, have often described these optimal experiences as being in a ”zone” The focus is so keen that things happen almost effortlessly or independent of a time clock.
Here is how the author defines/introduces FLOW.
“Twenty-five years before I began to write these lines, I made a discovery that took all the intervening time for me to realize I had made. To call it a “discovery” is perhaps misleading, for people have been aware of it since the dawn of time. Yet the word is appropriate, because even though my finding itself was well known, it had not been described or theoretically explained by the relevant branch of scholarship, which in this case happens to be psychology. So I spent the next quarter-century investigating this elusive phenomenon.
What I “discovered” was that happiness is not something that happens. It is not the result of good fortune or random chance. It is not something that money can buy or power command. It does not depend on outside events, but, rather, on how we interpret them. Happiness, in fact, is a condition that must be prepared for, cultivated, and defended privately by each person. People who learn to control inner experience will be able to determine the quality of their lives, which is as close as any of us can come to being happy.
Yet we cannot reach happiness by consciously searching for it. “Ask yourself whether you are happy,” said J. S. Mill, “and you cease to be so.” It is by being fully involved with every detail of our lives, whether good or bad, that we find happiness, not by trying to look for it directly. Victor Frankl, the Austrian psychologist, summarized it beautifully in the preface to his book Man’s Search for Meaning: “Don’t aim at success – the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue . . . as the unintended side-effect of one’s personal dedication to a course greater than oneself.”
So how can we reach this elusive goal that cannot be attained by a direct route? My studies of the past quarter-century have convinced me that there is a way. It is a circuitous path that begins with achieving control over the contents of our consciousness.”
If you are like me you are able to recall times when you are in a FLOW state. You may not have not had a name before but you are able to recreate this optimizing experience.
You can create FLOW states out of all kinds of daily work including your exercise training. Physical tasks are perfect for developing FLOW states. Here is the path to establishing FLOW.
The Path to Flow
1. MAKE TASKS (WORK, PRACTICE or TRAINING) A GAME. Establish rules, objectives, challenges to be overcome, and rewards.
2. HAVE A GOAL OUTCOME. As you play the game, remind yourself frequently of the overriding spiritual, social, or intellectual purpose that drive your efforts.
3. FOCUS Release your mind from all distractions, from within or without. Focus your entire attention on the game.
4. SURRENDER TO THE PROCESS. Don’t stress and strain. Enjoy the surroundings and experience leading to the goal outcome.
5. As you are experiencing the above four steps you will reach a point of ECSTASY. You will know it when it hits you.
6. PEAK PRODUCTIVITY. Your ecstatic state opens vast reservoirs of resourcefulness, creativity, and energy. Your productivity and quality of work shoot through the roof.