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An Introduction To Finding Flow

by Martin Shervington and Joseph Scott


 An Introduction To Finding Flow


A flow is technically defined as an optimal state of consciousness where we feel our best and perform our best. It refers to those moments when human beings get so focused on the task at hand that everything else disappears. Time slows or passes quickly.


In flow, that inner critic in a person’s head turns off, and as a result, they feel liberated, and thus, creativity goes up, risk taking goes up, and they basically feel amazing.  This is basically due to one thing. During the flow, the portion of the brain that separates self from other is shut down.  The person experiencing it can no longer distinguish one from the other.  They feel one with everything.


One of the more common perspectives on that is flow is a state that you can access. Put simply, we can say that flow is the ability to be in the zone, accessing your best performances and your best potential.  


Considering Mihály Csíkszentmihályi’s work, we can say that flow is an integration point. It is where a challenge is high enough for a person to have the perfect skills for it, but it also puts them right on the edge of their skills, on the output of their performance. That’s the kind of exterior access to what’s considered the state of flow.


Flow State And Meaningfulness

The slightly interior access to flow is that when a person holds enough meaningfulness. Even when doing things like taking the garbage out, they can access what’s considered to be the state of flow.


But here’s the thing, meaning is an inside job. Meaning doesn’t really happen or occur, or exist in the world. There’s no meaning in a cup though we know culturally what it’s for. There’s no meaning in your partner, though we know what meanings you can give to your partner, good, bad, or indifferent.  So, one of the things that everyone can agree on is that they have absolute autonomy to create any meaning over anything.


One of the first things people can do is up the ante on the level of meaningfulness that they attribute to things.  Such as what they’re doing on a day-by-day basis, or on things they need to do really well.


One way to bring meaning to what you do in life is to you speak to yourself. Most importantly, find the contrast between what you had and what you’ve got. Meaning can only emerge through that kind of self-reflective process, and then accessing different states, different memories, different movies in mind, and bringing those to bear upon your behavior.


Taking out your garbage is pretty average.  It’s just one of those things that have to be done. But that can change if you start thinking that it’s more than that.  


For example it you look at it in regards to the well-being of the environment that your children are raised in, or you are ensuring that they have a role model to look up to. When you bring those meanings to the action or the performance of simply taking the garbage out, all of a sudden taking the garbage out is a completely different experience.


What occurs during a flow state is that you practically lose awareness of yourself. Back to the example of taking out the garbage: you lose awareness that it’s you taking the garbage out, and you lose awareness that it’s you enacting these skills and behaviors.


This means that your self-awareness disappears. So if there’s a key ingredient to the flow state, it’s the fact that your awareness isn’t present in the experience, and you end up focusing your attention is in the world instead of your subject of experience.


Finding Meaning

One way to be in flow more often and to trigger that state is to take each event and look at how you’re currently doing it. For example, when you’re taking out the garbage, you might imagine rubbish and germs on your hands. You might also contrast that with what you’d rather be doing in the moment, like playing your Xbox, reading a book, or writing an article. But if you bring a positive meaning to it, you’ll start looking at it as a whole different experience.


So what do you believe, for example, about taking the garbage out? It has to be done, you say. But if you believe it’s absolutely looking after the well-being of your family and your recycling is also contributing to society’s well-being, then all of a sudden that’s a very different experience.


A second way to trigger flow is by taking social risks.  We’ve learned lately that there are 17 triggers for flow. These are preconditions that need to be met to experience a state of flow.


We can consider them the ways that evolution shaped our brains to focus and pay attention when needed. 


When the environment is more risky, we pay attention more than usual. This risk can be physical, emotional, creative, intellectual, or even social.


Social risks are the most efficient ones, since our brain processes social pain and physical pain the same way, and so, taking social risks can be a way of triggering flow in our brain.


Finally, a third trigger is what’s known as “deep embodiment”, which basically means focusing on multiple sensory streams at once.


Mindfulness vs. Mindlessness

Mindfulness is bringing presence and awareness to the objects of reality, the object of me as a physical experience in the world. So, for example, a person has a very present but full mind. Mindlessness is not processing self-reflexively about the situation, or about one’s self, nor processing about the world.


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