Updated: Jan 4
Aron Ralston - American outdoorsman, mechanical engineer and motivational speaker
Why could we consider getting in Flow in continuing lockdown?
● Recent research during Covid 19 shows getting and being in Flow positively enhances wellbeing in lockdown *
● It is a pleasant optimal human state
● It is associated with increased positive emotions, fewer depressive symptoms and more healthy behaviours
● It contributes to your overall happiness
● It helps you feel content and settled in your current circumstances
Getting in Flow is a very helpful antidote to the extreme busyness and distractedness that many people experience today. Multi- tasking and flitting between many different activities and tasks is a common phenomenon in life for many people. Often in our busyness we can find ourselves paying attention to doing as many things as possible, as fast as possible. This can lead to unhelpful feelings of stress, feeling short of time, being ‘spread too thinly’ across many tasks. Widely spread focus, attention and concentration on multiple tasks at once can lead to unhelpful feelings of stress, over-busyness and frustration overall.
It is useful in lockdown to practice getting in Flow since it causes helpful emotions and feelings - such as contentment, connectedness to self, achievement, satisfaction, happiness, productivity and creativity.
Getting in Flow can help to manage your mental, physical and emotional state.
Often, when we are in Flow, we find ourselves producing some of our greatest works of creativity, being more productive and feeling content and happy.
What is getting in Flow about?
Flow was first identified as a very helpful and pleasant experience by the Positive Sociologist and Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi around 1991. He describes it as:
‘Flow is being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz’
If you imagine a stream of water moving naturally, freely and without effort, as it wends its way easily through the countryside – that is what Flow can feel like. Effortlessly performing tasks and activities that engage your whole mind, body and soul, that produces very pleasant feelings such as ease, engagement, purpose, achievement, peace, calm, contentment and satisfaction.
Being in Flow is about being so engaged in an activity, that distractions fall away, you become less aware of, or at one with, your external environment, time flies by and you are naturally and happily productive – you could say you are engaged in the art of being in Flow !
It is likely that you will have experienced being in Flow in your life.
Many people describe being in Flow, or ‘in the zone’ when engaging in a hobby, sport or pastime that is pleasing to them. Examples of such activities can be anything that is absorbing and you pay full attention to it – for example ice-skating, rugby, football, gymnastics, knitting, reading, sewing, playing snooker, playing chess, playing the piano. The list is endless.
It is even possible to get in Flow when you are working. When we engage in ‘single-tasking’ focusing on one piece of work, giving it all our focus and attention, we can find ourselves easily getting in Flow while working - naturally increasing our sense of satisfaction and positive productivity.
Flow has been said by Seth Godin** to be a symptom of work. Just like red spots on your body are a symptom of measles – in Flow can be said to be a symptom of engaging in our work, whatever it is. The two ideas of Flow and satisfying work are closely linked.
Some characteristics and questions about Flow:
There are some specific characteristics common to all Flow activities.
It seems activities that promote Flow must be challenging, but not over-challenging – they provide an optimal level of challenge for you. Equally, they must not be too easy and must not promote boredom. Interestingly, activities that promote a helpful state of Flow are often those that allow for feedback on progress to take place, for example, learning a language, knitting, sewing, practicing music, baking, playing a sport and work-related activities. You could think of many more examples of activities that help you to get in Flow in lockdown.
Some questions to ask yourself about getting and being in Flow in lockdown:
What activity, hobby, pastime, or single piece of work could I love to explore?
Is the level of challenge right for me– not too challenging and not too easy?
What single activity could I do that fully absorbs and engages me?
Flow - What it is:
A way to increase your contentment and satisfaction
A way to boost your wellbeing and happiness
Helpful in living with ourselves and
Flow - What it is NOT:
avoiding taking action
doing activities that are too easy (lack challenge or don't allow for feedback on progress)
doing activities that are too hard (perhaps decreasing motivation/increasing stress level)
Some benefits of Flow for you:
Doing activities that totally absorb our mind, body and soul have many positive benefits for us in lockdown and beyond - including:
increased positive emotions, such as happiness, contentment and satisfaction
fewer depressive symptoms
increased engagement in helpful and healthy behaviours
proven increase in wellbeing *
How to practise getting and being in Flow:
Think about your behaviours in continuing lockdown. Even in this context you still have choices in what you think and what you decide to do. You can give yourself permission to make different choices and to try stuff and see what happens.
What activities that promote getting in Flow could you explore?
Here are some helpful hints and tips about how to get in Flow during continuing lockdown:
1. Choose an activity or piece of work that is not too hard and not too easy – just the right level of challenge for you
2. Choose a task or activity that you feel passionate about, something you love to do
3. Choose a task or activity that is important to you in terms of your pleasure and purpose
4. Pick a relatively quiet time and space when you can focus – clear away distractions (eg. turn off tv, put phone or devices down) not related to your chosen activity – have a clear desk if it’s work-focused
5. Choose a single task or activity to focus on for a period of time and practise increasing the time involved - how long can you be absorbed in your single focused activity? The longer the better for your contentment
6. Choose an activity that you can see your progress in over time – you can clearly see how you are increasing your skill and confidence
7. Practise and keep practising your activity - notice how it gets easier to experience being in Flow the more you do your chosen activity
8. Enjoy the many benefits of being in Flow – including contentment, achievement, satisfaction, pleasure, relaxation, less stress, feeling a sense of overall wellness and connectedness to yourself.
What if you could get in Flow in continuing lockdown?
Here’s a thought for the day:
* Flow in the time of COVID 19 – Findings from China November 2020
In this research in lockdown in China ‘people who experienced high levels flow showed little or no association between quarantine length and poorer well-being. These findings suggest that experiencing flow (typically by engaging in flow-inducing activities) may be a particularly effective way to protect against potentially deleterious effects of a period of quarantine’
‘Our findings provide a glimmer of hope for people struggling with the challenges of social distancing or even complete quarantine: The time may pass more quickly if you find your flow.’
** The Practice, Seth Godin, 2020