🌊 Happy Habits #13: Find Your Flow

• 5 min read

Find activities where you become completely absorbed in what you're doing—and do more of them...

Research Overview

In the attempt to answer the question of "What constitutes a good life?" researchers have discovered a concept called "flow"—where happier people seem to have more experiences where they are fully immersed in the present moment [1]. Flow is defined as an experience of enjoyment, concentration and low-self awareness that arises during activities which strike a balance of skill and challenge [2].

Interestingly, the great majority of flow experiences seem to arise from work rather than leisure, which is counterintuitive as most people assume that taking time off and engaging in leisure activities would make them happier [3]. The research indicates that people who experience more flow states tend to have higher levels of satisfaction [4].

Core Concept

We've all experienced flow before. Whether playing an instrument, a sport, or talking with a friend. We're so engrossed in our experience that everything else vanishes. Time seems to disappear. It's an incredible state where the worries of the world fade into the background—even for just a moment.

The subject of flow has been a topic of discussion in lots of productivity and self-help literature, but the original investigation was in the context of happiness and living a life worth living.

A different approach to happiness

Most of the happiness interventions I've written about are specific behaviors that you do for a set period of time: Walking through a forest, writing a letter to forgive, meditating for three-minutes, etc.

This week's Happy Habit is all about living your life in a way that helps you discover what activities bring you into a state of flow, and then prioritizing those activities.

Of course you can take this to the extreme and be so obsessed with achieving flow states that you neglect your relationships, your health and other aspects of well-being.

A closer look at flow

As the research overview highlighted, a vast majority of flow states are achieved when people are at work. If you're not experiencing flow at work, something needs to change. You either need to change the way you approach your work, change your role, or change your job entirely.

Life is too short to be tied to every minute of the clock. We work an average of 80,000 hours in our lifetime. That's a huge chunk of our lives that we should look to make the most of if we want to increase our well-being long-term.

Striking a balance

The research indicates that flow arises when there's a balance of our own skill and challenge presented by the task at hand. If we don't have enough skill and the challenge is too high—no flow. If we have too much skill and the challenge too easy—no flow.

This pursuit of balance in itself fosters a growth mindset, a key contributor to success—even though flow is not about the outcome.

It's all about the process and the experience.

Behavior Tips

  1. Make a list of all the times you've experienced flow in your life
  2. See if you can identify any themes: when do they happen? who are they with? what is the context? what is the skill? what are the challenges? has flow been more present or less present lately?
  3. Applying the pareto principle, 80% of your flow states should come from 20% of the activities listed.
  4. Ask: How can you make these flow states the default state?
  5. Ask: How can you anchor these flow states into your existing routine?
  6. Ask: How can you make it easier for you to experience flow?

Looking back at the insights you've gained, see if you can articulate two sentences about what you've learned about your most common flow states and what you're going to do to make this a more frequent part of your life. For example, this was one of mine from a few weeks ago:

Looking at my list of flow states I discovered I get into flow whenever I facilitate workshops with people smarter than me.
Next week, I'm going to offer to facilitate a free workshop to a crypto startup that is fighting climate change.

Behavior hack #1: Be specific. Define the behavior in terms of a specific action that takes place at a specific time in a specific context.

Behavior hack #2: Write your takeaway as a concrete action you know you can get yourself to do in a specific timeframe. Tell someone else that you're going to do it (or announce it publicly on social) and hold yourself accountable.

My story

I performed this activity of trying to design more flow in my life and ended up facilitating a workshop with a super cool crypto startup fighting climate change called Toucan. I ended up having loads of fun, meeting brilliant people, and got invited to keep working with the team!

It's amazing what happens when you follow your flow...

Give it a go

Everyone deserves to find their flow and optimize their life around those activities. It doesn't have to be a daily thing, but because flow states build you up, give you energy and refresh your psyche, it's important to make them a core part of your model for well-being.

If you're feeling a bit low going into the winter months with colder weather and shorter days, see if you can't try out one activity that you think could bring you into a flow state. If it doesn't work, be kind to yourself. Finding the right balance of skill and challenge takes practice.

If you're applying yourself to a new skill, it takes time to find a flow state. Sometimes it takes years. It took me a while to facilitate workshops without getting hot, sweaty and stressed out.

But before long with enough practice, I was forgetting about everything and enjoying the ride. I hope you can find some flow states like this too!

Have a great week

Thanks for checking out this weeks' edition of Happy Habits. If this one didn't resonate with you, be sure to check out the archive or play with some of my favorites below:

  1. 🖊  Gratitude Journal
  2. 🤔 Three Good Things
  3. ⌛️ Savor The Last Moment
  4. ✍🏻 Write a Letter to Forgive
  5. ☕️ Buy Coffee for a Stranger
  6. 🌬 Three-Minute Breathing Space
  7. 🍂  Forest Bathing (Shirin Yoku)
  8. 💬 Chat with Someone in Line
  9. 🗣 Speak to Yourself Like a Friend
  10. 😴 Sleep 7-8 Hours Per Night

As always, no guilt, no shame. Do what you want to do. Be kind to yourself. Be curious. Have fun.

We'll see you next time!

P.S. — I'm going to shift to a monthly newsletter cadence to give room for exploring my role at Toucan and this new regenerative finance podcast I'm about to launch!


Citations

  1. Nakamura J., Csikszentmihalyi M. (2014) The Concept of Flow. In: Flow and the Foundations of Positive Psychology. Springer, Dordrecht. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-017-9088-8_16
  2. Fredrik Ullén, Örjan de Manzano, Proneness for psychological flow in everyday life: Associations with personality and intelligence, Personality and Individual Differences, Volume 52, Issue 2, 2012, Pages 167-172, ISSN 0191-8869, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2011.10.003.
  3. Csikszentmihalyi, M., & LeFevre, J. (1989). Optimal experience in work and leisure. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 56(5), 815–822. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.56.5.815
  4. Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (2013). Flow: The Psychology of Happiness What really makes people glad to be alive? What are the inner experiences that make life worthwhile?, Penguin Random House
⏯️ Happy Habit #12: Interrupt Your Consumption →

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