Getting to “Flow”

You begin and lose track of time. You blink, and one hour has gone by. When was the last time you were “in the zone”? This intense feeling is energizing and happy. Most of us have experienced it through activities that we are good at and that challenge us in just the right way. The happiest people find it in everyday life through focus and determination.

Mihaly Czikszentmihaly coined the term “flow” to describe the state of being fully immersed in an activity with focus (“Flow” in Wikipedia, accessed July 24, 2018). His positive psychology continues to be influential, and his TED talk from 2004 is worth watching.

Mental state in terms of challenge level and skill level according to Czikszentmihalyi. From Wikipedia “Flow”

I experience flow at times, mostly when swimming or singing and sometimes when exploring ideas through reading, discussion or writing.  I’ve realized that this past year of work, which was difficult, just didn’t have enough flow. You know how it is, you go along with the emails and the meetings and the phone calls, and you try to climb the mountain of “Things To Do”. I would go home at the end of multiple days of just that, and wonder, is my work meaningful?

After listening to Czikszentmihalyi’s talk and his description of people finding flow in everyday work, I’m inspired to think more deeply about how I can change. It can’t be up to anyone but me.  In the diagram above, you see various mental stages related to the combination of skill and challenge. If I feel boredom, apathy, worry or anxiety, then the challenge of a situation does not match my skill. When I scroll through the activities that make up a typical day, I can see exactly where this happens.

For instance, I had some tricky and important meetings this past year. I often felt anxiety beforehand which leads me to think that my skills weren’t quite up to handling these sessions. (Or at least I believed they weren’t.)  Now I want to get to flow in these kinds of situations!  I’ll need to reflect on exactly what skills are needed to be successful and then evaluate where I need to improve. Honestly, I’m pretty sure I know already.

I feel energized by this – maybe I’m already experiencing more flow!

On Your Mark, Get Set… Unwind!

And…my vacation starts today!  Whew.  This year was a tough one. I’ll save my reflections for later, but just the fact I haven’t posted in this space for several months gives an indication of where my head has been. (Yep, buried.) But I’m coming up for some sunshine and air and couldn’t be happier. My challenge is getting to that place of rest where my body and mind can rejuvenate.

Photo Credit: 8slowdowns Flickr via Compfight cc

Sherri Spelic, who writes thoughtfully about her experiences as an educator in Austria, recently shared a poem that resonated with me: “A Few Words About the End”. It captures the feeling that so many of us experience just as school ends for the big summer break.

It can hard for me to reach the release into independence that Sherri talks about.  I am so wound up after an intense school year that I feel more of a gradual loosening. It happens viscerally, day by day and little by little until..there it is. I’ve found that three things help move that process along.

  1. Time outside: I sit outside on our back deck. I run along the green shaded trail. I swim in Lake Ontario (or any other handy body of water, pools included!).  I breathe in, breathe out and feel the spring uncoiling inside.
  2. Reading paper books: I hold the book, my hands stretch the cover, and my fingers grasp the page to turn it. Somehow, these physical sensations enable more sustained attention. I see my progress through the book. I sometimes take a pen or highlighter to make a note.
  3. A change in location: Leaving home for a few days helps my brain detach from work and the responsibilities that go with it. I rest. I walk. I realize that there is so much more than my little corner of the world. I feel more free.

It’s time to start.

Meditation on Selfies

I’ve never been good at selfies. I get the angle wrong, you can’t see the background, the final photo is often one of me looking startled, and well, not my best. And these days, as I get older, I’m rarely satisfied with pictures of myself. I’m fine with the aging thing (well, mostly – rather be less stiff in the morning) but photos, and selfies especially seem to highlight that process. Pro tip: sunglasses and a smile always help.

Selfie culture is interesting. I recently watched one young person take a series of selfies as he was walking along the street, apparently randomly. I guess one of those ended up on SnapChat, the latest in a series of pics that show his best side to his friends and followers. But I don’t want to sound like I’m 100 years old.  I’ve heard those over 50’s (and some younger ones) moaning that no one asks anyone to take pictures anymore. So what? I like selfies. I think they’re fun. They make me laugh, and I love to laugh!

Lisa Neale is a brilliant selfie taker. You can see a lot of them on her Instagram account and she’s even taken some good ones of me! I’ve tried to emulate her, but I got so frustrated with my apparent lack of ability with selfies that I looked up some tips. Most of it seemed to be directed at bloggers or people who want to be Insta-famous. Uh, that’s not me. But I do want friends and family to have fun scrolling through my feed.

On a recent vacation, my partner and I had great fun taking selfies and trying to get them right. I stopped being self conscious in front of other tourists and we took tons until they looked OK.  Me holding the phone, her pressing the button.

We may have finally got it! Teamwork really is better.