"What's Next" and the State of Flow

I was sitting in one of my favorite local coffee shops last week, working on some self-awareness/development questions when one popped out at me:

“What is my most regular waking thought?”

I realized that the answer for me was some version of “What’s next?”; what is the next meal/snack I am going to have, what is the next activity/job that I need to prepare for, what is the next location I need to get to, and how? Once this thought sunk in, I had a moment of sadness… it made me wonder how often I was able to be present in the moment (a challenge for many people); then it dawned on me that when I am in the moment, I am often in a state of “flow”, and I smiled to myself. Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi, a leading mind in positive psychology coined the term, though the concept has existed for thousands of years, particularly in eastern religions.

“There’s this focus that, once it becomes intense, leads to a sense of ecstasy, a sense of clarity: you know exactly what you want to do from one moment to the other; you get immediate feedback. You know that what you need to do is possible to do, even though difficult, and sense of time disappears, you forget yourself, you feel part of something larger. And once the conditions are present, what you are doing becomes worth doing for its own sake.” Csikszentmihalyi’s TED Talk, February, 2004

I enter a state of flow when I write a blog post; I am calling on my knowledge and skills in different areas to fire simultaneously to produce a symphony of creativity (that hopefully sounds like a cohesive piece of music rather than a racket). I become absorbed in what I am doing to the point that conscious thought is suspended. I become less aware of my body, sensations, and stimuli simply because all of my attention is focused on writing. I like to call flow “fierce focus”. Athletes reach it in times of peak performance, artists in times of creating, et cetera.

Flow is a version of being present to the moment; while I may not be present to the environment or external stimuli, I am present and tuned-into the task at hand and all of the contributing components. Whether I am writing a blog post, working out, or preparing a meal, I tend to become fully immersed in that activity. I have plenty of moments of being present and mindful, while not in flow, and in those, I am grateful; grateful for what is, what has been, and what will be.

When do/have you enter(ed) a state of flow? When have the conditions been just challenging enough to keep you fully focused, though not so much so that your knowledge and skills couldn’t keep up?

Stay mindful, stay grateful, and have a wonderful day!


Coming soon: how to be grateful when you don’t get what you [think you] want.