Can you think of a time when you worked on something or participated in an activity that you were totally absorbed in, where time just flew by and you lost all sense of yourself? Or
perhaps someone you know often says they work best when they're "in the zone”. More than just a colloquial hippie-sounding term, this state of being “in the flow” is in fact a legitimate scientific term that has been used by researchers to define the peak of human performance.
We often see during our workshops that one of the main benefits people get out of engaging in creative activities is that they induce a state of flow. Repetitive activities like knitting, painting, or writing all help activate flow, and involve making new things. The immediate satisfaction one feels upon realising they have successfully switched off for an hour without even realising where the time's gone or when seeing the fruits of one's labour in plain sight (especially among those who enter workshops claiming to not have a creative bone in their body!), is unbeatable and often prompts people to want to explore their creativity further.
The benefits don't just stop there and are often felt back at the work desk with many people citing their focus and mood having been improved after an hour engaging in creative activities. Our work continuously proves to us and others that being “in the flow” really does have the power to change people’s lives for the better, improving mental and physical health as well as overall happiness and mood.
So, what exactly is “flow”?
When you’re completely absorbed in something, you enter a state of flow. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, often referred to as the founding father of positive psychology, was the first to identify and research flow. He became a happiness researcher as a result of the adversity he faced growing up and being a prisoner during World War II. Csikszentmihalyi’s extensive studies led him to conclude that happiness is an internal state of being, not an external one and, that levels of happiness can be shifted by introducing flow.
“The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times... The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile”
The science of flow
Scientific studies have proven that being in a state of flow helps reduce anxiety, boosts your mood, and even slows your heart rate. Being in flow state decreases activity in the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for our conscious and explicit state of mind which can lead to individuals feeling a distortion of time, loss of self-consciousness and quietening of their inner critic. By allowing the implicit mind to take over, and some parts of the brain to communicate more freely, our curiosity increases and we lose our inhibitions which can often lead to the best ideas coming through too.
By succeeding to create or think of something new during this moment, the brain becomes flooded with dopamine, the feel-good chemical that actually helps motivate you and so, whether or not you’re aware of the increased happiness, the hit of dopamine felt after being in flow will often drive and influence people toward similar behaviour.
How can flow help you in life and work?
Csikszentmihalyi spent time exploring what piques creativity in people, asking some of the word’s most successful experts- chess players, surgeons, dancers etc.- about the times in their life when they felt their best and performed their best. During interviews he heard them describe their optimal states of performance being when their work simply flowed out of them without much effort.
He was particularly interested in the role that “flow” has in the workplace, and how creativity can lead to productivity determining that flow is not only essential to a productive employee, but is imperative for a contented one as well due to its intrinsically rewarding nature; the more you practice it, the more you seek to replicate these experiences, which helps lead to a fully engaged and happy life.
The 8 Characteristics of Flow
Complete concentration on the task
Clarity of goals and reward in mind and immediate feedback
Transformation of time (speeding up/slowing down)
The experience is intrinsically rewarding
Effortlessness and ease
There is a balance between challenge and skills
Actions and awareness are merged, losing self-conscious rumination
There is a feeling of control over the task.
So who can achieve flow and how?
The magic of flow is that it's a universal experience which anyone can achieve regardless of profession, gender, or age. There are also so many different activities that help people to experience “flow” - from Yoga, to running to knitting.
The conditions you try to practice flow in will determine how hard or easy it is to experience so as a general rule, keep distractions to minimum and stay away from the pesky attention-robbers that tend to interrupt you- *ahem, you with your phone - it’s time to put it down*
Don’t flow alone!
Studies have shown that people rate flow to be more enjoyable when in a team rather than when they were alone. In our experience hosting workshops, groups of people tend to enjoy learning a new skill together- talking through the experience, helping one another and often leave making new friendships (if they didn’t know each other at first).
Some of the workshops we offer require joint effort between all participants to create the end product which can make tasks even more enjoyable, fun and rewarding. Learn more about the team building workshops we offer here.
So...is 2020 your year to flow?
We hope we've convinced you that whether you're a gymnast, a banker or an open heart surgeon, flow and the creativity that comes from of it plays a crucial part of achieving mastery in any career- to become better, you have to create an environment that will allow you to reach a state of flow. Looking for flow can be hard work but Unwind LDN workshops are one way in which you and your teams can practice it. Get in touch with us here to find out more today!