The top line: suited to our skills, we experience a joyful state called “flow.”  The experience of flow in both professional and leisure activities leads to increased positive affect, performance, and commitment to long-term, meaningful goals.

Do you ever find yourself so completely immersed in what you’re doing that you lose track of time? All of a sudden you look up at the clock and realize that hours have passed and you missed dinner time? Think a minute about this. When does this loss of time and total engagement typically occur for you? This could apply to a martial artist completely absorbed in perfecting a flying kick, or a violinist fiercely concentrating on a complex symphony.

This loss of self-consciousness that happens when you are completely absorbed in an activity – intellectual, spiritual, or physical – is described as a state of flow. In order for a flow state to occur, you must see the activity as voluntary, enjoyable (intrinsically motivating), and it must require skill and be challenging (but not too challenging) with clear goals towards success. You must feel as though you have control and receive immediate feedback with room for growth. Interestingly, a flow state is characterized by the absence of emotion – a complete loss of self-consciousness –however, in retrospect, the flow activity may be described as enjoyable and even exhilarating!

The six factors of flow have been identified as:

Focused concentration on the present moment

  1. Merging of action and awareness
  2. A loss of reflective self-consciousness
  3. A sense of personal control in actions and activities
  4. A distortion of temporal experience
  5. Experience of the activity as intrinsically rewarding, also referred to asautotelic experience

Perhaps the biggest benefit we get from flow is a change in the self. Many people live life pursuing the goals they are supposed to pursue, whether those goals come from parents or society or biology. With flow we become an “autotelic self,” one who chooses its own goals and pursues activities for their own sake. We find flow at work, at home, at dinner, in solitude. With expert focus, we pay attention to the world around us and notice more of its beauty and complexity; we’re curious to discover more. We aren’t slaves to fame, fortune, or power, because we don’t need those things to give our lives meaning; the meaning is already there.

Peace and Love, Jim

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