Think of the happiest memory you have. What did it feel like when you were experiencing that moment? What were you doing? At the time, did you feel like time slowed down, or sped up? Did you feel fully immersed in that one, happy moment?
Some of you may have experienced this state of full concentration and undivided attention — a state of flow. It is a state in which the individual feels fully involved and immersed in an activity or experience.
You can experience flow when an activity is optimally challenging for you, given your skills and abilities. An activity that is too easy might not motivate or interest you enough. On the other hand, an activity that is too difficult for you might make you feel stressed, demotivated and dejected.
When you experience flow, there is a sense of effortlessness and ease in whatever it is you’re doing. You might feel that time is moving slower or faster than usual. Importantly, you are not motivated to do the task in order to get something external in return (such as money, praise, or prizes); instead, the nature of the task motivates you to do it well.
Why is flow important?
Experiencing flow can make you happier, as the state of flow has a lot to offer to you:
A sense of control: When you experience flow, you are likely to feel that you have strong control over what you’re doing. This helps you to make decisions without getting caught up in any worries about the future. This also enables you to achieve your goals more easily.
No negative thoughts: When you are in a state of flow, your attention is fully focussed on the present moment. This means that you are more mindful and involved in what is happening right now. This frees your mind of negative thoughts — and makes it easier to experience happiness.
Mastery and accomplishment: When in flow, you enjoy the task for what it is — which motivates you to give your best. This state of dedicated concentration encourages you to do the task at hand well. This can help you experience a sense of mastery and accomplishment.
Greater confidence: When you do well at a task, you are likely to feel more confident about your abilities. As a result, being in a state of flow can boost your self-esteem and sense of worth.
So how can you achieve flow?
While flow has several benefits, it can be quite hard to achieve. After all, in a world that demands you to be skilled at multitasking, it’s difficult to abandon other pursuits and solely focus on one task at a time, with single-minded persistence. Yet, there are a few steps that you can take to achieve a state of flow.
Unless it is absolutely required, avoid multitasking as far as possible. Contrary to popular belief, multitasking is neither effective nor helpful. When you multitask, the quality of the work you do suffers. In fact, research shows that those who multitask are unhappier in the long run. Instead, focus your attention solely and wholly on one task at hand, and reduce your distractions in order to do the task well.
Choose challenging tasks
When you choose a task that is too easy for your skills and abilities, you are likely to feel bored and disinterested. On the other hand, taking up tasks that are too demanding or challenging for you can be overwhelming, making you feel stressed and worried. Instead, choose a task that is challenging enough so you are motivated to put in the effort and do it well. If your task is boring, think of ways in which you can make it complex and interesting. If your task is too difficult, ask others for help or think of ways to reduce the demands the task has on you.
Ask for feedback
In order to do your task well, you might need some feedback from others so that you can improve your performance and enhance the quality of your output. Don’t hesitate to ask for feedback and to incorporate it — if you take the feedback in a constructive way, you will be further motivated to fully focus on what you’re doing.
Learn from Others
Do you know anybody who has experienced flow, or does so regularly? Others around you can offer a lot for you to learn. The way each person experiences and achieves flow may be different, but you can still ask others about their flow experience and pick up strategies, ideas and patterns that you might be able to apply yourself.
Start small — as touched upon in the beginning of this article, think of the last time you felt extremely happy while doing something. Activities that truly bring you enjoyment and accomplishment can be sources of flow for you. Spend time doing these activities, so you can experience flow and feel happier in general.