Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a professor and former chairman of the Department of Psychology at the University of Chicago, has been working with a concept he calls “flow.” The process of flow occurs when your consciousness matches your goals, allowing psychic energy to flow smoothly. For 40 years, Csikszentmihalyi has been studying what makes people happy, and has found that happiness comes from being in the flow in your life.
I certainly have been in the flow for the last three weeks while working on Celebrity Rehab doing what I love. However, although I was in the flow, I certainly was not feeling balance. It has been so great to have my time back. You realize just how precious time is when you have none. I enjoyed a Stevie Nicks concert with my daughter this week. That was certainly an experience of being in the flow as I rocked out with my daughter to her music, transforming myself back to when I was 17 my first year of college at San Diego State Univeristy. Some might say I was in a trance, but I would say I was definitely in the “flow.”
You can listen to a talk he gave about this idea of flow at http://www.ted.com/talks/mihaly_csikszentmihalyi_on_flow.html. In it, he says, “There are seven conditions that seem to be there when a person is in flow. 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 it’s difficult. And a sense of time disappears, you forget yourself, you feel part of something larger. Once those conditions are present, what you are doing becomes worth doing for its own sake.”
When you are in the flow, your actions are natural, fluid, and graceful. Everything just feels “right.” So, of course, it’s not possible when you are behaving in a way that makes you feel guilt, shame, anxiety, or fearfulness. You can’t be caught up in adiction and be in the flow. And you can’t be caught up in blame or denial or furstration or anger.
When you’re in the flow, in tune with your creative energies and your purpose, you feel it’s worth spending your life doing things for which you don’t expect either fame or fortune–as long as those things make your life meaningful. He writes in Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, “It is when we act freely, for the sake of the action itself rather than for ulterior motives, that we learn to become more than what we were.”
Flow comes about when you are challenged by something in an exciting way, and you feel your skills are up to the task. So it’s not about just sitting back and being comfortable; it’s about pushing yourself a little bit. He says being in a state of arousal is actually good, “Because you are over-challenged there. Your skills are not quite as high as they should be, but you can move into flow fairly easily by just developing a little more skill. So arousal is the area where most people learn from, because that’s where they’re pushed beyond their comfort zone and … then they develop higher skills.”
Sherry Gaba, LCSW, Psychotherapist and Life is the author of “The Law of Sobriety: Attracting Positive Energy for a Powerful Recovery” and Life Coach on Celebrity Rehab on VH1.