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.
Applying acceptance and compassion can help you begin to shift negative responses to change. Pema Chodron, the American Buddhist nun and author, writes about both in her book, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times:
“Compassionate action is a practice, one of the most advanced. There’s nothing more advanced than relating with others… To relate with others compassionately is a challenge. Really communicating to the heart and being there for someone else…means not shutting down on that person, which means, first of all, not shutting down on ourselves. This means allowing ourselves to feel what we feel and not pushing it away. It means accepting every aspect of ourselves, even the parts we don’t like. To do this requires openness, which in Buddhism is sometimes called emptiness — not fixating or holding on to anything. Only in an open, nonjudgmental space can we acknowledge what we are feeling. Only in an open space where we’re not all caught up in our own version of reality can we see and hear and feel who others really are, which allows us to be with them and communicate with them properly.”
As Chodron stated, compassion is a practice. So is acceptance. This means they are not second-nature, so be patient with yourself in this process and, in time, it will get easier. These tools, once instilled, will continue to see you through each life transition you encounter with less distress and more grace according to Meredith Watkins, Marriage and Family Therapist and Clinical Editor of RecoveryView.com.
Sherry Gaba, LCSW, is a Psychotherapist and Life Coach in Agoura Hills, CA. She is the author of “The Law of Sobriety: Attracting Positive Energy for a Powerful Recovery” and Life Coach/Pychotherapist on Celebrity Rehab on VH1.
A few decades ago, scads of people searched in earnest to “find themselves”. The general public dismissed this as a lot of hippy hooey. How does it happen that “you” have wandered away such that travelling to relocate yourself is necessary? How do you recognize yourself when you get there? Will you be holding a sign with your name on it, like an airport driver?
These kinds of misinterpretations greeted the seekers and pushed them into the “we’re-not-sure-what-to-do-with-you” category, where at least they would all be together, less likely to stir up mischief among the “civilized” world.
But perhaps this movement was actually tapping into something truly integral to the human experience. The very thing Socrates described when he stated, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”
It seems there are a lot of unexamined lives stumbling around these days, bumping into each other, and feeling very isolated from all the other stumbling bumpers. Many of these “lost” souls have turned to various addictions–drugs, alcohol, eating disorders–to avoid confirming their worst fear: “Deep down, I really am a terrible person, devoid of worth, not deserving of love.”
Meredith Watkins, Marriage and Family Therapist and Clinical Editor of RecoveryView.com states, “In my work with people suffering from addictions, what strikes me most is this lack of self-awareness and fear that their true identity is inherently flawed, beyond repair. Overcoming this belief and replacing it with a more accurate, positive and healthy one is sometimes the greatest challenge in our work–and the most important.”
Start to ask questions, such as “What things are really important to me and why?” What do I want? How would my life look if I believed differently? What you believe informs what you do. And your actions all have natural reactions or consequences that make up your experience of life. Isn’t that worth a closer look?
Sherry Gaba, LCSW, is a Psychotherapist and Life Coach and author of “The Law of Sobriety: Attracting Positive Energy for a Powerful Recovery” and Life Coach on Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew on VH1.