Modern living is not for everyone. These are extraordinary times, and they will continue for the foreseeable future. If you’re experiencing the languishing that has become the dominant emotion of the pandemic, flow might be one avenue to remedy this uncomfortable state of being.
Flow was first studied and developed by the late, globally renowned psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced “cheek-sent-mi-hi”). It’s about finding balance between activities that stretch and engage you to the right degree. Too much challenge can lead to frustration. Too much can lead to boredom.
Dr. Martin Seligman is a founder father of positive psychology and says flow is about engagement during an absorbing activity. His 2012 book “Flow” Flourish, Seligman writes, “There are no shortcuts to flow. On the contrary, you need to deploy your highest strengths and talents to meet the world in flow.”
The practice below is about using your signature strengths as pathways to flow. These are your top strengths that bring you joy and naturally increase engagement. If you’re unsure of your signature strengths, you can join 15 million people globally and take the VIA Institute’s free character strengths assessment.
An example of finding flow
You can find flow by asking yourself these questions: What were the times I was in flow in the past. What was my purpose? Who was I with?
I know from experience that I’m usually in flow when writing blog posts like this one. Writing challenges my creativity, humor, perspective, and is one of my top three strengths. I feel challenged to put interesting content together in original ways, infuse humor where appropriate, and reflect on whether the piece is relatable and understandable.
I knew I was in flow as I wrote this blog post when I looked at the time and realized I hadn’t saved my work in well over an hour. I got what I wanted and the time flew by quickly. Reflecting later, I felt content with the flow state I created and grateful.
There are many more facets of flow, which you can read about in Csikszentmihalyi’s book Finding Flow. In the meantime, you can use your strengths as pathways to flow.
A 6-Step Guide to Using Your Strengths to Find Flow
- To begin, set up your environment so it’s conducive to flow. Turn off all electronic devices. Shut down your door to prevent interruptions. Get yourself something to drink so you don’t have to get up. You should eliminate distractions and the need for you to be occupied with something else.
- Think of something that matters to you—something worthwhile or interesting. Start small. It could be a task, a goal, or any other activity.
- If #2 seems difficult, ask yourself: What was it like to be in flow in the present? What was my purpose? Who was I with?
- Make sure what you chose isn’t too challenging or too simple. You want to be able to fully absorb the information.
- Identify three strengths that are your most important and find at least one way they can help you accomplish the activity.
- Start your activity and put all your strength into action!