What is Flow and How Do You Get Some?
by Judy Tso, MAA

"the way people describe their state of mind when consciousness is harmoniously ordered and they want to pursue whatever they are doing for its own sake." Flow is an optimal experience typically experienced during sports, games and hobbies.

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A good place to look for a definition of flow is in Mihaly Csikszentmihaly's book called Flow. He describes flow as "the way people describe their state of mind when consciousness is harmoniously ordered and they want to pursue whatever they are doing for its own sake." Flow is an optimal experience typically experienced during sports, games and hobbies. Athletes describe it as being in the zone. When flow occurs, you feel completely focused; your mind and body are working in harmony; you are using your whole self yet you don't feel overwhelmed. Time gets distorted and you experience life as full and intense. You feel joy, creativity, a total involvement in life.

Another way to think of flow is that feel good karma where things are in sync; you feel good and things are working out without huge amounts of worry, anxiety and self-criticism. There is a zen-like quality to flow. It has a spiritual quality.

Before going forward, there must be a disclaimer. Being in flow does not mean that you experience joy and happiness all the time. We are never happy 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We humans go through ups and downs and that is normal and will always be the case. But being in flow means having more of your life be filled with joy rather than less.

How do you find flow?

Become Conscious of your thoughts and feelings

You cannot be in flow unless you are aware of your own internal processes. You must be conscious of your daily experience of life, of your feelings and emotions, intentions, needs and thoughts.

Many of us are so busy doing things that we deliberately avoid noticing and reflecting on our inner processes. Many of us have trained ourselves to ignore our own feelings. We just move onto the next to do on our list.

If you walk through hours of the day and are unaware of how you feel or if you believe you are calm and under control all day, you may actually be suppressing your feelings. Then the first step you need to take is to increase your awareness of your emotions throughout the day.

Try this exercise at work when you are most likely to suppress emotions:

Set the "alarm" on your computer to pop up with a message every two hours (you can also use a regular alarm or a watch alarm). Every two hours quickly log the answers to the following three questions: * How you are feeling about the people you have dealt with in the last two hours? * What are you preoccupied with and thinking about? * Also note how you are feeling about yourself?

Meditate. Meditation is also a good way to become more aware of what goes through your own mind. There are different schools of meditation to choose from. One is the Shambala school. Shambala meditation has its roots in Tibetan Buddhism but has been modified to suit Western culture. The explanations are easy to understand, the instruction is excellent. The goal of meditation is to become more conscious of your thought processes.

Keep the Mind and Body Flowing Together

It is important to acknowledge that you have both a mind and a body and that the two are connected. People often experience flow when physically exerting themselves. Experiment with different activities that involve the mind and body and notice how the physical affects the mental. The activities below not only unify mind and body but they also develop discipline for the mind.

* Sign up for a Yoga class. Yoga originates from Indian philosophy. It has both mental and physical aspects. There are different schools of yoga. Hatha yoga for instance stresses mastery of the body as a way of attaining spiritual awareness.

* Try martial arts. Although the popular image of the martial arts seems to be about fighting or defending yourself, in actuality there is a strong emphasis on the mental and spiritual state of the practitioner. You practice suspending the rational mind so your body and mind can act as one unit.

* Massage and bodywork. There are numerous opportunities for body healing. Your mood and mental state can be severely affected by the functioning of your body. Take advantage of massage and different bodyworking techniques. Massage will help you relax. Bodywork will help move around the energy in your body. There are numerous bodywork approaches. Pick one or two and give them a try until you find one you like. Examples include Swedish massage, cranial sacral therapy, reflexiology, shiatsu, reiki etc.

And finally continue a regular exercise regimen.

Keep Your Relationships in Flow

When we are not in flow in our relationships with spouses, children, family, co-workers and friends, it is difficult to be in flow overall. If you want more flow in relationships, do the following:

* Don't hold back in communicating your true feelings

We make a critical mistake when we want to "keep the peace." We assume that harmony comes from hiding our true feelings, especially if by holding back we will avoid hurting the other person's feelings. In truth by holding back, we create distance. The other person can sense your holding back. Your non-verbal behavior will reveal it. When we sense a person holding back, we also pull back. Then you have two people holding back and feeling distant from each other.

* Tell the other person what you need

In any relationship there are certain needs we have, to be respected, to be acknowledged, to be thanked, to be valued. If we need to be treated in a certain way, we need to let the other person know. We cannot expect co-workers or family members to read our minds. We must say it clearly and out loud. For example, if someone is taking you for granted and you feel ignored, let that person know that you need some attention and tell them what kind.

* Over- communicate

Given that communication can be difficult even when you speak the same language, it doesn't hurt to over-communicate. For instance, repeat important thoughts three times to others. It will help them remember. Also double check or confirm that the other person understood what you said. Sometimes we sabotage the relationship by thinking, "well I told you once so you should have listened" Don't set the other person up for failure.

* Clearing

If you do find you have been holding back for some time, you need to let the other person know. If you are angry at someone and have let it go on for sometime, you need to clear. Clearing is about getting things off your chest, clearing the air. It's about openly communicating how you are feeling and doing. Clearing ensures we have not left unsaid something important. By clearing, we demonstrate we can open about our feelings and we are able to be vulnerable to others. Both enhance flow in relationships.

Judy is an anthropologist, coach and group process expert. She is devoted to inspiring positive change in the world and works with individuals and organizations that are committed to making a difference in their realm of influence. Over her career she has blended business, social science, creative problem solving and group dynamics to help organizations and individuals in the realms of strategic planning, generating new ideas for programs and products, increasing innovation and creativity, and proactively dealing with change. She has worked with fortune 500 corporations such as Campbell Soup, universities such as University of Maryland Law School, and non-profits such as Baltimore Reads. She holds a Bachelor's degree from the Wharton School of Business and a Masters of Applied Anthropology from University of Maryland College Park. She is known for her interactive, energetic presence and is a sought-after speaker. In her spare time enjoys backcountry camping, dabbling in theater and playwriting on the issues of race and ethnicity.

Judy Tso can be contacted at judytso@ahasolutions.org or visit www.ahasolutions.org.

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