Create Optimal Experience.

This is a follow up to an older post Free Your Mind, with the idea that focus and intention may free your mind to true happiness. In my quest to train my mind to be more focused and in the moment, I came across articles mentioning this concept of “Flow”. I decided to listen to the book “Finding Flow: The Psychology of engagement with everyday life.” by Csikszentmihalyi.

link to buy your own copy.

I figured it was worth digging a little deeper to get a better idea of the concept of Flow. I listened to the audio book on Audible during my commutes back and forth to work. I was surprised what a quick listen it was, it maybe took about 4 one way trips varying from 20-30 minutes. I listen to my books at 1.25x speed. I will provide an overview, but it may not do it justice in one post.

So, what is Flow?

In positive psychology, a flow state, also known colloquially as being in the zone, is the mental state in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by the complete absorption in what one does, and a resulting transformation in one’s sense of time.

wikipedia

So this state closely aligns with the ideas of intentional, mindful mental state that can create a more calm and collected feeling, thus giving us more enjoyment, more connection, and happiness. This state of mind is also a place that reduced distraction and chaotic thoughts.

I enjoyed the listen, but I will sum up the book here. There is a zone in which we can obtain Flow when we are intrinsically motivated and skill and challenge are balanced.

Skiing is a good example of Flow, if you’re not a skier I’m sure you could imagine another activity that this may relate. Let’s say you enjoy skiing, so this an intrinsically motivated activity. You’re on your way down the slope, going quickly with full attention to your skis, your movement, complete concentration on the task at hand. You’re thinking of nothing else and your body is using muscle memory skill to navigate down the mountain. To a competent skier, they are “in the zone”.

Csikszentmihalyi walks us through many research results (using Experience Sampling Method, or ESM) on groups of people logging their activities and the level of happiness. Although, the author seemed to feel, the happiness results were suspect because the participant was not doing something meaningful (which I felt was a bit subjective). I think the author wanted the results to align with the model of optimal experience, not only for the individual, but the community as well. TV watching was low skill and low challenge, but a participant would mark it as a happy experience.

The author divides our time into three main categories:

  1. Maintenance – scheduling,bills, house cleaning, tending to family
  2. Leisure – hobbies, media, social
  3. Work – employment, volunteering

I believe Csikszentmihalyi might be a little behind the times on gender stereotyping in this book. But, I will give him a break, due to his age and the timing of the research. He does go into detail about the differences of male and female experiences with Flow and when each experience better flow. Although, he does integrate the idea of a working mother and indicates that women tend to have the majority of the maintenance tasks that may not have a high intrinsic motivation.

The book points out several ways to change your mindset to experience Flow more often, even with the maintenance activities. It goes on with an example of thinking through a maintenance activity, such as doing the dishes. Instead of thinking “I have to” do the dishes, to think “I get to” do the dishes (Yay, <insert sarcasm here>). But, in all seriousness, I think the idea works in the mindset of what our ‘why’ is. Instead of thinking of it as a drudgery, to think of it as achieving the goal of keeping a tidy house free of bugs. In this way the goal provides the path for the intrinsic motivation to do the task.

He elaborates on this with an example of setting performance goals associated with these maintenance activities such as doing the dishes faster than the last time, or more efficient than the previous time. Make a game of it, to increase skill and complexity…therefore increasing Flow opportunity. Here is a post that might help…

9 Unique Ways to Use Less Water when doing the dishes

Keep the goals closely aligned with skill as to create a challenge that is not too overwhelming. Small increments to challenge to build the skills.

As I got to the end of this book, I thought the exploration of social and religious comparisons of creating positive Flow activities were interesting, but I think they drifted a little further than my intention for the topic and what I was looking for.

I couldn’t help thinking, while listening, how do we reduce the chaotic consciousness from interfering with flow. Things like text messages, kids emergencies, parent illnesses, scheduling conflicts, etc. The the narrator got right to it. You have to prioritize and proactive with your time and be intentional about doing or not doing activities as to reduce the chaotic thoughts.

My next thought, was what if my list outways my time. The very next section indicated to draw a line under the planned tasks for the day and not let anymore be added to that day. < insert small chuckle and shrug >

So, I’m going to refresh my daily task organizer and prioritize. I will start up my 7 habits program again. Which seems to be very much in alignment with the philosophy. I would say this book was motivating and revisited a lot of things I’ve already learned, but I may have lost that intrinsic motivation on.

Free Your Mind

I love the idea that focus and intention can free your mind to true happiness.

“The path is to free your mind, become more focused, bring yourself into a proactive, calm and positive state of mind.”

https://humanperformancepsychology.com/2020/02/21/from-outside-your-comfort-zone-and-into-the-zone/

Validation for me that having more focus is crucial to the journey of development and growth in life. Why do we lose focus and what does it take to regain it. From what I’m learning, it’s our fears that creep in that allow us to get in a comfort zone. We may not even realize we have fears or what they are. This comfort zone creates the willingness to allow attentions to be divided. Being proactive and deciding to face the fears, or even just figure them out along the way can create the path for greater quality of life.

The article makes reference to Flow. The book “Flow” by Csikszentmihalyi.

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience teaches how, by ordering the information that enters our consciousness, we can discover true happiness and greatly improve the quality of our lives.

Csikszentmihalyi now has a newer book called “Finding Flow: The Psychology of engagement with everyday life.” I have just ordered it on audible credits.

Who doesn’t want to free your mind to true happiness?

When I’ve completed the book I will post a follow up. For now, have a great day.

Improve Focus

What to get out of this post: 3 mindful activities that can help increase the ability to focus. They have equal benefit for men, women, and children.

  1. Coloring
  2. Walking
  3. Connecting with Nature

Coloring

I find the coloring is pretty easy and good way to practice a laser focus on the ‘here and now’. You want to be intentional about the activity. Meaning, set a time and a find a place you are undisturbed…keep your attention to the coloring and when your mind drifts off (which it will) redirect it back to the physical act of coloring, choosing colors, the texture of the paper, the pens or pencils, the sounds, etc.

Walking

I used to walk and just let my thoughts wander and go from thought to thought, I would work out problems to solve or plan things I needed to do that day. Which is valuable, but the practice of mindfulness walking that trains the mind for focus is a bit different. It is an activity of intention and discipline to stay focused. Each step having intention and observance of the action, and feeling every motion and interaction with the feet to the ground.

The following information is a good to start: A guided ten minute walking meditation by MrsMindfulness. She also posted a soundcloud guided meditation.

I really like the following quote from the guided walking meditation.

“…Aiming to put aside any mental commentary, labeling or judging about what you see, and instead just being present with what is here to be seen…”

https://mrsmindfulness.com/guided-walking-meditation/

Connecting with Nature

Connecting with nature can be done in multiple ways and I’m only scratching the surface here. One way is to observe nature and really focus on the details of what you see. When other thoughts interrupt, use the study to refocus on the nature you are observing. Think about the texture, the smells, the movement, colors, etc.

I started adding pictures and videos of nature on the lifeinspiredreflections instagram account. It’s been really fun to work with my daughter to capture these and post them. We will continue to post more. Here is one of a flower.

Another way to use nature for practicing mindfulness is picturing in your mind of something in nature you’ve seen before. Sit without distraction and close your eyes and visualize every detail…try to rebuild the image in you mind. Even better describe it to someone else with you. It’s harder than you think and does take some practice.

There are several more out there related to nature. The main thing I’m getting out of these is the practice of keeping the mind focused. I find distraction in almost every corner these days and I used to be very intentional with my focus. I am working to get that back and attempt to make it a subconscious skill again.

Thank you for reading…stay tuned for more ways to practice in simplistic ways. Please comment or email easy ways you’ve practiced mindfulness.

“Be Here Now”

“Be here now” is a phrase that was used as a culture shift at an employer I worked for in the early 2000’s. With the introduction of blackberrys, telecommuting, and multi tasking, this phrase resonated and made a huge impact on me. I still hear myself using it with my kids and my inner voice when I’m trying to concentrate or regain focus. I had to use this phrase in my mind today and thought it would be a good reflection to share.

I remember when we had our cultural training and “Be here now” was introduced. We would primarily use it when a colleague was trying to multitask in a working meeting that needed undivided attention to carry out decisions. You would catch colleagues trying to catch up on their emails and text messages…a quick “call out” to make sure we all practicing “be here now” would quickly redirect attentions back to the meeting at hand (most of the time). This little phrase has had such an impact on my life.

Today, while visiting my mother at her residential memory care at lunch, this phrase came to mind. She is in the later stages of dementia of Alzheimer’s type. She is wheelchair bound and has difficulty finding the words to express herself. She was trying very hard today to speak, but I could not make out more than the first one or two words of it. It’s getting harder and harder to interact with her verbally or doing activities with her.

In the earlier stages we connecting while reading books, coloring, playing bingo, singing at church. But today I found myself lacking the attention to our connection…talking to the staff, surfing my phone, texting and making dental appointments for my kids. As I looked at her, this little phrase came over me, “be here now”. I took a deep breath and realized I was somewhere else in my mind. I refocused in the present and held hands with my mother, it brought both of us to calm and present place together. I was so grateful for this little phrase. A tool that had been given to me. How many times have we missed the connection with a loved one in the midst of distraction of the past or future.

Heading home from my visit, I thought, where did the company get this phrase…I don’t think I ever thought about where it came from. Wikipedia notes that it comes from the spiritual teacher Ram Dass, from a book he published called “Remember, Be Here Now” in 1971 on spirituality, yoga, and meditation.

Now, though I am a beginner on the path, I have returned to the West for a time to work out karma or unfulfilled commitment. Part of this commitment is to share what I have learned with those of you who are on a similar journey. One can share a message through telling “our-story” as I have just done, or through the teaching methods of yoga, or singing, or making love. Each of us finds his unique vehicle for sharing with others his bit of wisdom. For me, this story is but a vehicle for sharing with you the true message … the living faith in what is possible. –OM–[3]

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Be_Here_Now_(book)

I will definitely be adding this book to my reading list and I will bring more learnings to these reflections. I’m no yogi, but I think this blog is going to be my unique vehicle for sharing and getting feedback from readers on similar journeys.

Be Here Now. Please comment what tools or phrases you use to re-focus to the present moment.