When you hear the word mindfulness, you might imagine sitting in meditation with your legs crossed, fully embracing the present moment. You probably also envision yourself going through the day with a serene spirit, aware of your surroundings. But one other aspect of mindful living is entering the flow state, a form of consciousness that contributes to our health and happiness.
What is the flow state?
If mindfulness means being aware, the flow state is essentially an intense, slightly different version of mindfulness. When practicing mindfulness, you’re completely aware of all of your surroundings: your thoughts, feelings, and body sensations. If you’re in the flow state, you’re completely immersed in one activity, virtually unaware of everything else. Often, people who are experiencing flow state forget about physical needs, like hunger or thirst. They’ll also forget about emotional stressors like worry or anxiousness. Of course, it’s important to address physical and emotional needs, so you can’t stay in flow all the time. However, getting into the flow state has tremendous benefits for your mental health.
When can I enter the flow state?
When you’re watching a show on TV, you might feel completely engrossed and unaware of the rest of your surroundings. However, this doesn’t mean you’re in the flow state. While people have different activities that help them get into flow, there’s commonality amongst all of these settings. For an activity to trigger the flow state, it has to challenge you physically or mentally and require strong concentration. However, you should be able to reasonably achieve the goal you’re setting out to accomplish while in flow. Your activity should also provide immediate feedback and feel rewarding in itself, not just because it will help you reach a desired end result.
What activities will help me get into flow?
You have to know yourself and your passions to know which activities will trigger flow state for you. Some people feel totally immersed in the moment when they’re alone and quiet, practicing a calming activity like yoga or meditation. This form of flow most closely resembles traditional mindfulness practices. Other people feel they’ve entered the flow state when they’re in a high pressure situation, like trying to complete a difficult project or math problem. If you’re an athletic person, you might enter the flow state when you’re in the middle of a workout. People who thrive in social settings can experience flow when spending time at a social event with a large group of people.
Notice when you feel the most present. Is it when you’re socializing, exercising, working on a challenging project, or alone with your thoughts? Try to incorporate more time like this into your life if you want to experience the benefits of the flow state.
How can the flow state improve mental health?
Our brains have a negativity bias, meaning that when we’re unoccupied, we’re more likely to focus on negative thoughts and emotions. This was an evolutionary advantage that helped our ancestors survive in dangerous, life-threatening situations because of their natural tendency to scan for problems. However, humans live much more comfortably now and don’t typically have to run or fight for their lives.
This doesn’t mean that we have to occupy ourselves constantly to live happy lives, but it does mean that the flow state is beneficial because it takes us out of our negatively biased minds and promotes complete immersion into fulfilling activities. Flow can enhance learning, performance, and overall happiness and well-being.
If you’re looking to boost your health and happiness, do some self-reflection and think about activities that require your full attention and make you feel like the rest of the world has paused temporarily. Start incorporating these activities into your life more frequently so that you can experience flow and reap its benefits.
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