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Finding Flow: The Sweet Spot Between Boredom and Anxiety

When I cook, write, practice yoga or ski, time seems to blur and I become immersed in a state referred to as ‘flow’. Do you have moments of total absorption where you feel the magic of being alive? Jeremy McCarthy shares what he’s learnt from the book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by positive psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Read on to learn how to ignite greater passion in your life by finding your flow.

In his 1990 classic, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi sets out the results of his studies of human activities. Over a course of several months, he studied participants wearing beepers that beeped at random intervals and measured what people were doing and how they felt during different times in their day. What he found was that people felt their best when they were doing certain activities that helped them to experience what he called “flow” : a feeling you have when you are completely engaged in an activity and time seems to fly by.

You’re bound to know what I’m talking about: swimming in the surf, the feeling of engrossment when preparing a gourmet meal, going for a run or dancing at a nightclub. Different individuals have different activities that they find to be flow-inducing: art, music, sports, travel and social activities can all induce flow in different personalities.

Curiously, Csziksentmihalyi found that all of these flow-inducing activities have certain things in common. People find themselves in flow when performing an activity that is somewhat challenging, but when they feel they have the skills to meet that challenge. Flow is the sweet spot between boredom and anxiety.

An intermediate tennis player, for example, would be completely bored if he was playing a beginner who couldn’t even keep the ball in play. On the other hand, if he was playing against a Grand Slam champion, he would have a hard time returning a single serve and would probably find the experience somewhat stressful. So say he then plays another player, strong enough to challenge him and push his game to its limits, where victory is not impossible, but not guaranteed, he may find himself loving every minute of the challenge and losing all sense of anything else: in flow.

When I read Flow, I immediately recognized some of the flow activities in my own life, and learned how to identify new ones I might equally enjoy. Inspired by the book, I have filled my life with wonderful activities that I pursue with passion. Hiking, scuba diving, salsa dancing, guitar strumming, surfing and beach volleyball are all flow activities that have brought me countless hours of joy. I think of these kinds of activities not as pleasantries with which to fill my leisure time, but as a sacred part of my life; things that make life worth living.

So what are the activities that put you into flow? What are you passionate about? Finding these activities and giving them the appropriate value in your life can be the secret to living a life of happiness and well-being.

Have you read a book that has drastically impacted your life in a positive way? Let us know, we’d like to read it too.

Jeremy McCarthy is the author of the Psychology of Spas & Wellbeing. The original version of this post can be read on his blog, The Psychology of Wellbeing here.

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