Flow occurs when we feel adequately challenged by our work, activities and relationships.
Challenge makes everything more interesting and rewarding because it requires our attention to be focused and engaged in the moment. Our actions and awareness then merge into a state of flow. Time disappears. Fear of failure fades away and true freedom is experienced.
Flow increases your happiness and productivity
Flow is the psychology of optimal experience that is cultivated when we engage in a task that is slightly out of our reach and when there is a framework in place that provides direction, support and timely feedback.
Stretching our knowledge and skills is what cultivates flow at work and during activities that capture our attention such as tennis, yoga, chess or even sex. Complexity adds the stretch in relationships that produces flow experiences that can be sustained through life.
There are many similarities between the psychology of optimal experience and the practice of Hatha Yoga. Many people in the West are only familiar with the physical practice of yoga. However, Hatha has eight (8) limbs that provides a framework for cultivating and experiencing a joyous state similar to flow.
The Eight limbs
Ethical Preparation: Development of ethical guidelines and practices
1/ Yama [Moral Discipline]: Restraint from acts and thoughts that might harm others such as falsehoods, theft, lust and avarice.
2/ Niyama [Moral Observance]: Ordered routines in cleanliness, study and obedience to God that help channel attention into predictable patterns and make attention easier to control.
Physical Preparation: Development of habits that facilitate concentration
3/ Asanas [Body Posture]: Holding postures for long periods without succumbing to strain or fatigue.
4/ Pranayama [Breath Control]: Relaxes the body and stabilizes the breath.
5/ Pratyahara [Withdrawal of the Senses]: Withdrawing attention from outward objects by directing the input of the senses to detach from the trials and fluctuations of life.
Control of Consciousness: Development of mental operations
6/ Dharana [Concentration]: Developing the ability to concentrate for long periods on a single stimulus.
7/ Dhyana [Self Realization]: Intense meditation to forget the self in uninterrupted concentration that no longer needs the external stimuli of Dharana.
8/ Samadhi [Enlightenment]: the meditator and the object of meditation become as one. Samadhi is the ultimate goal of yoga and those who achieved it, report it as being one of the most joyful experiences.
Hatha Yoga vs. Flow
Both Hatha Yoga and flow try to achieve a joyous, self-forgetful involvement through concentration which in turn is made possible by a discipline of the body.
The main difference is the last stage. Flow fortifies the self whereas the individual self in Samadhi merges with the universe – the threshold for Nirvana.
Applying flow to work and life
2. Goal Setting: Goals should stretch your ability but not break you. If your goals are causing debilitating stress and anxiety, you’ve been stretched too far.
3. Practice: Identify a framework that enables you to develop and apply your knowledge and skills and get the timely feedback needed to grow. Online education and workouts provides a great framework for developing your knowledge, technical skills and practice.
4. Application: Tell people what you’re doing and why to get their feedback. Support groups, mentors, coaches, trainers and advisors can provide a sounding board and guidance to help you achieve your goal.
5. Assess: If you’re not experiencing some flow and/or making progress, something is wrong. Listen and be open to the answer.