Blank pages in a fresh notebook, no preconceived thoughts… limitless possibilities. These were sources of excitement, and among the most prized gifts we received as children. Pencil raised above paper, out-of-this world ideas emerged, complete with powerful heroines, magical places, and wild adventures. The rush of adrenaline and irrepressible energy that bubbled over onto the pages were thrilling. It was as if we had to rush to get everything down on paper, or we would burst!
Growing older, writing continued to be an outlet of creative expression and a dynamic tool to re-energize my soul. We all have activities that allow us to enter flow- that feeling that time ceases to exist, and you are completely immersed in whatever you are doing. It’s a balance of challenge, skill, and interest, and an absolutely amazing source of strength, vigor, and purpose. For some, those feelings may come from drawing or sculpting, teaching or reading, skiing or biking. These activities provide you with a sense of peace and a positive frame of mind. But the benefits are not necessarily limited to what you gain from the activity. There may be contributions that the activity allows you to make to others. For example, writing allows me to interact with and inform a broader community, and serves as a vehicle through which I can teach others about complex scientific topics.
So, how do you identify activities that fill your spirit and allow you to move forward almost effortlessly?
Think about activities in which you become fully focused and connected with the task and goal. When you are completely immersed in an activity, you lose sense of time and forget about other demands or responsibilities. Eliminating distractions, such as noise, phones, and e-mail, will help foster deep focus and engagement. Because you are so connected with what you are doing, your ability to perform and deliver are also elevated. Having sufficient skills that allow you to participate in the activity without frustration, a healthy level of challenge so you remain fully attentive, and enduring interest that generates positive feelings are key ingredients. Having a clear goal, such as winning a tennis match, mastering a piano concerto, running a mile, or writing a 1-page draft, is also an important element that will propel you forward and maintain your momentum.
Activities that allow you to move with the current provide immediate feedback in real time, allowing you to make continuous progress without disruption. One great aspect of activities that put you in the zone are that they are not truly dependent on achieving the goal, but rather in following through with the process. For example, even if you don’t master the concerto, being so fully immersed in the process will still feel rewarding. In other words, you feel fulfilled not just because you have moved closer to your goal, but because you derive so much pleasure from the task itself; it is intrinsically rewarding.
Activities that foster a feeling of flow are calming and freeing. You gain a sense of peace, not stress, when you engage in these activities. In fact, these activities can be a major mode of stress management. Understanding which activities allow you to enter this space will provide you with a major life hack. You can automatically switch to one of these activities when you are overwhelmed. For example, after an exhausting meeting, you may go for a three-mile bike ride to re-fuel and regain a sense of well-being. Although you may be physically tired at the end of the activity, you leave with a sense of accomplishment and feel emotionally and spiritually re-energized. Ultimately, activities that allow you to enter into a free-flowing state give back more than you invest, filling you with a sense of deep purpose, connection, and accomplishment, supporting your overall wellness.