Overcoming Anxiety and Finding Flow - The Secret to Happiness?
This is a bold claim.
But growing practice and research into Flow makes it one of the most exciting ideas in creativity and personal growth right now.
What is Flow, why would you want it, and how can you create it?
Read on to reveal all. This post might change your life. Also, it might not :D
WHAT IS FLOW?
Think of the jazz pianist in the zone, the creative writer in flow, or the extreme sports athlete on the edge. This, in a nutshell, is Flow.
Flow has been defined as the state or zone of optimal performance, when you feel and perform at your best.
In psychological terms, the top Flow researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi - his name alone is mindblowing - describes it as “a state of deep absorption when people are able to function at their optimal capacity and tackle challenging endeavors with ease”.
Flow can be found in between your maximum skill level (what you are capable of) and your maximum challenge level (what you can handle). Imagine skiing down a difficult slope really fast - you feel like you are on the edge of control, you’re fully engaged in the moment to make sure you don’t mess up, and it feels really fun.
Here’s the model for finding Flow:
WHY WOULD YOU WANT TO FLOW?
There are 2 BIG reasons why you might want more Flow in your life
Reason number 1: Flow creates exceptional outcomes
Research across the fields of art, sports, business, music, and creativity are showing the same thing - people able to hit Flow states perform much, much better.
Data from the Flow Genome Project show:
+500% increase in executive productivity at McKinsey
3 days of heightened creativity after the flow state at Harvard
+490% faster skill acquisition at DARPA
+430% increase in creative problem solving at the University of Sydney.
Neuroscience research has even revealed the importance of Flow among freestyle rappers, who improvise at the interface of music and language. Using functional MRI brain scans, they show “a relaxation of executive functions to allow more natural de-focused attention and uncensored processes to occur that might be the hallmark of creativity”.
Reason number 2: Flow feels amazing!
Neurobiological research also shows that Flow states feel amazing for people experiencing and creating through them.
You get a hit of the 4 most potent “feel good” happiness drugs that the brain can produce - dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins.
On top of that, as you get into Flow through a combination of clear goals, immediate feedback and maximum challenge/skill, the experience of Flow can include a sense of:
Selflessness - your sense of self disappears, you don’t feel self-conscious
Timelessness - your sense of time disappears, you feel like time flies by
Effortlessness - your sense of effort disappears, you feel confident and in control
Information Richness - your sense of information processing, pattern recognition, focus and lateral thinking increases
Woah. Quite a ride. I guess the question is: Why wouldn’t you want more Flow in your life? :D
HOW CAN YOU CREATE MORE FLOW?
Given the complexity of factors involved, creating Flow is more of an art than an exact science. But there are 17 factors and triggers most commonly associated with creating flow:
HOW CAN FLOW HELP OVERCOME ANXIETY?
It’s impossible to feel anxiety when in Flow. Here’s why...
The brain can process about 120 bits of information per second.
A typical conversation uses about 60 bits of information, leaving the other 60 bits of information to worry about other things.
When in Flow all 120 bits of information are focused on the challenge at hand. There is zero time or space in your awareness to worry about anything else.
Your inner critic? Shuts off.
Thinking about anything else? Put on pause.
Worrying about what other people think or what else is going on around you? Momentarily stops.
When in Flow, there is no anxiety. Overall, the more you become accustomed to getting in and out of Flow, the more control you can have over your emotional wellbeing, your creative performance and, ultimately, your happiness.
So is Flow THE secret to happiness? Well...it can certainly be ONE of them ;)
At Courage we help overcome anxiety and find flow in your career, business or life. Want to find out more about our boundary-pushing Events and Adventures?
Jason Silva - Shots of Awe
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi - Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention
Jamie Wheal and Steven Kotler - Flow Genome Project
Siyuan Liu, Ho Ming Chow, Yisheng Xu, Michael G. Erkkinen, Katherine E. Swett, Michael W. Eagle, Daniel A. Rizik-Baer & Allen R. Braun - Neural Correlates of Lyrical Improvisation: An fMRI Study of Freestyle Rap. Scientific Reports volume 2, Article number: 834 (2012)