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The Power of Flow

Do you find it difficult or just impossible to meditate? Me too. Besides never having a peaceful moment in a busy family home, it is actually a really tricky thing to do. Personally, I have tried many times to sit in a quiet and dimly lit room to embrace the peace until a toddler bulldozes her way through the serenity.

I have tried laying down at the end of yoga and pilates sessions to calm the mind and concentrate on my breathing. I have listened to numerous mindfulness podcasts to try and instill a state of relaxation and mind release.

Unfortunately my brain has other plans during this much sought after ‘down time’. It makes lists for shopping, things that I need to do before the end of the day, it decides to go over that conversation at work about that project, or it helpfully pulls up a random embarrassing memory from 13 years ago to mull over.

I don’t think I am alone in finding inspiring meditation practices difficult to achieve and a little allusive and it is only recently that I have made peace with my belief that it just isn’t for me. However, 'flow' is something that is definitely for me. Let me explain…

When rock climbers are hanging by their fingertips tens or hundreds of feet up a mountain; when rally drivers are speeding down uneven and bendy roads at high speed; when chess players are deep in thought about their next moves whilst trying to pre-empt their opponent’s strategy…they are all in a state of 'flow'.

Flow is more than just concentrating on something, it is when someone is so completely focused on what they are doing, there is no room in their mind for any other information. Their actions and awareness become merged and they lose any feelings of self consciousness. They are literally lost in the moment and using skill and challenge in equal measure to absorb all their awareness. Flow sounds like this:

"My mind isn’t wandering. I am totally involved in what I

am doing and I am not thinking of anything else. My body

feels good... the world seems to be cut off from me... I

am less aware of myself and my problems."

Sounds incredible, right? During flow you feel a confident sense of control over what you are doing with no worries about failure. Time can feel very different when you are in a state of flow, as it can go fast (because you lose awareness of what is happening outside of the activity you are doing) or it can go slow (where you have that 'time standing still' feeling as you are lost in the moment). Flow can be so powerful that afterwards, a person might feel their sense of self is strengthened and they have become more than they were before.

The examples I gave above are extreme (if chess can be described as extreme) but flow can be achieved from lots of everyday activities. Some people find playing solo sports (e.g. golf, surfing, bowling) or in a team (e.g. football, netball, hockey) enables them to be in flow, as they are absolutely focused and lose awareness outside of their own consciousness. Playing musical instruments also gives that 'losing oneself' feeling. Musicians often describe how they merge with the instrument and become the music that they play.

Whatever the activity, flow comes from when our actions are almost automatic, and seem effortless. On this note, of course rock climbing, world class chess, and playing grand piano are not effortless and there is one heck of a learning curve before you can make it look as such, which leads to you asking: how on earth can I achieve flow if I don't surf, play football or play professional board games?

There is no prescribed list of activities which give you flow, as it is different for everyone, but it doesn't have to be big, nor do you have to be able to do it at a professional level. Colouring in, drawing, knitting, cake decorating, and pottery are all activities you can get achieve that all consuming experience from. The important thing is that whatever you do, make sure it is intrinsically rewarding in that you do it because you want to and there's no other intended end goal other than that.

The Coaching Bit...

So why is this important to you? Meditation has been scientifically proven to reduce stress and anxiety, to sharpen attention, help mental health and improve self-image. For those of us who find it hard to meditate, the good news is flow does the same thing for us.

As busy mums, dads, parents, primary carers, we absolutely need to look after ourselves as we are very susceptible to feelings of stress, overwhelm, depression and anxiety to name but a few. Flow is an alternative that can help us better manage the challenges we encounter in our day to day lives. It can also help our family as when we feel the benefit of flow, we are able to function on a higher level. Think of it as putting on your own oxygen mask before you help your family's with theirs; if you are struggling, the support you can give your family is limited. If you don't have anything that provides you with flow, search for something that will. Start small, look wide, and ask yourself, what could relax me? What am I good at? What do I enjoy doing? What feels like it would keep me absorbed? When you find it, enjoy and go with the flow.

Key bits to takeaway:

  • Flow is complete concentration on what one is doing at the present moment, there is no room in one’s mind for any other information.

  • Actions and awareness are merged, and one loses all self consciousness as they are lost in the moment.

  • Flow has the same benefits as meditation; lowers stress levels, build resilience to overwhelm, depression and anxiety.

  • Flow can be achieved from any number of activities including sports and hobbies (from the everyday like cooking, colouring in and playing the guitar, to more intense activities like rock climbing, surfing and golf

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