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How to Get into Flow to Achieve Happiness

Flow is the ability to become deeply engrossed in something and losing your worries in the process. Flow is an important stepping stone to happiness. But how do you achieve it? Try this step-by-step process that will help you get involved in something so deeply that nothing else will seem to matter.

Step 1: Identify your sources of flow

Flow is the end result when you apply a set of skills to a challenging situation.

If you have skills but they’re unchallenged, the best you can hope for is a feeling of relaxation that quickly turns to boredom. An example is someone with landscaping skills who is simply mowing the lawn.

If you find yourself in a challenging situation, but you lack the skills necessary to deal with the situation effectively, you end up anxious or angry.

If you lack skills and challenge, you end up disinterested, apathetic, and dissatisfied.

Start with a list of skills you possess that have to do with sports, hobbies, career, socializing, and artistic endeavors. Examples include

  • Writing poetry

  • Golfing

  • Organizing social events at work and in the community

  • Writing fiction or nonfiction

  • Playing tennis

  • Fly-fishing

  • Coin or stamp collecting

  • Participating in Civil War reenactments

  • Painting

  • Gardening

  • All types of crafts — pottery, basket-making, jewelry

  • Cooking

  • Playing cards

  • Wine-making

  • Volunteering for political campaigns

After you’ve identified your skills, ask yourself three questions:

  • When is the last time I did any of those things?

  • Are there activities that I haven’t gotten involved with before, but that I’d like to do?

  • Am I letting my skills atrophy by not challenging them?

If you’re a bridge player, have you ever signed up for a bridge tournament? How about trying out a new — and more difficult — golf course next time you play? If you’re a writer and you’re not ready to tackle the challenge of writing a book, why not submit an article to a magazine?

Step 2: Take the plunge

Getting into flow is a process, and like any other process it has to have a beginning before it can have a middle and an end. Now is the time for action! Don’t spend the rest of your life standing on the edge of the diving board being afraid to take the plunge — go ahead and make a splash!

People often say, “I don’t have time to write, to play golf, to go cycling with a group of my friends in the mountains.” But the reality is, you have the same 24 hours you had on the day you were born and that you’ll have on the day you die — no more, no less.

Getting into flow is not a question of how much time you have; it’s a question of how you choose to use it. Why not start using your time in ways that make you happy?

Step 3: Give yourself enough time

Flow is a timeless state, but it does take a certain amount of time to get there. It’s not something that you can hurry up.

Consider this individual who went looking for help in stress management. He was given an audiotape of a standard 20-minute relaxation exercise and instructed to listen to it daily. When he returned the next week, he was asked about the tape and he said, “I haven’t had time to listen to it and, besides, you said it takes 20 minutes — don’t you have anything shorter?”

He was then given a 10-minute tape. The next week it was the same thing, “I really didn’t have time to listen to the second tape — do you have one that’s shorter, maybe four or five minutes?” You see how foolish this sounds. Telling yourself to hurry up and relax is just as senseless as telling yourself to hurry up and get into flow.

The irony is that after you get into flow, time no longer matters. You’re not even conscious of it. Time only matters before and after.

Flow is about being so highly engaged in an activity that you lose track of time. Take off your watch when you’re trying to get into flow — it only makes it easier to lose track of time when you don’t know what time it is.

Step 4: Make flow a regular part of your day

People make all kinds of other things part of their regular day — including negative things like anger outbursts, substance abuse, a tedious and boring job, and hot-button relationships. Why not add in opportunities for getting into flow, being grateful, and doing things you enjoy doing?

Jason used to come home from the office every day exhausted and in an irritable mood. More often than he would like, he ended up barking at his wife and kids over the least little thing. Evenings at home were not idyllic and not something he looked forward to. Then he changed his routine to include stopping off at a nearby school to walk on the track.

He quickly developed a proficiency at walking and managed to cover between 3 and 5 miles without effort. The whole time he was walking, he was in a zone, oblivious to anything and anyone around him. He was in flow. When Jason finally arrived at home, he was in a positive, receptive mood and there was no more complaining. He was a happy man and so was his family.

How can you enrich your day and get into flow? If you rarely or never experience flow, start by trying to make flow a part of your week. When you’re getting into flow once a week, try upping it to three or four times a week. And then try making it a part of every day.

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