How to Go with the Flow to Enhance Anger Management

Do you ever get so involved in something that nothing else seems to matter and you lose track of time? This is the question that Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, professor of psychology at the University of Chicago, asks people in the study of what he calls flow — a state of consciousness that occurs when you find yourself immersed in one of those “best moments of my life.”

Csikszentmihalyi, interestingly, finds that only 20 percent of people answer yes, that this happens to them on a daily basis. Fifteen percent say no, that it never happens — and, these are the folks most likely to experience toxic anger.

So, how do you get into this healthy state of mind? Actually, it’s not that difficult. Here are some tips:

  • Flow comes from active involvement in some aspect of daily life. Flow is not some mystical, magical, spiritual state that falls over you — if you’re lucky — like mist from the heavens above. It only comes when you’re actively involved in life. Passive activities — watching TV, listening to music — won’t do the trick.

    For you, it may be a hobby — stamp collecting, bird watching, experimental cooking, gardening, chess, or recreational sports like golf and tennis.

  • Flow requires positive motivation. Flow is a byproduct of a “want to” activity. If you don’t really want to play golf today, and you’re just doing it because your boss wants you to, you may shoot a low score, but you won’t experience flow.

  • Flow requires your full attention. Flow requires a full commitment on your part. Your mind cannot be elsewhere while you are actively engaged in something that has the potential to produce flow. Mentally speaking, you and the activity have to be one.

    One man who has been suffering from extensive pain every minute of the day for over 20 years said, “When I can’t stand the pain anymore — when it’s absolutely killing me — I go up into my computer room and get into the computer. I don’t get on the computer, I get into it. I get lost in there, and for a couple of hours, I am completely pain free.”

  • Flow activities have to be challenging. Doing something that is easy, that doesn’t take much in the way of skills, energy, or concentrated effort, won’t produce flow. Flow comes from activities that are challenging, even though they may seem effortless when you’re doing them. Repetition makes us dull!

    If you start out achieving flow from a particular activity, over time — if you don’t change the activity in some way to make it more challenging or complex — it will lose its effect.

  • Flow comes from activities that produce immediate reward. You achieve flow in the process, not in the outcome. It happens while you’re actively engaged, not later on down the road. Whereas most of the rewards in life comes from sustained effort — nose to the grindstone — flow occurs in the here and now. And it begins to subside as soon as you stop whatever you’re doing to produce it.

    A lot of people ask if flow leads to happiness. The answer is yes, but happiness is the end product of lots of moments of flow that accumulate over time.

  • Flow activities don’t always present themselves — sometimes you have to create them. People say all the time, “I just never seem to have the time to do the things I really enjoy. I can’t remember the last time I had an opportunity to sit and play the piano — my favorite thing. I wish God would just give me a day off.”

    What they say less is something to the effect of, “I know the dishes need washed and I still haven’t vacuumed the downstairs, but, what the heck, I’m going to stop and play the piano a while. I need to get into the flow.”

    Make time for flow. Make it a priority in your life. Be one of that top 20 percent of the population that understands what Dr. Csikszentmihalyi is talking about.

  • Flow comes from knowing yourself. You experience flow when you commit yourself to spending time in your favorite activity. So what is your favorite activity? You may not be able to readily answer that simple question. That’s in part because you don’t know enough about yourself to actually know what your favorite activity is.

    Spend some time experimenting with different activities that appeal to you a little bit and see which ones you have the most fun with.

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