How can Flow Enhance Resilience and Happiness?
“To overcome the anxieties and depression of contemporary life, individuals must become independent of the social environment to the degree that they no longer respond exclusively in terms of its rewards and punishments…
…To achieve such autonomy, a person has to learn to provide rewards to herself…
…She has to develop the ability to find enjoyment and purpose regardless of external circumstances”
– Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience
The benefits of the Flow state is not only applicable to performance. Countless studies have linked Flow with happiness and well-being.
Daily experiences of Flow have been associated with job satisfaction; positivity and commitment in employees; life satisfaction in primary students and school teachers; high self-esteem, low anxiety, and well-being in employees, athletes, musicians, primary students, undergraduate students, teachers and the elderly. These benefits are seen consistently and throughout the entire population.
How could this be?
Flow enables us to reinterpret challenges which you may have deemed as unmanageable and therefore anxious when thinking about them. When in Flow, difficulties are embraced. There is no fear of what others think or conflicting and doubtful thoughts that you might otherwise willingly take on the challenge.
The stress which arises from resisting such difficulties and procrastinating or avoiding these challenges diminishes. Instead, we see these challenges as stepping stones to higher functioning, we see these as opportunities to stretch, grow, and test yourself.
When we don’t recognise life stressors as threats to our comfort or competence, but instead as positive opportunities, then there is no reason for our brain to stress. Which is how the Flow state allows us to embrace challenging situations and thrive through the stressors of life.
It is a natural and sustainable coping mechanism for stress.
Let’s get a bit more specific.
No matter who we are, we all experience stress in our lives, whether through overworking, lack of skills, or illness; stress finds us all. Within every minute of everyday, our mind is constantly thinking, continually experiencing stress whether we are aware of it or not. This is because as the most intelligent beings on this planet, we have evolved this incredibly powerful and highly intricate processing system that is our brain.
Our brains, unlike any other species, can see into the future, revisit the past, imagine any scenario possible, all while doing the dishes. Whether it’s looking at the work schedule for tomorrow or worrying about what we said to someone, we all feel the mounting pressures of the thoughts which arrive from trivial daily challenges. These thoughts enter and exit our heads constantly. In doing so, they typically make our mind and body tight, if not rigid at times.
However, it is precisely because of our stress response that we have survived and evolved. Our stress response heightens our senses, increases our heart rate, releases energy and circulates it to our extremities, and primes our body to fight or flight.
Stress is actually beneficial in many circumstances, even in exams! In a study conducted on college students, results showed students who had more circulating cortisol (stress hormone) performed better. However, when stress is perceived negatively or becomes excessive, it leads to anxiety and negatively affects your performance. The key differentiating factor being how you perceive the stress, whether you use it to embrace the challenge, or crumble under its pressure.
Understanding the power of your own psychology to harness stress for its benefits will ultimately boost not only your performance, but your well-being.
The stress response is what keeps animals alive, but it is not designed to be activated constantly. As the only creatures who can stress about something that’s not actually happening to us nor may never happen, we can easily become victims to the power of our incredible brain.
Here is a list of things to work on and think about to help you employ a better mindset for stress, and allow you to dip into Flow more easily.
- Stress is there to help you overcome challenges. Remember this next time, and try not to become stressed about the fact that you are stressed.
- Reappraise the meaning of the events. These challenges are not threats to your competence or ability, they are challenges to help you grow and surpass your perceived limitations.
- Practice your craft and continue to learn. The more resources you have to call upon during these challenging moments, the more you can rely on yourself. Stress can’t teach you how to surf or speak another language, you must continue to develop your skill set.
Learn how to turn your stressful experiences into Flow experiences where you are functioning at your best. If you are interested in cultivating Flow into your life, we have an excellent team of experts who have dedicated their lives to understanding and teaching flow in others. We offer one-to-one coaching as well as evidence-based online courses updated constantly based on cutting edge flow research. Join our community and become a Flow Seeker.
Think less, be more