Life is busy. Does it ever feel like your to-do list is endless and ever expansive? Like you cross three things off, but add five more? Our days and attentions are fragmented – pulled this way and that between running errands, taking care of children, working, picking up at home, trying desperately to keep up with friends. Monotasking seems like an antiquated, slow moving idea. All the while our monkey minds work overtime in the background giving us a running commentary on how we are doing, what we should be doing, how that last conversation should have gone, what next thing on our to do list needs to be crossed off.
You need a break. Your brain needs a break. You are not a robot. You cannot keep up this pace indefinitely until the kids move out! You will break down at some point.
But how? Well you probably know me by now. I’d recommend starting out by trying meditation. But what if meditation isn’t your thing? I have a dear friend for who the just thought of sitting still for 20 minutes and not doing anything stresses her out even more. But your brain like any other part of your body needs a chance to rest and recharge in order to be able to do it’s best work with positivity and creativity.
Herein enters the idea of flow. Flow is not a new concept. It was coined in the early 1980’s by a psychologist named Mihaly Csikszentmihályi. You may of heard of people referring to flow as “being in the zone.” Flow usually happens when you are doing an activity for which you have the skills and knowledge but also is slightly challenging for you. Flow is an active process (rather than something like meditation or relaxing in the hot tub). Your brain is engaged and challenged and you seem to know exactly what to without hesitation. People who experience flow often report loosing track of time because they are so immersed in what they are doing. It is also sometimes called “The Deep Now”.
Here’s the part I think is really cool. The idea of flow has been around for awhile now, but more recently they have been able to study brains of people who are in a state of flow. The original hypothesis was that much of the brain would be active while in flow in order to create such a state of optimum engagement. What they found was actually the opposite. When a person is in a state of flow much of their brain actually shuts down leaving just the part that is focused on the activity engaged. The prefrontal cortex – which is the part of our brain that houses our ego, our inner critic, our constant commentary – shuts down. Leaving us with the ability to be more confident, more creative, braver and focused.
At the same time our brainwaves also slow down – going from the fast moving waves we have while moving through our normal busy days to a much slower speed found between daydreaming and REM sleep. We also get a flood of wonderful neurochemicals. A heady mix of endorphins, dopamine, serotonin. And this optimum state of being lasts past just the time we’re doing the activity. Studies have shown that not only are people more creative when they are in a state of flow, they are actually more creative the following day!
What are the times in your life when you have experienced flow? I’ve been in a flow state while running, writing, drumming, reading. I know my husband finds it when he goes mountain biking or skiing. Often people report finding themselves in flow when making art or dancing. Usually flow is great not only for our brains but we enjoy it, it builds our self confidence because we are excelling at something that is slightly challenging. We feel happier. There are so many reasons to find and make time for flow in your life!
It might be possible to take flow to an unhealthy extreme – to get so immersed in what you are doing you loose track of time and forget to take care of your body or pick up the kids from school. If you find you have that tendency I’ve heard the suggestion of setting a timer so you know when to stop. But when used in a productive healthy way flow might be just the thing to helps part of your brain put the endless chatter on hold and finally take a well deserved rest.
Be happy, be healthy, be well.
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