Eleven Minutes to...Finding Flow Time

eleven minutes to... experience flow the human imagination project time Feb 08, 2023

Feel like the flow state is as elusive as a Pallas’s cat wearing a vest and shopping at the local grocery store? You are not alone.*

Because the flow state can be elusive and because it can feel rather magical when it appears, it is easy to assume that the only way it can be found or accessed is through serendipity rather than by invitation.

And sure, that can be true. If I opened up the window and shouted, “Okay Flow State! I am ready for you!”. More likely than not, I would disturb my neighbors and the only thing to come in through the window might be the very curious squirrel who lives in a neighboring tree.

Yet, you can create opportunities for the flow state to find you. You can invite it. You can create conditions for that serendipity. But before we dive into that, let’s define what we are talking about when we talk about flow.

Defining Flow

The flow state was first named by the late psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1934–2021) in the 1970s. He describes the state of flow as: “a state of concentration or complete absorption with the activity at hand and the situation….It is a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter.”

It is assumed that flow is a pleasurable and desirable state, a rewarding way to spend our limited time on the earth rock.

As Csikszentmihalyi notes, in Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life:

To live means to experience — -through doing, feeling, and thinking. Experience takes place in time, so time is the ultimate scarce resource we have. Over the years, the content of our experience will determine the quality of life, Therefore one of the most essential decisions any of us can make is about how one’s time is allocated or invested. Of course how we invest time is not alone our decision to make. As we have seen earlier, stringent constraints dictate what we should do…nevertheless, there is room for personal choices, and control over time is to a certain extent in our hands (p.8).

When Time Flows But We Don’t

Eleven Minutes to Mars exists to help people reclaim their time and change their experience of it. What I want most for people is to help them snatch their time back from the gaping maw of The Giant Everything that wants to consume it.

I’m sure many of us have had that experience of time flowing away. We get down the river of day, or a week, or more, and have no idea where that time went and not in a good way. To be sure, time flowed but we were not present for it. We are left with little idea of where time went yet it was neither an immersive nor joyful experience.

So, how do you create conditions where that desirable state of flow is likely to occur? How do we shape the quality of experience, and in doing so, the quality of this life? How can we invite that seemingly serendipitous state of flow into our lives?

This series will explore just that.

Step 1: Recognizing Flow in the Wild

The first step is simply noticing when those flow states appear, to note flow as it appears in the wild, aka, your life. Grab a sheet of paper, a notebook, open up your preferred notes app, or voice recorder and start noticing when those flow states appear. Please don’t interrupt said state to write it down! Instead, after it appears then ebbs and flows away, take note of it. You can make this as brief or as detailed as is useful to you but you might consider noting the following:

✅ What were you doing?

⏰ What time of day was it?

💖 How did it feel?

🧠 What were you thinking?

Once we start noticing when those flow states appear and the conditions that perhaps contributed to its appearance. It makes it easier to replicate them.

As you embark on noting sightings of flow in your life, I’d love to hear of those times when you find yourself in that flow state. And if you ever have seen a Pallas’s cat either at the grocery store or in the wild I’d also love to hear about that.

Sources: Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Basic Books, New York, 1997.

*Never considered the possibility of a Pallas’s cat at the grocery store? You are not alone.

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