Exercise and Happiness: Finding Flow

Do you ever go out jogging and feel completely in a groove? You are in a zone and feel like you could run forever. Or you get so enthralled with your yoga class that your stressful day melts away, time disappears and you are surprised when class is over?

While that feeling may not happen as often as you'd like, it's an example of flow, a coin termed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a professor of psychology. Happiness and positive psychology experts believe experiencing flow is tied closely to personal happiness.

To experience flow means you are in the middle of an activity or task with complete, intense absorption and you've hit just the right combination of challenge and skill. Flow can refer to any activity (not just exercise) where you are completely engaged and absorbed. Your sense of accomplishment and happiness are enhanced.

"A joyful life is an individual creation that cannot be copied from a recipe." —Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

​If you want to experience more moments of flow in your life, Csikszentmihalyi outlines the following eight conditions of flow:

  1. Goals are clear. You know what you are trying to accomplish. You have a sense of clarity. You know what you need to do.
  2. Feedback is immediate. Results are measurable. You know if you are doing well.
  3. A balance between opportunity and capacity. It has to be the right mixture of skill and challenge. If it's too easy, you get bored. Too hard, and anxiety creeps in.
  4. Concentration deepens. You are totally absorbed.
  5. The present is what matters. No worries about the past or thinking about tomorrow, you are only focused on the task at hand.
  6. Control is no problem. You have a sense of control and satisfaction.
  7. The sense of time is altered. Time flies!
  8. The loss of ego. You are lost in what you are doing, and feel part of something larger. Self-consciousness disappears.

What are you doing when you experience flow? What tasks require full involvement and are the right combination of challenge and skill for you? Finding activities and environments conductive to flow can increase your happiness, whether at work, at home or during your workout routine.

To help you find flow, follow these tips:

  • Flow happens when you are doing what you really love to do.
  • Flow has a strong correlation with the development of skills and personal growth.
  • Once you have mastered a skill, seek greater challenges to keep you in a state of flow.
  • You are motivated to perform and perform well.
  • Pursue your expertise or specialization, where you can improve your knowledge over time.
  • Don't just pursue an activity to achieve something; enjoy the activity for its own sake.

Yoga is an example of flow for many people. In his book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi writes, "The similarities between yoga and flow are extremely strong. It makes sense to think of yoga as a thoroughly planned flow activity. Both try to achieve a joyous, self-forgetful involvement through concentration which is made possible by the discipline of the body."

So, what's flow for you? When you lose track of time, you will know!

"People who learn to control inner experience will be able to determine the quality of their lives, which is as close as any of us can come to being happy." —Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi


Chris Freytag has dedicated her adult life to motivating people to lead healthier lives. A contributing editor to Prevention magazine, she's also written two books, Shortcuts to Big Weight Loss, and her latest, 2-Week Total Body Turnaround. She also had appeared on NBC's Today show and MSNBC's Weekend Update.

This blog post originally appeared in SUCCESS on July 3, 2012. Copyright SUCCESS Media.

 

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