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Flow to Health and Happiness, Part Two

In the last issue of Inner IDEA Body-Mind-Spirit Review, this column introduced the concept of flow, defined as “a state of complete absorption in a complex and challenging activity that stretches one’s skills,” and how it enhances overall well-being. In this installment we look at steps to help guide you and your clients toward more and better flow experiences in everyday life.

A Health-Promoting Endeavor
Why should helping clients experience more flow be relevant to wellness professionals? First, recent studies have shown that life satisfaction and happiness correlate with better health and improved longevity; the impact is at least as potent as not smoking (Veenhoven 2006). Not only does happiness feel good, but happy people are more likely to engage in healthy behaviors, and they get sick less. Second, you can help clients think about how to make their exercise and healthy-lifestyle activities flow-generating; that is, challenging, absorbing and a slight stretch, without becoming a trigger for anxiety.

Use the following steps to guide yourself and your clients toward more and better flow experiences in everyday life:

Assess and Discover Your Flow Experiences. Stop, think, identify and list the flow experiences in your life today–both at work and in your personal life. When do you lose yourself in an activity that uses your skills beautifully and leaves you energized when it’s done? Is it when you are teaching, or training, or learning? When you’re organizing your desk? Managing a fun work project? Having a stimulating collaboration with a colleague or partner? Or engaging a child to learn about the world?

What are your best skills? The higher the level of your skills, the better the quality of a potential flow experience can be. If, like me, you are what I call a “simplifier”—that is, you have a talent for simplifying and conveying complex concepts in a way that people grasp quickly—you will reach a high level of flow when you are presenting such concepts to a layman audience.

To pinpoint your strengths or talents, ask those closest to you to tell you what they notice. Then think about all the ways you currently use your signature character strengths in your work and personal lives. When do you use these strengths in ways that are so completely absorbing that you lose yourself and time?

Make Today’s Flow Experiences Better. Set your stresses and strains aside so that you fully enjoy those activities that generate flow in your life. Before starting them, take a few moments to reflect on and connect with their higher purpose. Improve “relational flow” by adopting the intention to make powerful and energizing connections when conversing with others; listen with great care and then reflect what you hear with fun, creative twists. If anxiety arises because an activity is too challenging, set yourself a slightly lesser challenge.

Find New Flow Experiences. What activities could you turn into flow-generating experiences with a little tweaking? Challenge yourself to go a little beyond your comfort zone so that you move from autopilot to full engagement. I recall an Inner IDEA® Conference participant, who had a good sense of humor, deciding to turn her difficult conversations with her teenage son into engaging and fun interactions. Another participant enjoyed operating under some pressure and came up with the idea of setting a timer on her vacuuming so that she would feel challenged to vacuum thoroughly and quickly while not damaging any furniture.

Look for creative ways to engage your strengths. Are there new skills you want to learn? New business or personal goals you want to pursue? Perhaps you’ve been thinking about learning Spanish so you can connect better with your Spanish-speaking clients, for example. Even generating new ideas is challenging, engaging and absorbing.

Design Workouts That Generate Flow. Add a small challenge to today’s strength workout. Stop fretting about life’s demands when you’re enjoying a vigorous walk in the great outdoors. Learn a new activity, such as yoga or Nia. Go on a bike ride with a friend to a place you’ve never been; plan and navigate the trip using a map.

For once, it’s quite simple: more flow means a better life and more happiness. What we focus on gets done. So focus on flow. Onward and upward.

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