Modern living is not for the faint of heart. These are unprecedented times, and might be for the foreseeable future. If you’re experiencing the languishing that has become the dominant emotion of the pandemic, flow might be one avenue to remedy this uncomfortable state of being.
Flow was first studied and developed by the late, globally renowned psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced “cheek-sent-mi-hi”). It’s about finding balance between activities that stretch and engage you to the right degree. Too much challenge, and you risk feeling frustrated. Too little, and you risk feeling bored.
Dr. Martin Seligman, a founding father of positive psychology, says that flow is about engagement and a loss of self-consciousness during an absorbing activity. In his 2012 book Flourish, Seligman writes, “There are no shortcuts to flow. On the contrary, you need to deploy your highest strengths and talents to meet the world in flow.”
The practice below is about using your signature strengths as pathways to flow. These are your top strengths that enliven you and naturally boost engagement. If you’re unsure of your signature strengths, you can join 15 million people globally and take the VIA Institute’s free character strengths assessment.
An Example of Finding Flow
One way to find flow is to simply ask yourself: When have I been in flow in the past? What was I doing? Who was I with?
I know from experience that I’m usually in flow when writing blog posts like this one. Writing stretches my creativity, humor, and perspective, my top three signature strengths. I feel challenged to put interesting content together in original ways, infuse humor where appropriate, and reflect on whether the piece is relatable and understandable.
I knew I was in flow as I wrote this blog post when I looked at the time and realized I hadn’t saved my work in well over an hour. The time passed quickly and I accomplished what I wanted during that time. Afterwards, when reflecting, I felt satisfied with and grateful for the flow state I created.
There are many more facets of flow, which you can read about in Csikszentmihalyi’s book Finding Flow. In the meantime, try engaging your signature strengths as pathways to flow.
A 6-Step Practice for Using Your Strengths to Find Flow
- To begin, set up your environment so it’s conducive to flow. Turn off all electronics. Shut your door to ward off interruptions. Get yourself something to drink so you don’t have to get up. Try to eliminate the opportunity for distractions and the need to attend to something else.
- Think of something that matters to you—something worthwhile or interesting. Start small. It could be a project, a goal, a conversation, or any activity.
- If completing #2 seems challenging, ask yourself: When was I in flow in the past? What was I doing? Who was I with?
- Make sure what you chose isn’t too challenging or too simple. You want to stretch yourself enough to become fully absorbed.
- Identify three of your signature strengths, and identify at least one way each strength might help you complete the activity from above.
- Start your activity and put your strengths into action!
Jane S. Anderson is the president of Strength Based Living LLC, a business dedicated to harnessing the power of strengths in individuals and groups. Her book 30 Days of Character Strengths: A Guided Practice to Ignite Your Best offers a guided strengths journey to shift from wrong to strong in personal and professional settings. As a seasoned presenter, facilitator, and coach, Jane has helped hundreds of people practice applying character strengths to meet challenges and transform relationships, work, and everyday life. She has presented at international conferences; served as guest faculty for WBI; supported world-renowned positive psychology experts in the classroom; and was one of the first 15 people certified to teach VIA’s Mindfulness Based Strengths Practice (MBSP) course. Jane’s signature strengths are creativity, humor, perspective, honesty, and kindness. Find out more at StrengthBasedLiving.com.