When you are unhappy in your job but unsure what else would make you happier, the one piece of advice you are likely to hear often is to try and find what puts you in flow, and concentrate on these activities in your job and daily life. Like most brilliant ideas, it is both very simple and surprisingly hard to follow. How do you know what puts you in flow? Chances are that you – like me – might be in the place you’re in precisely because you’ve lost track of what it is that makes you come alive, so powerful as this advice may be, it may take you a while to see how it applies to you.
Flow (a term coined by psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi) is used to describe the feeling of enjoying an activity so much that time disappears while you do it, so that if you start at say noon, you look up 5 minutes later and it’s dark outside. It implies that you can concentrate on it effortlessly and feel energised, rather than drained, by the task. When I started looking for what puts me in flow at work, I couldn’t find anything. My first thought is I must be stupid (obviously), but I now realise there is nothing that puts me in flow at work, so I wasn’t about to find out. In fact, for a while the only true flow activity I could ever remember being involved in was playing the piano – which I haven’t done in 15 years.
It wasn’t until I came across Julia Cameron’s excellent The Artist’s Way (soon to be added to the Bookshelf) that I began to reconnect with what truly comes easy to me. I dabbled a bit in painting and photography – just for the fun of it, because I thought I might enjoy it – and after that I tried my hand at poetry and writing. And that’s when my mind blew right open. Writing seemed to not only come easy, but to happen almost “without me being there”, as if I could just sit back and take dictation coming from someone else, and feel as refreshed after an hour of writing as after a good nap. This was exactly the same feeling I’d experienced playing the piano, a deep relaxation coupled with a strong and vital connection with the world.
What puts you in flow? My boyfriend forgets all about the world when he is cooking a complicated meal, or when he dances to very loud disco music, and my housemate can spend entire days without a break gardening in her allotment. What does it feel like for you?
If you’re having difficulty thinking of something, I found the trick is to, little by little, start noticing what makes you feel good, and not be afraid to try out new things. If you think you might like to do painting, or fashion design, or horseriding, go and do it for a day. Trust your intuition. Give yourself permission to be a beginner, even if – especially if – your inner critic might say you are too old/ not talented or any other excuse it comes up with. If you keep following your intuition, you will eventually end up finding your flow.
Everyone is unique, but for many of us flow might feel like deep contentment, a relaxing connection to the people and things around us. You may experience the feeling that there is no time – the present merges with the past and the future – no separation between you and the universe. In fact, flow is a similar to the physical sensation people feel when they are deep in meditation or prayer. For this reason I think there is something deeply sacred in flow – and that is why it is worth searching for.
So in my humble opinion, you shouldn’t be too worried if you can’t find any flow activities at the office, because you are so much bigger than your job. But when you do find what truly makes you come alive, you owe it to yourself to spend as much time as you can doing it. When your start doing this, your life will be transformed and start to feel a little bit more magic every day.