Getting into a State of Flow to Improve Self-Care

Getting into a State of Flow to Improve Self-Care

If you don’t already know this about me, I am working on my Ph.D. in Counselor Education and Supervision. This means that I have been spending time preparing for what I plan to research for my dissertation. The topic that I’m interested in has to do with using art therapy to create a state of flow for self-care. I wanted to share a little about why being in a state of flow is an awesome way to de-stress and take care of yourself.

What The Heck Is Flow?

Here’s a little background: Flow is a concept created by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi to describe the effects of having an optimal experience due to certain factors being in place when you are doing an activity.  There’s a wealth of info about this, and I will also link a TED talk about Mihaly talking about his flow concept onto this blog if you want to know more.  Basically, the most important parts to note are about challenge and skill.

Flow improves self-care because, as you build your skill and feel challenged, you enter a state of flow. This means that you are completely absorbed in whatever activity you are doing. You have no concept of time flying by, sometimes you don’t even hear the phone ring. You might notice that you are so focused on the task that you are working on that you are no longer ruminating on the stressors and worries of your day. You might feel less self-conscious and more confident.

Challenge and Skill to Create Flow

So when you are engaged in an activity that you feel particularly skillful at, and you are also feeling challenged, you are more likely to experience flow.   In order to continue to have flow when participating in the experience, you have to keep building both your challenge and your skill. Here’s an example:

My husband and I have recently been taking sailing lessons. This was something that we have wanted to do for a while, but neither of us have any experience doing any sailing. As we learn how to sail, we are building skill. It is becoming clearer what we have to do to get better at sailing, and we are able to keep practicing in order to build our skill higher.

However, because the weather is unpredictable, and you can never know when the wind will shift, there is a constant sense of challenge when sailing. This challenge continues to be present during an activity like sailing because of the wind shifts.

So, we are able to both feel constantly challenged and build a skill at the same time.  This combination of challenge and skill creates flow. We are totally engrossed in our activity, time falls away, we are in the moment. Our worries and stresses are gone. We can just be completely absorbed in the activity of sailing.

Keeping Flow Going

Flow is not something that lasts forever. It can be fleeting. But now, you know the recipe to getting it back. Find an activity that feels as though you are both challenging yourself and building a skill. As both the challenge and the skill are able to increase, you will experience flow. But keep in mind that if you start to build more skill and feel less challenged, you will become bored with the activity and won’t have the sense of flow anymore.  The same with the opposite: if your challenge is building or very high, but you have little skill in the area, you will become frustrated. The key is to find a balance between challenge and skill.

When you are seeking this balance between challenge and skill, it is typical to move in and out of flow. And don’t be afraid to try out different types of activities! You may find that the best way for you to experience flow is while engaged in an activity that you didn’t even know you would love, like my husband and I now have for sailing!

My suggestions for activities that might help you find flow are: Painting, drawing, reading, sailing, swimming, running, sports activities, rock climbing, gardening, hiking, playing music, yoga, and photography. If you have other ways that you’ve experienced flow, I would love to hear about them in the comments section!

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