There are times in one’s life journey when everything seems to work out perfectly. Csikszentmihalyi (1991, 1997) uses the term ‘flow’ to refer to these special occasions. When you are in the flow you are fully engaged and some of the descriptors include terms such as: happiness, time standing still, unrestrained, energized, risk taking, peaceful, coping with change, focus, and intrinsic motivation. Being in flow involves an ideal interaction between challenging activities and personal capabilities. It often focuses on those moments when we are using our full capacity to handle challenging situations. In exploring these flow moments it is important to look for the patterns imbedded within the period of flow. What is it that stands out for you (feelings, thoughts, actions) and creates this very special sense of engagement?
Niles, Amundson & Neault (2011) take this one step further and suggest that it can be helpful to use the theme of travelling on water as a more general metaphor. This theme includes the notion of flow but also introduces other types of movement i.e. whitewater, still water, waterfalls, stagnant water and so on. For some people the feeling of flow is found in steady currents, while for others it may come about in still water or even in whitewater. What is important is that we identify those moments where flow is happening and then think about how we enter into flow, and also how flow can be interrupted or terminated. As mentioned earlier, the challenge is to identify life themes and also to consider how flow emerges and how we come out of flow.
As we age and face transitions it is important that we develop some understanding of what are the underlying conditions that create flow for ourselves. Finding flow is a life-time goal. We may need to change our involvement in activities as we age, but if we have self clarity we can search out other ways of creating the conditions for flow. In recent years I have been struck by the notion of “ebbing and flowing” – a natural rhythm. While there certainly will be times of flow, we also need to slow down at times, to enter a process of preparation. Retirement might lead to an ebbing experience but this could also be a foundation for change and lead to flow in new directions.
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1991). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York: Harper Collins.
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1997). Finding flow in everyday life. New York: Basic Books.
Niles, S.G., Amundson, N.E. & Neault, R.A. (2011). Career flow: A hope-centered approach to career development. Boston: Pearson.