Let it Flow

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is a psychologist noted for his study of the phenomenon of flow. Flow is the positive experience of being so engrossed in something that you lose all awareness of anything else. It occurs when you are engrossed in a task which is challenging but not overly so. You know what you have to do next but you are very much in the moment. You often lose track of time. You feel a pronounced sense of accomplishment and well being.

We’ve all experienced this feeling sometime in our lives. I remember one time being so focused on making prints of the photographs that I had taken for a photography course that I went in to the lab when it opened at ten in the morning and the next thing I new, it was nine thirty in the evening and the lab assistant was coming around warning everyone that the lab closed in half an hour.

Flow is the reason that I love programming so much. When you get to the point in a project where you understand the problem domain well enough that you can sit and implement one feature after another it is the best feeling in the world.

I’ve started experiencing flow when I’m writing. Not all the time and not as intensely as when I’m programming. I suspect it is because I still have to work so hard at it. I sit and think and often nothing worth writing about comes to mind. But like so many other things, I’ve learned that if you’re patient and relax into it, you find yourself in the midst of a blog post or a story before you realize what has happened.

It doesn’t happen every time you sit down to work. If it did, it wouldn’t be nearly as special. But the more you practice, the easier it becomes to find “the zone”, as it is sometimes called.

It doesn’t happen as often if you are tired or stressed. Some days it doesn’t happen no matter what you try. But often that is because you are trying to hard. You’re desperate for a fix of flow.

I have heard that athletes achieve something similar but, not being very athletic, I don’t think I’ve experienced flow from exercising. Although I will admit, sometime when I go for a long walk, I do get a dose of euphoria. I’m told that it comes from the endorphins our bodies release when we exercise. I suspect endorphins may play a role in flow as well.

How ever you find it, it is its own reward. And it has the side effect of making you very productive at whatever task that you set yourself to achieve it. Between you and me, I felt it while I was writing this blog post. It’s been a pleasant way to bring the day to a close.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.