Octant Model Flow

Flow: Taming Monkey Brain

It happens to me all the time.  I walk to a room and by the time I get there, I forget what I wanted in the first place.  Sound familiar?  Lately, I find that my monkey brain leaves me feeling distracted and unsettled.  Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi introduced the concept of “Flow” in the 1990’s, and I think it’s even more relevant today.  Engaging in activities where we can lose ourselves and achieve a state of “flow” may be the key to taming your monkey brain.

Life Riddled with Distraction

We all feel it.  Life has been particularly chaotic the last few years.  Routines and planning have been thrown out the window.  But the years are going by, and I feel like I have to at least try to get back to “normal” even though things certainly don’t feel it.   I guess that’s what they’re saying, though, it’s the “new normal.”

It’s easy to put the blame on external forces.  That’s what I’ve always done.  It’s my smart phone or the evil social media companies that prey on my lack of willpower and focus.  I could also blame the pandemic and a change in working environment:  my office in the living room + spouse working from home = distraction.  And when I really want to stoop low, I bring up my puppy, Mila, and her not-so-gentle nudging to play.

How can I say no to this face?

Look No Further than Yourself

I know that these factors contribute to monkey brain; of course, they do.  However, identifying and blaming outside influences doesn’t improve the situation.  I need to look inside, to myself, to gain control of my wandering mind. 

If you investigate this problem, you’ll see that it’s very popular at the moment.  There are a multitude of suggested solutions including mindfulness, getting more sleep and even apps to help you focus.   I’ve dabbled in all of these, and while I’ve found that I may feel some effects, they haven’t been overwhelming and sadly not lasting.

Achieving the Optimal Experience

I like to read about positive psychology and a book that I’ve had on my list for quite some time is Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow: The Psychology of the Optimal Experience.  The concept of flow is highly regarded and consistently referenced as a source of happiness, optimism, and concentration.  Could this be a key to taming my monkey brain?

Defining the Flow State

Have you ever been so engrossed in something that you completely lose track of time?  You’re so concentrated on what you’re doing that it’s almost like you’re in your own world – completely focused on the challenge.  Most likely, you were in a state of flow, the optimal experience.

A flow state can be defined as a sort of effortless attention. When in flow, we are deeply absorbed in our activities yet there is no feeling of exerting effort.

– berkeleywellbeing.com/flow-state

Losing track of time isn’t the only requirement, though.  Otherwise, I could claim to be experiencing a flow state every time I watch a good movie.  Csikszentmihalyi outlines 9 essential components in his book, but I think a few of them are particularly notable.  First and foremost, the activity must involve a level of skill and challenge…thus watching a movie doesn’t count in my book.  And you must have a sense of control and a clear goal.

You might not have time to read Csikszentmihalyi’s book.  This article does a good job outlining his main points, including the 9 requirements. 

Why is it beneficial to experience the flow state?

Let me connect the dots.  Why is that distracted state of monkey brain unsettling?  For me, it’s a lack of inner peace.  I cannot be happy when I feel this way.  Being so engrossed in something that I enter a state of flow means that I am in control of my inner self, of my personal experience, which is in itself peaceful.  As Csikszentmihalyi eloquently explains, “People who learn to control inner experience will be able to determine the quality of their lives, which is as close as any of us can come to being happy.”

Do I experience the flow state?

When I consider my personal experience with the flow state, I realized that it’s been a long time since I last experienced it.  When I used to play tennis on a regular basis in a league – it would happen a lot.  I even remember getting lost in the flow state when I was dabbling in sewing and making a quilt for my daughter.  But I couldn’t identify any current activities that produced this state of mind in my life now. 

Could that be contributing to my unsettled feeling?  Afterall, practice makes perfect.  If I’m not engaging in enjoyably challenging activities, having an optimal experience, how can I expect my brain to settle down during the daily doldrums?

Be Kind to Yourself

Csikszentmihalyi and other top psychologists have extensively researched the flow state and the benefits a person can reap from it.  Along with an increased capacity to concentrate, one can expect to find positive feelings, higher self-esteem and increased happiness more prevalent when regularly tapping into the optimal experience. 

I plan on trying to find activities that allow me to experience the flow state.  Hopefully, I’ll be able to reap the benefits that are intended to accompany it.  But, at the least, it will mean more time spent focusing on activities that produce positive feelings.

If you want more insight into how you may be able to experience the flow state, this article has some great ideas.

What are activities that get you into a flow state?

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