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Achieving “FLOW” Through Hobbies

As we all know, a hobby is a great way to spend downtime. Rather than sitting and endlessly staring into a phone or other electronic device, there are many things you can do to distract and pass your time. Plus, it has been known to help with grief or hard times as it occupies your mind and helps distract you from what is making you sad or unhappy. Many people find hobbies help with depression, anxiety, chronic pain and many other ailments.

Professor of Psychology Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes becoming so completely absorbed in whatever it is that nothing else will matter as “flow”. While he is noted for his studies in happiness and creativity, he is best known as a leading researcher in positive psychology. He describes “flow” as “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.” You then focus all your attention to the activity or task you are performing. Once you are in the “flow” state, in theory, people are much happier and able to process grief better.

After a 12-year study was completed, he noticed one common factor – almost everyone studied described the optimal experience in a similar manner. He was then able to define some of the things that will help you enter the “flow” state:

    • Finding A Challenge That Makes You Use All Your Skills.

Finding something you enjoy that is important to you and matches your skill level – or is a little more advanced than your current abilities. Make sure it is challenging, but not so hard that you’d get frustrated or lose motivation. If it’s too easy, you will be able to complete it too quickly and not be able to spend enough time on the task or project. Add new challenges regularly to add new skills to your collection.

    • Focus and Concentration.

Learn to focus on a task for as long as possible. Start with a task and practice sticking with it for as long as you can each day. Some people have difficulty with this, but the more you do it and stick with it, the easier it becomes – and when it’s something you truly enjoy, you should easily get into the flow state.

    • Have Clearly Defined Goals

Find a specific goal or purpose to focus on the task such as finishing a marathon you’ve been training for. A reward is not a necessity but people who are intrinsically rewarded may find more motivation to complete the task or goal. Remember to focus on the project and not the goal, though. Live in the moment and don’t worry about the outcome as much as the project at hand and don’t put pressure or a time limit on completion.

    • Take Care of Your Environment

Make sure the atmosphere surrounding you is ideal. Noise level, temperature, and people around you may interfere with your entering of the flow state. Play relaxing background music at a comfortable level with no interruptions (such as commercials). Set the temperature of the room so you aren’t too cold or hot, so you don’t have to stop what you are doing to correct the temperature. Isolate yourself during your project if possible. Some people have a negative energy which you should try to shield yourself from. If you can’t isolate, use headphones, ear plugs or another method to block out your surrounding interruptions.

Some hobbies that have been shown to induce flow more quickly are:

  • Swimming. Swimming requires focus and practice. Set goals that challenge and help broaden your skill level.
  • Tennis/Table Tennis/One-on-one Basketball or another two-person sport. Find a partner that matches your skill level or is a little more advanced to challenge you and keep you interested while avoiding boredom and frustration.
  • Cooking or Baking. If you are beginning, find simple recipes and as you progress you will learn how to alter or tweak them to customize to your liking. If you burn or ruin a batch of cookies, that’s ok too. Learn and progress.
  • Rock Climbing or Hiking. Hike trails in local parks and marked areas if you are just beginning. Work your way up to harder terrains as you learn and build necessary muscle. Some areas have indoor rock climbing that takes a little bit of the risk and danger out, but still offers challenges. If this becomes your passion, work your way up to outdoor rock climbing – but remember to always maintain your safety and don’t do anything that you are not ready for.
  • Meditation. Studies have shown meditation to effectively increase gray matter in the brain after 8 weeks of meditation classes. It also “upgrades” 5 brain regions and is known to cause a euphoric feeling.
  • Gardening. Gardening has shown to increase cortisol (a stress hormone) in your brain. It has also been known to decrease the risk of dementia by 36%. You also get a change to be in nature and get in some much-needed exercise. The reward on this one is obvious depending on what you grow. Fresh flowers for the vase in your dining room, salsa or salad made with items from your garden – you get the point here!
  • Reading. Reading sharpens your comprehension, strengthens your vocabulary, teaches focus, reduces stress and so much more. One way to think of reading is exercise for your brain. Reading also reduces stress, and if you read before bed – it helps with sleep.

There really are so many hobbies you can try to help enter a state of flow. From painting to needlework to fishing and so much more. The choice is yours and the best part is if you don’t love your current hobby, you can always try something new.

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