Athletes, artists, actors, writers and musicians know what Flow means. In a state of Flow, time seems to stand still as they execute that effortless move. ‘Become’ a character in a play. Express themselves in words, music or artistic medium. The results are always transcending and awe-inspiring. Rippling outwards to touch the rest of us with wonder and excitement.
But I’m not a musician, artist or athlete,” I hear you say. Can ordinary folks like you and me experience Flow? Absolutely. In fact, finding one’s flow, greatly increases our happiness and life satisfaction – not to mention our mental and physical health.
You see, the science of positive psychology and human flourishing is also backed by the study of 80 and 90 year olds in Okinawa, Japan – one of the leading ‘Blue Zone’ places in the world. These elderly folks were already living ‘in Flow’ long before science caught up with them.
Flow and ‘Ikigai’
To them, Flow is another word for ‘Ikigai’ – a Japanese word which translates roughly to – a reason for being, encompassing joy. A sense of purpose and meaning. A feeling of well-being derived from the realization of hopes and expectations.
As living embodiments of Flow and Ikigai, these elderly folks find meaning and purpose by tending to their small farms and daily chores, becoming active members of their community, exercising, catching up with friends and loved ones daily, eating in moderation, going to bed early, singing, playing musical instruments and dancing.
Most of us have lost touch with this simple and uncomplicated way of living, in our pursuit of happiness through external rewards like money, possessions, power and position. But when you feel depressed, anxious, burnt-out, frustrated, defeated, lost, alone and stressed out, chances are you’ve moved far away from the source of your well-being – your Flow and Ikigai. You don’t have to move to Okinawa to find your Flow. You need to look within and ask yourselves these crucial questions:
Why am I here?
Our schools train us to become good students, but they don’t train us to understand our deepest needs and motivations. As a result, most of us fail to define our ‘Why’ and end up living lives that we did not choose. We don’t know who we areOn the other hand, knowing your ‘Why’ means having a deep sense of conviction, passion and purpose about your reason for being. According to author and speaker Simon Sinek, it’s like having an internal compass that directs your path, sustains you and gives you a mission throughout your lifetime.
What keeps me focused and engaged?
One clue to finding your ‘Why’ is to know what makes you feel glad to be alive. Are you exercising your skills and talents to make a difference? Any kind of activity counts. It could be helping out at an animal shelter, cooking, writing, managing a project, raising funds, public speaking or whatever. The activities that you love and are naturally good at, are keys to finding your Flow. Incorporate them into your daily, weekly or monthly routines. Or start a business and new career that puts you in Flow every day.
Who do I love to be with?
Studies have found that true happiness is not found in the possessions we own and the money we make. What matters is the strength of our relationships with our loved ones, friends and community. Social isolation and loneliness are the top predictors of depression, addiction and suicide. Flow happens when we take the time to laugh, play and enjoy meaningful conversations and activities with our friends, pets and loved ones. If this is missing in your life because of work and other commitments, seek help. Redress the imbalance before it’s too late.
When do I Pause?
How comfortable are you about stillness and doing nothing? In our success-at all-costs driven lives, it’s important to hit your ‘Pause’ button. A ‘Pause’ means taking a few moments to drop your to-do lists in order to appreciate the present and express gratitude. The Okinawans do this by spending time outdoors enjoying Nature. I do this by talking long walks. During your ‘pause,’ listen to music that inspires you, meditate, pray or just relax with deep breathing and yoga. Purposely spending time each day to be still (with no distractions) actually prepares you for Flow.
Flow ultimately, comes from the inside. It’s a potential that all of us are born with, but few ever take the trouble to find. It means following the song in your heart and living with purpose and intention – without measuring yourself against others or feeling pressured to meet their standards.
Interested to know how you can Flow?
Author: Elsa Lim
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