Posts Tagged ‘mindfulness’

How to Get In the “Flow” and Be Happier

Positive emotions have been linked with better health, longer life, and greater well-being in numerous scientific studies.

To help you get into and maintain a healthy, positive emotional state, Harvard Health Publications has a new publication called “Positive Psychology: Harnessing the power of happiness, mindfulness, and personal strength,” which is based on the latest research.

One situation that may stand out for you when you were feeling positive emotions is during a moment of effortless action.

This sense of “flow” is what athletes refer to as being “in the zone.”

“The more flow experiences you have in life, the happier and more fulfilled you will be,” says Margaret Moore, founder and CEO of Wellcoaches Corp. and co-author of Organize Your Mind, Organize Your Life with Harvard psychiatrist Paul Hammerness and writer John Hanc.

Here’s an excerpt from “Positive Psychology” on how you can get into the flow.

Flow: Becoming more engaged

Have you ever been so immersed in what you were doing that all distractions and background chatter just fell away?

Nothing existed except the music and your guitar, your skis and the slope, your car and the road.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, distinguished professor of psychology at Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, Calif., calls that state of intense absorption “flow.”

For decades, he explored people’s satisfaction in their everyday activities, finding that people report the greatest satisfaction when they are totally immersed in and concentrating on what they are doing.

In studies by Csikszentmihalyi and others, flow experiences led to positive emotions in the short term, and over the long term, people who more frequently experienced flow were generally happier.

Researchers have also found that people vary in how much they value having flow experiences, and in how easy they find it to enter flow.

No matter what your natural tendency, recognizing how flow occurs (or doesn’t) in your life and creating opportunities for more flow experiences can be a potent route to increased happiness.

Defining flow

How do you know if you’re in flow?

According to the research, Csikszentmihalyi and others found that flow experiences have several common characteristics.

You lose awareness of time.

You aren’t watching the clock, and hours can pass like minutes.

As filmmaker George Lucas puts it, talent is “a combination of something you love a great deal and something you can lose yourself in — something that you can start at 9 o’clock, look up from your work and it’s 10 o’clock at night.”

You aren’t thinking about yourself.

You aren’t focused on your comfort, and you aren’t wondering how you look or how your actions will be perceived by others.

Your awareness of yourself is only in relation to the activity itself, such as your fingers on a piano keyboard, or the way you position a knife to cut vegetables, or the balance of your body parts as you ski or surf.

You aren’t interrupted by extraneous thoughts.

You aren’t thinking about such mundane matters as your shopping list or what to wear tomorrow.

You have clear goals at each moment but aren’t focused on the goal line.

Although you may be working toward an ultimate goal, such as earning a graduate degree, making a wedding cake, or winning a chess tournament, that goal is not your primary motivation.

Rather, you find the activity itself to be rewarding — mastering or explaining a line of thinking in your academic work, creating tiers of beautiful icing, or visualizing your way out of a sticky chess situation.

You are active.

Flow activities aren’t passive, and you have some control over what you are doing.

You work effortlessly.

Flow activities require effort (usually more effort than involved in typical daily experience).

Although you may be working harder than usual, at flow moments everything is “clicking” and feels almost effortless.

You would like to repeat the experience.

Flow is intrinsically rewarding, something you would like to replicate.

In a 2005 study, presented at the Northeastern Recreation Research Symposium, researchers reported that 60% of people hiking the full length of the Appalachian Trail reported experiencing flow, usually on a daily basis, and more than 80% expressed a desire to hike the trail again.

In rating the things they enjoyed, the hikers said they enjoyed the experience and activity itself, as well as using their skills.

In contrast, external factors, such as competition with others and the prestige of completing the trail, were rated dead last in what made the experience enjoyable.

Enhancing your ability to experience flow in multiple domains can lead to greater happiness.

You can’t force flow, but you can invite it to occur more often, even in areas of life where it might seem unlikely.

Reduce Stress and Win Your Life Back

Whether you are an overworked executive, a fast-moving soccer mom, or an athlete with limited time for cross training, you need to find a way to reduce your stress.

For me, I practice the moving meditation of Tai Chi most every day.

Others successfully use sitting or standing meditations.

Even sitting still for as little as 10 minutes watching your breath may be enough to get the effects of meditation.

Meditation experts Ed and Deb Shapiro, authors of Be the Change: How Meditation Can Transform You and the World, recently debunked the 6 reasons why meditation appears to be difficult in a Huffington Post blog.

Below Jeff Cannon, a certified meditation instructor and the author of the fine book The Simple Truth: Meditation for the Modern World, gives his take on stress and provides you with some exercises on how to reduce it:

REDUCE STRESS AND WIN BACK YOUR LIFE

Stress is part of life.

But it does not have to ruin your life.

Let it out.

Release it.

Fill the empty space it leaves with the kind of positive energy that will help you live the life you love living.

The next time you feel your blood pressure jump or your brain starts to spin out of control, hit the pause button, slow the world down, and have it start spinning at your pace.

Here are some easy exercises that can be done anywhere to help you do just that.

Breathe 8-2-8.

I cannot stress enough how beneficial proper breathing is.

If you feel your heart start to race, take three deep breaths into your stomach as you focus you attention on your belly expanding and contracting.

Feel it move against your clothing as you slowly count to eight on each inhale, let your breath settle for a count of two, and then exhale for a count of eight, again letting your breath settle for two before inhaling again.

It will center you and help you regain your mental footing.

Ground yourself in your setting.

Rather than trying to escape, close your eyes and listen to the world around you.

Listen to the hum of the lights, hear the sounds of the people and equipment wherever you are.

Embrace your environment as a reality, but not your reality.

Know that you are separate from it, that the fear and angst it breeds is not something that you need to be a part of.

Relax in the knowledge that when you open your eyes it will all be there, but that it will only touch you if you let it.

You, and only you, have control over how you respond to the world around you.

Learn Your Triggers.

Identify and monitor the triggers that cause you stress.

The next time you feel your stress growing, think about what happened to cause it.

Turn your mind inward and review the emotions that were set off when that trigger was activated.

Try to remember another time in your life when you had the same emotional response.

Remember, the way an event affected you is as much a part of your past as it is your present.

Use that insight to help you separate the present event from past associations to reduce the way you escalate a small event into greater stress.

Own your stress.

Don’t try to pretend it doesn’t exist.

Admit to it and embrace it.

Then let it go with a great big inhale.

Running from a problem only makes it worse, and only prolongs the stress it brings.

Meditation for the Modern World with The Simple Truth

The brain is an organ built to last, and change, even well into later life.

Scientists call the ability of the brain to change or remodel itself neuroplasticity.

This brain remodeling helps you meet the ever-changing physical, cognitive, emotional, and environmental demands that you are exposed to over the course of your life.

One way to change your brain for the better is through meditation.

Jeff Cannon teaches contemporary meditation and mindfulness to help business and community leaders meet the realities of the modern world.

In his book, The Simple Truth, Cannon shows readers how they can find their own Simple Truth, that is, act in accordance with who you are and follow your own path wherever it leads.

Here are a few of his concepts on the path to the Simple Truth:

1. Changing your life with the little choices

Lives change not from decisions you make from time to time, but by the little choices you make every day without even thinking.

The concept of Living with CaRE is a way to stop, think, and make good choices that can steer your life in the right direction.

CaRE is more than an acronym.

It is a pause button to interrupt the auto-responses we all make in our lives – sometimes to our regret.

The next time you make a decision to do something, stop for a moment and think to yourself:

What is Causing me to make this decision?

What are the different ways that I can Respond to this situation?

How will my response Effect my future?

Most important, how can I act so that my Response is the right one for me to steer my life in the right direction?

By being mindful of the small choices we can have control over the life we want to live.

2. 8-2-8 Breathing Meditation

A great way to start a meditation practice is to set aside 10 minutes at the start of your day and simply to focus on your breath.

An 8-2-8 Breathing Meditation is a great way to do this.

During your meditation close your eyes, inhale through your nose, and feel your stomach expand for a slow count of 8 seconds.

Retain the air for a count of 2, and then exhale slowly through your nose for another count of 8.

Simply repeat this until you feel a sense of calm and focus to start your day.

3. Mini-Meditations throughout your day

All too often people hesitate to benefit from meditation because they think it will take too long.

With so many great things attributed to meditation, it’s a shame.

The key for success here is not to think of sitting for hours on end, but instead, to use mini -meditations throughout your day can help you retain focus and calm.

When you start to feel agitated or stressed, set aside 1 to 2 minutes to return to the calm you had.

Whether it is a meeting at your job, kids, or relationship stressors incorporating mini-meditations will keep you sane no matter what goes on around you.

I like Cannon’s concepts of taking CaRE and mini-meditations.

I know I feel more relaxed since I started doing almost daily Tai Chi more than two years ago.

I like to think that’s my body, and my brain, thanking me for the change.

The Sweetness of Doing Nothing

I recently watched the hit movie Eat, Pray, Love starring Julia Roberts, based on the best-selling book by Elizabeth Gilbert, and learned the Italian phrase “il dolce far niente,” literally “sweet doing nothing.”

Gilbert learned the phrase from new friends in Italy on her year-long journey of self-discovery. In Italy, “il dolce far niente” means sitting in a café talking with friends, perhaps enjoying a bite to eat along with a bottle of wine, or just watching the world pass by.

This type of mindfulness reminded me of meditation guru Jon Kabat-Zinn, who in this YouTube lecture calls it “much to do about almost nothing.”

I decided to explore the pleasure of relaxation in carefree idleness over the long Presidents’ Day weekend. To get out of the mind set of being totally plugged in, 24/7, I purposely did not check my e-mail for 3 days. We took a family trip to East Hampton, where we walked on the sparkling, snowy beach, played board games (Apples to Apples, Risk), went bowling, and ate comfort food (meat loaf for dinner, pancakes for breakfast).

I felt refreshed, recharged, and reconnected.

How do you experience “il dolce far niente”?