Have you watched Pixar’s movie Ratatouille about a rat named Remy that has an unstoppable zest for cooking? He follows through on his passion, encouraged by a phrase he overhears that “Anyone can cook.” While he has a discerning talent for taste and smell, it is not what makes him the best chef in town. His journey of discovery with cooking is something that brings him so much pleasure that he just cannot compromise on it; Remy is willing to go to great lengths and overcome “rat ableism biases” to become a chef. One of my favorite scenes in the movie is when Remy bites into scraps of cheese and strawberries, and his world changes. Everything else disappears, except for tastes and smells and combinations of elements. The rat becomes absorbed in the pleasure of discovery and possibilities.
Some people experience it when biking, others in the middle of an engaging sports game. For me, I experience it when gardening or skiing on a wide, snowy slope. When young kids play pretends or build Lego cities, they are often observed completely lost in the game. Some people call it “being in the zone,” psychologists call it the state of “flow.”
The state of flow occurs when someone does something so enjoyable that it takes no effort and they get immersed in performing the task, so much so that time disappears. The markers of flow are when you are deeply engaged in the action, such that it almost feels automatic – but not mindless because you are deeply present for it. Nothing else exists. All distractions step away. You feel like you know exactly what you are doing, you don’t question your competence, and the task is deeply engrossing, sometimes even profound.
The state of flow brings tremendous pleasure or a sense of relaxation. There is no stress or anxiety related to your level of competence. You just do it.
Ask yourself, when was the last time you were so absorbed in a task that you lost track of time and nothing else mattered?
Interestingly, some of the best learning or creativity occurs in the state of flow. The important aspect of flow is that it is so enjoyable that it requires no self-control or regulation. Being in a flow is the opposite of doing chores or dread. Flow is a state where we expand our potential effortlessly. It is the zone where we learn naturally, willingly, and while having fun.
Flow is also a kind of a hack to make hard work less hard. To learn a skill, one needs a lot of perseverance. When one is in flow and has fun, the need for perseverance decreases.
They say that Grit consists of Passion + Perseverance. Flow helps with both. It helps with passion (because the state of flow is associated with pleasure and meaning) and with perseverance (because when you are having fun, things are less tedious and don’t require as much perseverance).
4 things are necessary for the state of flow to occur:
- you must have clear goals – if things are confusing, you are too busy sorting through obstacles to “lose yourself”
- you must be able to assess how you are doing – being able to track your performance allows you to see if you are on the right path
- you can’t force it – when you are doing things because “you have to,” there is no spark and you don’t feel vested
- your existing skills match but still a challenge – the challenge must be a bit of a stretch, otherwise, it becomes boring (but not so much of a challenge that you feel discouraged)
FLOW / TRY THIS
- What were your moments of flow when everything else drops away and you’re just enjoying being in the zone of whatever it is you’re doing, without even knowing it?
- If you can think back to how it made you feel … can you pinpoint where in your body you felt certain sensations (breathing, tingling, or spaciousness)?
- List out those things where you might want to experiment with flow. What would those things be?
By Inna Yulman
Certified Coach (ACC)