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Dancing With Flow – Rhonda Hull, Ph.D.

I’m not much of a dancer when it comes to the waltz or the polka, but I have enjoyed stretching my ability to dance with the flow of life. It takes diving in regardless of what you will look like, and soon you discover your focus is not on your feet, but on feeling full of the joy that comes from being fully alive, absorbed from the inside out.

Have you ever lost track of time? Have you ever been so deliciously and completely absorbed in something that hours seemed like minutes? The experience of this mental state has become known as “being in the flow.” Whether you are a writer, a video game fanatic, an artist, a scientist, or a mom focused on the face of your newborn, you may know in your own way the exhilaration of such treasured moments.

It’s funny how insights into happiness and all it’s facets are often prompted by the challenges we face. Hungarian born psychologist Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi was the first to name and turn our awareness to the concept of “flow”. Surrounded by the impressions of his childhood in wartime Europe he was prompted to question the nature and meaning of happiness.

Like Csikzentmihalyi, many of us wonder why, despite all the modern conveniences and creature comforts that are ever expanding in our modern times, that so many people so very unhappy, trapped by depression and hindered by stress related illnesses? Why do we doubt our innate worth, feel disconnected from our sense of purpose, and believe that happiness can only be fleeting?

For years Csikzentmihalyi focused his research studies around asking his subjects, to remember and describe the happiest moments of their life. He then would have them explore what thoughts and feelings led up to these special moments. From this, he distilled clues to the joy of flow. Hw found a common thread. Csikzentmihalyi, discovered through his inquiries that these wonderfully absorbed states of mind, and the resulting feelings of satisfaction, “usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntarily highly focused effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”

Csikszentmihalyi coined this as the experience of being in the “flow”, “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake.” When in flow, your over-critical ego mind becomes quiet and your definition of time becomes distorted. Your whole being is “focused and absorbed, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.” Life seems like child’s play when you find yourself challenged by something that is neither too simple nor too difficult. You become immersed in and full of the wonders of what is right before you.

So, how can you foster this feeling of flow that leads you to a deeper and more durable sense of happiness? It starts with a moment-by-moment willingness to consciously stretch your ability to dance with flow. Open your heart, move with your energy, and experiment with the following dance steps.

Step 1.

View whatever task before you as a game. Decide the world is friendly and expect to have fun. Listen for what is calling you from the inside out. Move in the direction of what sparks your interest to keep yourself challenged and motivated. Welcome feedback, but don’t personalize it. Determine your objective to clarify the direction you are headed. Welcome challenges as opportunities to learn, and be certain to celebrate small successes before setting a new objective.

Step 2.

Quiet your mind chatter and negative inner self-talk. Being in the flow requires development of an ability to eliminate negative “inner-talk”. Become aware of the quality of your thinking. Be your own best friend. One of the easiest ways to undermine flow and success is to become your worst judgmental critic. Know that you can only love and respect others to the degree to which you love and respect yourself. Remember, we teach others how to treat us by how we treat ourselves.

Step 3.

Clarify your Purpose. Your purpose need not be huge. Waking up choosing to be joyful and smile every day can have as much significance as finding the cure for cancer. It is often the seemingly simple conscious actions in life that are the most meaningful, and often we don’t even realize the hearts we touch. Clarify your deepest reason why you’ve selected any path and your intention as you travel it. As you move in the direction of any vision or intention, constantly remind yourself of the underlying purpose this inspires you and trust in your own magnificence and contribution.

Step 4.

Practice Focus. Become aware that you are the one who generates your thoughts. Only you have the power to redirect them in a more positive direction. We do not aly6as have control over our circumstances, but we do have power over how we choose to view them. If you find your mind drifting or filled with anxiety, you have moved away from the flow. Only you have the power to refocus on the task at hand, and adjust the quality of your thoughts until you become fully engaged.

Step 5.

Enjoy it all. Life is a journey, not a destination, so enjoy each step of the dance, for each step is amazing in and of itself, and when the steps flow together they have a rhythm all their own. Savor what each moment brings, and practice turning even the greatest tests and blunders into a blessing. Do not force the moment or expect it to be anything other than what it is. Learn to notice simple wonders in even the simplest task. You will be amazed by the miracles that unfold.

Soon, cumbersome steps will become fluid, and before you know it you will be dancing in the flow. Dance. Dance. Dance.

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