Years ago I got super intrigued with the concept of getting in the “flow state” after reading the best selling book “Flow” by Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi. (Don’t try to pronounce his name – I gave up.) I’m a big sports fan and I equated the flow state with the concept of how athletes can get in “the zone.” I wanted to learn how to have that experience for myself more often.
In the book, Csikszentmihalyi talks about how when we are in a flow state that our ego falls away. Time flies and every action, movement and thought follows inevitably from the previous one. Sounds like a wonderful experience to aspire to have, doesn’t it? I thought so too.
The book goes into great, in the weeds detail about the flow state and it’s filled with lots of left brain data type material which, I admit, I’ve completely forgotten. I’d recommend the book only if you have the time for such an in depth analysis. It’s a good read if you like that kind of analytic material. However, the author did include a diagram that I’ll never forget, which for me cuts to the chase of what the flow state is all about and the main thing you need to get from his research. Here is the diagram from the book.
This diagram gives you a visual depiction of what the flow state is which Csikszentmihalyi calls the “flow channel.” It’s all shown neat and tidy on the graph, but in real life these four words – challenge, skills, anxiety and boredom – are anything but neat and tidy.
Over the years as a work/stay-at-home parent I have thought about my life and my experience, or lack there of, of the flow state. This is what I have concluded.
In my experience as a parent I didn’t find it easy at all to get into a flow state. I’d vacillate back and forth between boredom and anxiety on a daily basis.
As I recall my years as a mother I was in a perpetual state of feeling challenged, physically, mentally and emotionally. A flow state is an emotional experience so if you’re constantly feeling emotionally challenged on a daily basis, (sometimes hourly) then it goes without saying that getting into a flow state is not going to be easy.
My experience was just when I thought I had my children figured out they’d go and change. How dare they grow up and move the cheese! Children’s energy moves very rapidly and sporadically and each one’s energy is unique. It’s not always easy to predict their behavior or mood, thus parenting requires excellent emotional shock absorbers. Each one has their own unique wants and needs. The daily routines might on the surface appear the same and yet everyday was different. There was always some monkey wrench thrown in, (sickness, accident, weather – to name a few) just to make sure I didn’t get too complacent. Yikes! Parenting keeps you not only on your toes but back on your heels at the same time.
As a parent you are always working at maintaining your emotional balance which from my experience leaves little room for being in a flow state very often or for very long. I’m sure there were times when I felt like I was in a flow of some kind. But the daily experience of family life just has too many moving parts, unforeseen obstacles, it’s unpredictable (Hello! It involves children) and is too fast paced to give you, the parent, the opportunity to feel like you’re in a flow state as described so analytically by Csikszentmihalyi.
After realizing that I rarely felt my own flow state as a parent it made me come to the conclusion that maybe this is the reason why parenting is the hardest job in the world. It doesn’t lend itself very well for this experience. Now I have to put in here a caveat. There are people out there who do find it easy to get in the flow in their role as a parent. They have innate skills and the emotional makeup to do the job with ease just like there are people born to be ER doctors/nurses and taxi drivers inNYC. Did I just compare parenting with emergency rooms and driving in traffic?
This lack of flow experience might also be the reason why so many parents take up hobbies or venture out into the world pursuing activities whether for income or as a volunteer. We each have gifts and talents that, like blooms on a plant, are bursting to come out. We want to grow and make a difference in ways that only we can, being the “one of a kind creatures” that we are. I believe that most humans crave the flow state. It gives us a sense of purpose, progress and uniqueness.
Hopefully, you have work in your life or engage in roles where you do have the opportunity to experience a flow state of your own. A place where your skills match up to the challenges before you. Where you have opportunities to experience growth and progress.
However, if you are in some line of work or employment or a role in life where you realize that is not your experience, then maybe that is why you might be feeling unfulfilled or restless. I know as a stay-at-home parent that’s what I felt. As much as I adored motherhood it wasn’t until I started writing that I felt I had experienced my personal flow state.
Inside I know you know you are capable of so much more. You yearn to become the best version of you possible but don’t feel that where you are right now you can blossom. I get it.
My advice, heed those urgings. Do the inner work to discover your unique gifts and talents. Look for opportunities that challenge your particular skills and inspire you and support you to grow. Keep asking the universe to open up paths. Keep nurturing your seeds of greatness that are buried inside you. Have patience and faith that when the timing is right you will achieve your flow state and you will bloom into the beautiful creation you were meant to become.