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In pursuit of flow
Q: When does time disappear for you?
It’s the third week of 2022 and I can feel that rush from the start of a new year melting away. Everyone around me either has covid, is recovering from it, or is spending all their energy dodging it. It’s a little bit of déjà vu, feels like we were here last January and this is not where we thought we would be in January 2022.
Last year at this time, I felt good, hopeful even, for the year ahead and then 2021 happened - the good, the bad, the ugly. So as this year started, I committed myself to the practices I learnt last year that helped me get to a stable place. Hoping to get back to feeling strong, feeling committed and in a state of flow.
Flow is generally defined as being in a state of mind where you are completely immersed in the task at hand, and the chatter of your mind fades away. It was first named by the psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi and is often associated with creatives and athletes. It involves intense focus, creativity, a loss of awareness of time, and some dissolution of the self.
In pursuit of flow, I naively thought that maintaining my daily practices would get me in the zone by the end of January. But the consistent drumbeat of the pandemic has worn me down. If anything, I feel like I’ve taken two steps back from where I was at this time last year. Given my struggle to get into flow state, I got curious about what it takes to get there.
Flow occurs when there is a good balance between your skill level and the challenge at hand. If the activity or task is too easy it causes boredom. If it’s too hard it leads to frustration. It should be something you enjoy and something you are good at. The process of writing, editing and publishing posts on a weekly basis for Disco Dialogues has provided me with those moments of flow.
Have clear goals at every step - I have found that this lowers my cognitive load and I am not thinking about what to do next or second guessing myself.
Focus on the basics: get enough sleep, eat well, exercise. All the things I know I need to do. All the things I usually stop doing when I’m feeling stuck. The important part is that I am getting better at noticing when I am off and faster at getting back to the basics.
“The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you're using your skills to the utmost” - Mihály Csíkszentmihályi
My year started off in Dubai on holiday with my family. Then 12 hours before our flight home, I tested positive for covid. Everyone except me boarded their flights back home - kids and husband back to the US, mom back to India. I, instead, found myself checking into an Airbnb to isolate indefinitely until I tested negative.
Complete isolation in a foreign country was tough. Being separated from my kids for so many days at the beginning of the year was not ideal. Seven days later, I finally landed back home - to a tired and sick husband who had held down the fort in my absence, two kids craving my attention and a house full of chores. I wanted to jump right in and help my family but instead I felt myself slipping.
Why do things seem so hard suddenly? Is it the fatigue from covid or the reality of our daily lives that is starting to grind me down? I seem to have hit a wall. My daily grounding practices are not happening any more. And unsurprisingly, I find myself out of flow.
Flow - that state when things just seem easier. When you feel excited about the challenge and not terrified about facing it. Flow - a state that seems to come and go so easily if I don't make my daily habits a practice. So here I am in the third week of the year and already feeling like my annual vision seems out of reach.
I have been here before and I know it's going to require small steps from me to get out of this zone. Trying to do one thing for myself each day. Some days it's as simple as starting the day with a 10 min breathing exercise. Or ending the day with a gratitude practice at the dinner table with my family. This weekend it was bringing joy to my kids’ faces by doing an impromptu stop at the local macaroon store. And listening to 80s music with my husband.
And tomorrow I look forward to reconnecting with Kinnari after 5 weeks, bringing back the energy we get from our dialogues with each other.
Here’s to hoping we can help each other get into flow.