Just like there is no formula for happiness, there is no formula for FLOW’ – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Since FLOW is a state that arises spontaneously one cannot program it. That sounds logical right? There are however factors that act as FLOW-catalysts. In chemistry catalysis is a process caused by a catalyst which is an element that influences a reaction without being consumed by it. Catalysts that speed a reaction are called positive catalysts. Substances that interact with catalysts to slow the reaction are called inhibitors (or negative catalysts). This perfectly applies to the process of FLOW. Let’s first revisit the definition of FLOW as given by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi:

FLOW is the process of total involvement in life in which pleasure and creativity spontaneously arise.

Just like in the case of chemical processes the process of FLOW can be ‘speed-ed’ or ‘inhibited’. We will discuss several elements that are conducive to FLOW as well as elements that inhibit FLOW. Before we do that however, I want you to consider that FLOW is your natural state and thus an expression of who you really are. This gives you a basic tool to ‘monitor’ the birth of FLOW in each moment: are you being true to yourself or are you compromising to please others or to avoid something? Are you being your expanded self or are you contracting your being out of some kind of fear? Remember how we wrote earlier that small children are usually in FLOW? Please consider for a moment that they have no formula to ‘do’ that. They just have not learned yet to hide behind social masks. Do you feel what this implies for you?

In this first article in the category of ‘how to get in FLOW’ I will share the 6 C’s that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi suggests as FLOW catalysts. He writes that FLOW can be ‘speed-ed’ by the following 6 catalysts, all beginning with the letter C:

6 FLOW catalysts

Just to ‘prove’ the point that there is no set formula for FLOW, we could easily add some other C’s like Connection, Coherence, Communication or Courage…

But let’s stick to the first six for now. It is immediately obvious that they affect each other: without Clarity it is impossible to make a sustainable Choice and without a Clear Choice, what will you Commit to? When not Centered, how can you have Clarity or Certainty? The ‘odd ball’ in the series is Challenge. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi discovered that when it comes to ‘being elevated into FLOW’ in an area of action, there is a fine line between too much and not enough challenge and this line is influenced by too few or too many skills and resources.

Flow is a delightful balance between challende and skills
FLOW in sports, arts and other activities can be influenced by developing more skills

FLOW is found in the North-East of this diagram. FLOW can arise when we are being challenged without being overwhelmed. In such an instance, FLOW implies the thrill of doing something difficult with mastery. So it becomes clear why for instance it pays off for athletes to train and train and train their skills to higher and higher and higher states of mastery. It also becomes clear how the factor Confidence is being highly affected by the skill development in an area of action. The above diagram does not explain however why can ‘fall in FLOW’ while watching a majestic sunset or when our baby smiles at us or after we helped someone in need… So there is obviously more to getting in FLOW than skills and challenges. We will get to the many aspects of getting in FLOW in later posts and we will find that it all becomes simpler and simpler rather than more complicated.

We will end this post with a relevant quote from Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi about FLOW and mastery:

The FLOW experience is being described, not so much as a feeling of control but as an absence of the fear to lose control

This line contains a major key to FLOW: it is a state of letting go, a surrender to a higher intelligence and energy in us… It is a state in which we have transcended fear by its counterpart: LOVE (an open heart).

We will of course come back to the subject of FLOW catalysts in other articles. We will also look at FLOW inhibitors like Compromising, Conditioning and Contracting (to name a few)…

Until next

Jan Bommerez

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