The Difference Between Joy and Drudgery
When I was a kid, I DREADED gym class. I would do anything to try to get out of it from faking a fever to sneaking to the back of the kickball line over and over again until I was caught. It was simply the space where all of my biggest insecurities and embarrassment came out on full display. When I exercised my face typically turned red and my nose began to drip, I had never been flexible and at the time believed that I was destined to always be that way because that was simply how my body was designed. I was awkward, scared of catching a ball, had no arm strength... you get the picture.
And then there were what seemed like these "golden" people, the ones who looked gorgeous in gym shorts and sneakers and whose hair never seemed to frizz and who could do a long jump or run or dive for a ball with agility and grace. I envied these people and at times cringed from what I believed they must think of me and were most likely saying behind my back.
But nowadays I know better. Because in my present state I am still the frizzy haired girl whose face gets red when over exerted, but I am also a graceful hawk who can rise up in the air with a fierce warrior pose and jump from rock to rock with precision and authority, dare I say even float, when hiking. That little girl would NEVER have believed she would or could grow up to be this way.
when looking back through the path that led me here, I can attribute it to one central thing: my shift into learning how to make exercise into a flow state.
The Personal Growth Transformation of Flow
One easy way to explain my change is my discovery of yoga. With this, I finally found something from the world of athleticism that I could enjoy. And while I cultivated my growing daily practice, I increasingly learned what I was capable of and built the foundations of confidence, acceptance and balance. But what enabled me to leap from simply (and finally!) getting "good" at an activity in the physical realm--something I never believed I would do or be--to taking this confidence into redefining myself into a person who is able to experience joy in activities that I thought I was engineered to despise or fail at, this I attribute to flow.
Flow is a fairly common experience that occurs when we are “effortlessly engaged in an activity [that we love so much and that aligns so much with our core being] that we lose track of time and sense of self.” Athletes call it “being in the zone” and some musicians, dancers and artists claim it is the only way to tap into true creativity.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, PhD (pronounced Mee-high Cheek-sent-mee-high) is a researcher and scholar on the subjects of happiness, creativity, and optimal experience. He, and others in the world of positive psychology have begun to define three key components to a happy life: pleasure, meaning, and engagement through regular flow experiences. Studies have shown that those who experience flow on a more regular basis report a higher degree of happiness and fulfillment and that it also builds “positive self-esteem capital that pays off in your long term happiness and gives you more physical and emotional resiliency.”
What I was able to do with yoga was to discover an activity that I could effortlessly engage in more and more each day, but I was only able to get there by tweaking my mindset first. And now, I get to not only step into flow and be one of the "golden" people, I also get to contribute through my newfound confidence in so many ways in my parenting, and beyond.
As a person who embodies flow state, I get to model this kind of happy, open living to my child. I get to show my daughter, through example, that physical fitness and wellbeing can be spiritual and beautiful, rather than the sweating and suffering image that I always had in my head around exercise. And I also get to show how flow states can be found in all sorts of things, even those we thought we "hated" or dreaded.
Flow state also can lead us towards action that make society better, which to me is what raising the next generation is all about.
So in this way, choosing to learn to engage in something from a present state of being can therefore increase our contribution to the world. This is what flow state does for us, and more. And as parents, isn't that what we most want for our children?
Getting Into Flow
So, in light of that, who wouldn’t want to experience flow every day? Remember, flow need not be in only the things we already love, but can be cultivated by shifting our perspective.
But a good place to start is with the things that draw our attention in in the first place. Kids do it best because they still lack all of the social hindrances of what we “should be” doing and self-consciousness, therefore freeing them up to simply live in the moment and in the flow. But there’s a catch: we parents STOP them from experiencing flow all too often.
So how do we get our family back to a state of flow, and therefore happier living? I say first we need to rediscover flow ourselves (if we have lost it) and then make a conscious effort to incorporate flow into our lives - each and every day.
Some components of flow, as studied by Dr. Csikszentmihalyi and his colleagues:
● The task is challenging and requires skill
● It requires concentration
● There are clear goals
● One has some form of immediate feedback
● There is an experience of deep, effortless involvement
● One has a sense of control
● The sense of self disappears
● Awareness of time is altered
It is interesting to note that while they are experiencing flow, “there is usually no conscious awareness of emotions because they are so focused on their task. However, in retrospect, after the experience has ended, individuals frequently report joy, exhilaration and even ecstasy.”
In my Four Phase Methodology towards a Joyous Parenthood, one of the things I address with my clients is this idea of flow state. This is because while we parents tend to focus on our children for most of the time, I believe that if we are to support and uplift ourselves first, we will then be more fully able to be present, empathetic, and patient for them.
Once you understand the benefits of flow state and experience it yourself, just imagine the amazing model you get to be for your children! The benefits are endless.
So start to think about what gets you into your flow, and begin to infuse it into your daily routine and life.
Here are some tips for getting started:
When you start to ask yourself what puts you into flow state, often times the first thing that pops into your head is the answer. So trust your gut and celebrate whatever makes you flow, baby! For me, the very first thing that pops into my mind is everything and anything that has to do with music: listening to a great song, playing piano or guitar, singing, writing music, sharing music, going to live music... even as I type this and picture these activities I'm feeling more in tune with the universe.
Once you recognize what puts you into flow, do it more! Do it by yourself, carve it into your love calendar (for more about that, check out my coaching services!), ask your love village to remind you to do it. But do it more! For me, part of the secret is prioritizing my flow state earlier in the day so that it happens no matter what. So after breakfast and before getting to work, I take a 10min piano or guitar break.
Practice noticing where you can move into a flow state into your day to day. Start to approach the normal activities and tasks you experience from a perspective of "how can I do this in a way that puts me more into flow state?" For instance, when washing the dishes, whenever I can, I put on music and dance. I am usually then tapped right into flow.
Try to tweak the things you dislike into a flow state. I mean it! It can be done! For instance, I HATE logging receipts, but I find it to be a necessary evil to keep my bookkeeping in check. So to be quirky, I can tap into flow by making up a silly song about my purchases while I'm logging. It not only gets me more tapped into a focused state where nothing else matters, but it improves my memory, helps me be more efficient, and leaves me more energized by the end of the activity. When I remember to do that, it doesn't even feel like drudgery anymore!
So incorporate flow into your life in any and every way you can.
Do it more for yourself, do it more for your wellbeing, and do it for your happiness.
And when our joy is increased, so is our parenting prowess and therefore our kids are more balanced, happy, and calm.
Plus, when a child gets to witness their parents in flow, it sends such a powerful message for them: "THIS is what life gets to feel and look like most of the time. I get to have these things and feel them every day. I don't have to regulate flow to hobbies. And I get to figure out how to get into flow state with even the things I don't love."
This is the ultimate message, to me. To approach things from a state of glory and love.
So get into flow state. Don't be bashful, don't you wait. Get into that flow state and CEL-E-BRATE! (did you hear the tune in that last sentence? Yup, you guessed it, I'm singing out this blog as I write it and getting myself tapped more into flow :))
If you would like to know more about how I approach flow or want more information about my coaching services and Four Phase Methodology towards a Joyous Parenthood, visit here!
Sivanne Lieber is a parenthood coach and consultant for parents and caregivers of the soft years, ages 0-5 and beyond. She works with families to find the confident, calm, connected parenthood they deserve.