We’re deep into the NHL Season now with the Stanley Cup just around the corner. I think it’s time to return to what’s most important in hockey–great flow. And by flow, of course, I mean salad. And by that I mean hair. Here’s a video of some of the best hair in hockey. Enjoy.
“Women feel guilty for being in flow,” according to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. “Men don’t ever feel that way.” I’ve been thinking about this comment ever since my interview with Mihaly yesterday, when he pointed out this vital gender difference in the pursuit of happiness.
Flow, for those that didn’t hear the show yesterday (it’s not too late, click here to listen; I’ll wait), happens when you are completely absorbed in the moment. The task is challenging, time slows down, you are totally focused, and the reward is the activity itself. In a word: your best moments. This is what gives your life meaning.
Which leads me to this question: Guilty? Women feel guilty for finding meaning in their lives? It sounds pretty ridiculous when you say it like that.
First a little context: Earlier I’d asked Mihaly a question about flow personality. Are some personality types more likely to get into flow than others? His comment was interesting. Individuals that are too self-conscious to lose themselves in an activity rarely get into flow. (I was thinking about teenagers here.)
Only later did he mention in an anecdote how often he encounters women when he gives his talks that say, “isn’t the pursuit of flow selfish?”
Granted, most of us have pretty busy lives. Most of us have others relying on us. Most of us don’t even have enough time to brush our teeth, let alone search for moments of freedom and transcendence.
But we should make time.
We all should make time to find flow NOT because it makes us better mothers, more enthusiastic partners or more capable employees/business owners/etc.
We should find flow because it makes life worth living. Get that? Flow states are what we live for.
I hear myself justifying my pursuit of happiness by how it will affect others. I’ll be a nicer person if I can go hike the King right now; I’ll make a better wife and step-mom if I get a few hours to work on my book this morning. I’m going to paddle the SUP for an hour, and then I will be nicer, kinder, calmer. Well, guess what?
Instead, I should be finding flow activities because that’s what I want to do and it makes me happy, not because it will then make me a better person for others. As it turns out (hello?!) I’m not here for the exclusive betterment of those around me. I’m here for me.
Men don’t feel guilty for being in flow. Why? Because its not a normal human reaction. That means that women, too, can shake off this pesky guilt and get after it. We can stop justifying our best moments and just say, “I’m going surfing because that’s what I want to do.”
Sure, when you get back from your surfing session (or making snow angels, or skiing or watching a sunset, or whatever gives you flow) you will probably make lunch for your kids. You’ll do all the other important tasks in your life, and you’ll probably be happy to do it. But just remember, that’s not why you need to follow your flow state. Flow is for you. Period.
So go out there today and find some flow and don’t justify it based on how it will help your spouse/kids/parents. Do it because it will make you happy and give your life meaning.
And that is reason enough.
Action Sports should adopt Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. They should claim him as one of their own, putting his face on bumper stickers and splashing his book covers on websites, blogs and twitter hashtags. Because Csikszentmihalyi, pronounced CHEEK-sent-me-HY-ee, a professor at Claremont Graduate University, invented the idea of flow.
What does flow have to do with action sports, you might ask?
Csikszentmihalyi studies happiness. Flow provides our most optimal experiences. And almost everything about action sports is about getting into flow. According to Csikszentmihalyi, certain things have to happen for us to be in a flow state:
- Skills must match the challenge: too easy and you get bored, too hard and you feel overwhelmed
- Action and awareness merge: you become “one” with the wave/snow/single-track/wing
- Feedback is immediate and unambiguous: you fall, you die (or else you get really, really hurt)
- Concentration is essential: see feedback above
- Sense of control: oddly you gain a sense of control even in the midst of what might appear a chaotic situation
- Time either slows down or speeds up
- Loss of self-consciousness: you focus solely on the moment and forget about your ego, your bills, your life outside the moment
- The experience is autotelic: you are skiing, riding, flying, etc not for an external reward but solely for the experience itself
Have you ever lost yourself in the moment? If you’ve ever felt flow you know what I’m talking about. Skiing a hard line or mountain biking down a tight single-track requires intense concentration and skill. Time slows down, consequences are high, and we completely lose ourselves in the activity. We are in flow. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi wants you to feel flow more often.
Flow=happiness. And I bet that flow is the biggest motivation for pushing ourselves in our sports. I know that’s true for me. I’m not out there for the glory or to gather sponsorships (not that sponsors are kicking down my door to sign me). I’m out there for the experience itself. I’m out there for flow.
Join me this week on The Edge Radio as I talk to the father of flow theory, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi about flow, creativity and getting out on the edge. The show airs live Wednesday 8am pacific and will be available as a podcast a few hours after it airs. You don’t want to miss this one. Seriously.