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Finding a silver lining in your struggle

The Covid-19 pandemic has been challenging to the say the least and has impacted each and every one of us in our own way. Mental health during the lockdown has particularly been a struggle.

As time slowed down for us all, it has brought about a period of reflection and change. In a fast paced society, one of the things the pandemic has done is that it has enabled us to slow down and put things into perspective.

In the past year, I underwent my own reflection and starting reading a lot more. Reading is one of my favourite hobbies and is something I have always enjoyed since childhood. But, given the “fast paced” nature of the world, I often neglected just sitting down with a cup of coffee and an interesting book. So, one day I got my cup of coffee and became captivated by a particular book which changed my outlook. The name of this book is “Flow- The Psychology of Optimal Experience” by the well-renowned psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. This book has without a doubt increased my wellbeing, creativity, productivity and mental health during lockdown.

Csikszentmihalyi has over the years conducted significant research into happiness and well-being. His research led him to conclude that happiness was an internal state of being i.e. within you, rather than external. This happiness, according to Csikszentmihalyi, came about when someone was in flow.

Have you ever heard someone describe a time where they have excelled at something and say “they were in the zone?” If so, they are likely to have experienced flow.

So, what is flow?

In Csikszentmihalyi’s words, flow is “a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter, the experience is so enjoyable that people will continue to do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it” (1990).

Csikszentmihalyi describes eight characteristics of flow:

  1. Complete concentration on the task;
  2. Clarity of goals and reward in mind and immediate feedback;
  3. Transformation of time (speeding up/slowing down);
  4. The experience is intrinsically rewarding;
  5. Effortlessness and ease;
  6. There is a balance between challenge and skills;
  7. Actions and awareness are merged, losing self-conscious rumination;
  8. There is a feeling of control over the task.

Csikszentmihalyi’s theory of flow got me thinking about how I could experience my own flow especially during the difficult time we were all facing. Whilst reading his book and learning about flow I remembered a particular childhood hobby I enjoyed which was doing jigsaw puzzles. I fondly remembered experiencing so much joy in doing jigsaw puzzles and the more I remembered the more I realised how much that activity fell within the eight characteristics of flow as described by Csikszentmihalyi. Without a second’s thought, I bought a set of jigsaw puzzles and began my journey of flow. Doing jigsaw puzzles was a perfect balance between challenge and skills and the feeling of intrinsic reward was just poetic. Another positive thing about flow is that it causes ‘eutress’ which is a form of good stress and it can help keep you motivated and energised. I discussed this more in my blog about the effects of stress. 

This pandemic has been tough on us all but it has given me the opportunity to find my flow. Maybe it can do the same for you too so why not give it a try.

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