Go with the Flow

At the end of August, Kate and I drove to New York City. The trip was going smoothly as we approached the exit toward Brooklyn where a worker and three orange cones blocked the way. “Closed due to flooding,” Hurricane Irene whirled through the city about a week before we did.

“I’m going with the flow this trip,” but as we got ourselves un-lost in the unmarked streets in urban New Jersey, and flew along upper levels of the freeway, it was hard to believe my driving skills were up to the challenge. Riding the subway during rush hour on my first trip to NYC in 1976 wasn’t nearly so stressful. Overwhelmed by the crush, a native turned to me, “just go with the flow.”

That’s a very different kind of flow than Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi described in his 1991 book, Flow. He heads the Quality of Life Research Center at Claremont University in California. This TED talk is a great introduction to the requirements of flow. A key element of happiness, anyone can experience flow.

We are in flow when we’re completely engrossed in what we’re doing. When the challenge of the task matches our abilities to meet that challenge. It can happen in work or off the job.

It’s our job in adventure programming to create flow. To give participants challenges they can achieve, but that will take them out of their comfort zone. help them suspend disbelief. Eric taught me a lot about the time factor in facilitating. It’s better to end early than even a little late. People won’t stay engaged when they’re worrying about the time. Concluding and reflecting only happen while people are fully engaged.

I always want to do what I’m doing until I’m done, to do just one more thing. When Kate was growing up, and we were running late as we often did, we would say “time is not only relative, but simply an invention to keep everything from happening at once.”

Blue Zones research recommends we designate a “flow room” where we can immerse ourselves in activities that consume our attention. I plan to organize my studio to be the center for painting, sewing and projects that I originally envisioned, rather than the catchall it’s become. The last two days, I’ve painted the jetties, and the row of green umbrellas lining the beach. The first day was stormy at sea, and my painting is stormy too. For me, that painting captures the connection between creativity and flow.

Flow comes when our work makes us happy, contributes to society, and is its own reward. I’ve experienced it writing a grant that fit perfectly the organization’s mission. The feeling the grant was writing itself. I didn’t have to pull at the words like taffy.

When I’m out in my kayak, I totally lose track of time. I’m not distracted. I don’t check the clock. I’m not afraid. I’m exhilarated. That’s flow.



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