Have you ever been so engrossed in something that you completely lost track of time?
In psychological terms, this is known as a flow state. When you are in flow, or “in the zone”, the only thing in your mind is what you are doing in that moment. This single-minded focus allows you to block out the chatter in your head and immerse yourself entirely in a task.
Flow is a powerful indicator of happiness because when it occurs all of our other needs vanish. We feel complete, fulfilled and as if nothing is lacking.
Many therapists encourage their patients to record the moments where they experience flow in order to cultivate an awareness of the activities that generate it. Often these will be creative activities like writing, music, painting or even something mundane like building book shelves. When we learn how to live in the moment, we create a more positive reality for ourselves.
Being genuinely aware of our internal emotional experiences in reaction to external stimuli empowers us to make good decisions. We can choose to do the things that make us happy because we know what those things are.
A while ago I read a really interesting article in which the author identified a brilliant litmus test for decision making. It is called the “shackles on, shackles off” test. Let’s assume we need to decide whether or not to take a job we have been offered. The theory proposes that we examine our mental state when thinking about the job – would taking it make us feel free and empowered (shackles off) or trapped and anxious (shackles on)?
With so many complex decisions in our lives, the shackles test and an awareness of flow states can be incredibly useful tools. They give us a steer which helps us to make choices that feel right for us. When we live in this way, we know that, even if we make mistakes, we are being authentic and embracing our autonomy. We also become less vulnerable to the suggestions of others because we learn to trust our own instincts. This is particularly exciting and freeing for “people-pleasers” who struggle to set boundaries.
When we stop living in accordance with the expectations of society, our families or even the controlling sides of ourselves, we allow ourselves to feel fulfilled. We stop judging ourselves for not being perfect and realise that, perhaps, we are good enough exactly as we are.