How to lose yourself in the moment

Losing yourself in the middle of a fun activity is what psychologists call “flow.”

You could be hammering nails into plywood, playing guitar, or peeping into a microscope. Any activity that allows you to lose track of time qualifies.

Long before psychologists caught on, Buddhist monks mastered the art of losing oneself as a method of self-improvement that brings a smile to practitioners’ faces.

Since I experience “flow” through writing, I thought I would illustrate the experience through this week’s column. The first ingredient is inspiration. I let the concept of flow bounce around in my brain for a week while I researched the topic from different angles.

I read a few Time magazine articles on the brain, I read psych students’ papers, surfed onto mental health websites and reread Buddhism books from my bookshelves.

In order to experience flow, you need to be an expert on the task at hand. It has to be second nature. If you need to stop the process to read sheet music, you won’t achieve flow by playing the piano. So, step two is laying the groundwork.

Once the foundation’s in place, make sure to have a sufficient hideaway – for me, it’s my office. When I close my door I don’t hear the TV or the phone.  Others may need a sewing room, a garage with power tools or a basketball hoop. You need somewhere that feels encouraging to you.

I like to be free from distractions. Others may find different environments induce creativity like being outside watching kids play or having music playing in the background.

Once I’ve had my spark of inspiration, done my research and sat down to write, there’s only one thing left – the fun part. When ideas are flowing, I can’t type fast enough.

Although I am the author, I can’t wait to see what comes out. This is the experience of “flow.” It’s what people mean when they say they are “in the zone.”

As a column comes to its crescendo, there’s an “AHA!” moment. It’s here that an epiphany is revealed. Although it may seem like the epiphany is written for the benefit of readers, I have to admit, it isn’t. The epiphanies are for me.

What I enjoy most about writing is the learning process that is necessary to do it. The “AHA!” moment is when the knowledge gained falls out onto the page. Flow requires a final product.

It can be the purr of a rebuilt engine, the last button sewn on a kid’s costume, or the final note of a composition – as long as you can step back and see what you’ve created. If you’re lucky, you’ll also spot something to improve upon for next time.

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