Friday, June 19, 2015

Health and Wellness: Feeding your Mind and Experiencing Flow

I'm sitting in a hotel room watching one of my favorite movies, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, thinking about a few things without really being sure of how it will all fit together for this post.  I'm missing my yard and my husband (but not in that order).  I've only been gone for one night, and will return within the next couple of days, but still...I love my life and miss it when I'm out of my ordinary mundane beauty of it.  We have good things happening in our garden and yard.  I'm excited to see new life triumph over what appeared to be premature death in our Desert Willow and Hibiscus plants. 

Lately I've been into crafts and reading lots of books.  I added a few rows to my crocheted rag rug.  I started crocheting a blanket for my brother and have another planned for my mom.  Husband has been learning the art of woodcarving.  He also added shelves to a bookshelf for me and I put on the first coat of stain.  I am reading three books and will start a new one soon.  I recently bought On Kindness.  I'm reading Margaret's Ark and The Mosquito CoastMom loaned Flat Belly Diet to me because we love MUFA trailmix (more on that later!).   I am also listening to Eragon for the second time.   I like books.   I am the kind of person that has a harder time deciding which books to pack than what clothes and accessories.   I'm a pretty basic person, fairly low maintenance, unless we are talking about things to stimulate my spirit and mind.  I have very eclectic tastes and dip around in a wide variety of topics, and the books I read and spiritual practices I follow reflect that. 

In today's society where jobs are increasingly mentally demanding and we constantly have some form of technology around stimulating our brains, it can be a bit overwhelming to think about other ways to use our brains.  Let me use my mom as an example.  (I will probably do this a lot in my blogs because she is an incredible woman).  Mom has a mentally demanding job overseeing the operations departments in five different bank branches.  She travels around to these five different cities to do audits, training on new programs and procedures, and to just check up with the employees and make sure everything is functioning properly.  At the end of everyday she is exhausted.  One of her ways of recuperating from the brain exhaustion is to get lost in a book. Why is it that when we are mentally exhausted, we can find relief in a book?

Let's talk about "flow".  To talk about flow, we need to know the psychologist who did the majority of flow studies.  Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced: Cheeks-sent-me-high) studied the state where people feel "in the zone" during activities.  I think all of us have felt that way in one way or another.  When you are "in the zone" you aren't aware of hunger, fatigue, or even emotional state.  According to research, flow can be defined as the balance between skill and challenge (Peterson, 2006).  Peterson (2006) worked with Csikszentimihalyi in studying flow and describes it as, "the coming together of person and environment...among activities perceived as voluntary" (p. 67).  He also goes on to explain that real flow can be mimicked (and most often is) by junk flow.  Junk flow is usually found in activities such as playing video games, watching TV, and reading "trashy novels" (as opposed to books that stretch our mind).  The difference is that the aforementioned activities do not offer a challenge for the individual.  Those types of activities do not leave us feeling invigorated or satisfied (Peterson, 2006).  Children who experience more real flow throughout adolescence show more creative achievement and tend to show an overall higher level of health (Peterson, 2006).  In perusing the text I took this information from, I noticed that flow is associated with optimism, competence, good work, and positive pleasure (instead of harmful pleasure).  So, what's my point?  It's this: when we engage in an activity that causes our minds to engage in an active way in things we enjoy or are interested in, it produces positive benefits.  It is like medicine for our mental faculties, which in turn creates a better overall sense of well-being.  Peterson (2006) also talks about flow in relation to depression.  When people who are depressed continue in engaging activities (such as flow), they tend to be able to move out of depressive states quicker than those who do not.  Peterson suggests that psychologists learn how to use flow activities to help depressive clients work through their depression. 
The collection on my desk at home

When was the last time, if ever, that you experienced flow?  What are some things you can do to help facilitate it?  What books are you reading or what other activities are you enjoying?  I like to listen to books while I do other activities like my crafts (crochet, sew, knit), clean, go for walks, etc.  It helps my mind stay active in something, get lost in the flow of the story, while I'm doing an activity that is physically taxing in some way.  I also like to write stories.  I don't sit down and write something because I have to (I had too much of that in school!), I wait until I feel the flow going on.  I have Microsoft Word on my phone so that I can quickly narrate something that comes to me.  I just noticed that that is how I am running this blog too.  I can't pick a topic and force myself to share it.  I have to feel it to share it.  My best papers in school were written so well because I chose a topic that interested me.  So, when I sat down to write my papers, I would get caught up in sharing information and experience flow.  Also, when I was going through an extremely depression moment of life, I turned to things that would distract my mind from repeating the same harmful thoughts.  I listened to books from the time I woke up to the time I went to sleep.  The only time I took a break was when I was in class or doing homework.  It saved me from falling so deep into despair that I couldn't get out.  Life is more peaceful and more positive when we find healthy ways to stimulate our minds.  Let's find ways to implement flow into our normal lives.  

Light and Love,


References: Peterson, C. (2006). A Primer in Positive Psychology. Oxford University Press: New York, NY. 

*** You can access links to all of the books I have mentioned in this post by clicking on the name of the book, or you can go to my Books tab and find them and many others there.  You can also follow this blog by exploring the other tabs.

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