“…success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue…as the unintended side-effect of one’s personal dedication to a course greater than oneself.”
- Viktor Frankl
In the book, Flow, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes a state of happiness and contentment called “flow” in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter and time loses meaning. He goes on to say that this state is achieved by stretching the mind or body “to it’s limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.” Watch his TedTalk for more insights.
Sometimes we find our workdays so mentally tiring and stressful that we look for ways to “check out” in our free time, turning to passive forms of entertainment like television and the internet; however these only serve to keep us from truly experiencing real life and feel the great joy of challenging ourselves to grow and reach new heights.
I am fortunate enough to be able to reach a state of flow when I am immersed in painting. For others, flow may come from learning a new instrument, challenging the mind with puzzles, enjoying a competitive game of tennis, or from yoga and meditation. How do you achieve flow?
Think back to a time when you were involved in an activity and time seemed to race by. Two hours passed and it felt like five minutes. Your mind was clear and uncluttered, free of racing thoughts and worries. I have friends who achieve this state through knitting, programming, and cooking to name just a few pastimes. The key is to try to challenge yourself to create something with a clear goal in mind. After a night or weekend away from your 9-5 job, wouldn’t it be more satisfying to know you did not fritter away your free time watching reality television, but actually had something to show for your time, whether that be a hand knitted sweater, painting, chocolate cake, or new personal fitness record?
Recently I have had the pleasure of witnessing a friend take on a major challenge by confronting a major obstacle, her fear of swimming. She has gone through her whole life avoiding water over her knees, because she never learned to swim. Now, over the age of forty, she has gathered her courage and decided to “take a plunge”. It is thrilling watching someone push their boundaries and often has the unexpected effect of influencing you to test your own limits as well. I can only imagine the new sense of confidence my friend will have after facing her fear head-on, and I wonder what new opportunities and experiences will arise as a result. This is why it is important to surround yourself with people who are interested in growth; it rubs off!
Why not be the one to set the example? Be the one among your group of friends, coworkers, or family who inspires through action. Rather than coming to work in the morning with knowledge of which bachelor the current bachelorette chose, show up with plans to climb a mountain, photos of a garden you created in your backyard, or the peace of mind that comes from challenging yourself to improve and reach new heights. I am training to complete a marathon in a few months. I also plan to take on the National Novel Writing Month challenge to write a novel in thirty days (now that I’ve put it out there, I guess I have to!). How do you plan to challenge yourself?