Be water, my friend.
– Bruce Lee
Imagine a professional skier is skiing down one of his favorite slopes. Powdery snow flies up on both sides like white sand. Conditions are perfect. He is entirely focused on skiing as well as he can. He knows exactly how to move at each moment. There is no future, no past – only the present. He feels the snow, his skis, his body, and his consciousness united as a single entity. He is completely immersed in the experience, not thinking about or distracted by anything else. His ego dissolves, and he becomes part of what he is doing.
We’ve all felt our sense of time vanish when we lose ourselves in an activity we enjoy. We start cooking and before we know it, several hours have passed. We spend an afternoon with a book and forget about the world going by until we notice the sunset and realize we haven’t eaten dinner. We go running and don’t realize how long we have spent on the road until the next day, when our muscles ache.
The opposite can also happen. When we have to complete a task we don’t want to do, every minute feels like a lifetime and we can’t stop looking at our watch. As the quip attributed to Einstein goes, “Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute. That is relativity.”
Psychologists called this experience of being completely immersed in what we are doing as the “flow”. One key ingredient for finding happiness is the ability to reach this state of flow. In order to achieve this optimal experience, we have to focus on increasing the time we spend on activities that bring us to it. When we flow, we are focused on a concrete task without any distractions. Our mind is “in order”. The opposite occurs when we try to do something while our mind is on other things.
According to research, there are 7 conditions for achieving flow:
- Knowing what to do
- Knowing how to do it
- Knowing how well you are doing
- Knowing where to go (where navigation is involved)
- Perceiving significant challenges
- Perceiving significant skills
- Being free from distractions
Focus on enjoying your daily rituals, using them as tools to enter a state of flow. Don’t worry about the outcome – it will come naturally. Happiness is in the doing, not in the result. As a rule of thumb, remind yourself: “Rituals over goals”. Flow is like a muscle – the more you train it, the more you will flow. The happiest people are not the ones who achieve the most; they are the ones who spend more time than others in a state of flow.
We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.