How to Be Present

From the WebMD Archives

By Carrie Sloan

The term "flow" -- originally coined by positive psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi -- describes that magical feeling you get when you’re so immersed in an activity, time seems to stand still. Even your sense of self can slip-slide away.

“Flow is a cascade of five of the most potent neurochemicals on earth,” explains Steven Kotler, author of the new book The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance. “[It] massively amplifies creativity.”

The good news? You needn’t go for gold -- or even leave your couch -- to get there. Here are a few ways to find more flow in your here and now.

Good: Get Lost

One shortcut to finding flow is choosing the activity that makes you stop watching the clock. Painting, dancing, writing, running or meditating are a few likely suspects. “Find something creative that sings to the deepest part of you,” says psychologist Jennifer Howard, Ph.D., author of Your Ultimate Life Plan: How to Deeply Transform Your Everyday Experience and Create Changes That Last.

Or just do a crossword puzzle, says Kotler. “That little rush of pleasure you get when you fill in an answer? That’s dopamine,” he says. According to Kotler, the pattern-recognition involved in linking the two words gets your gray matter primed for experiencing flow.

Better: Seek Out Awe

One path to flow is finding what the experts call a "rich environment." '[By seeking them out] you’ve triggered something," says Kotler. "You’ve felt awe. You look at a sunset and everything seems to pause for a minute. That’s actually the front end of a flow state."

To go deeper, he says, concentrate on all five of your senses. How does the sun feel on your shoulders? How many colors can you see in the clouds? What sounds do you hear? "We use a term called 'deep embodiment,'" he says. "That’s a fancy way of saying you’re paying attention with all of your sensory-input streams at once."

Best: Take A Risk

Risks that put you in a time-lengthening state of flow can be as small as eating with your nondominant hand or as big as taking a tango class when you’ve never danced a step. “Flow is generated by activities that we must strive for,” says Howard. In other words, we don't get into flow by walking to work on autopilot. We need to be awake and alert, and completely focused on what we're doing.

“Risk focuses your attention on the present moment,” notes Kotler. “I’m not saying you have to go out and risk your life in order to drive flow. It can be mental. For a shy guy, all he’s got to do is cross the room and talk to a pretty girl.”

WebMD Feature from Turner Broadcasting System


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