By Lynn Desamours, Bloom Intern & Johns Hopkins University Masters of Public Health Graduate
Have you ever heard the phrase “go with the flow”? In psychology, the term flow can be defined as an optimal state of consciousness, when we feel and perform our best. It is associated with well-being, productivity, motivation and satisfaction with life. Given all these benefits and positive impacts, flow seems to be a key to happiness, right? And the truth is, we could all use a little more flow in our daily lives. So, how can we ‘flow’? What can we do to tap into it? And how can we learn what our personal flow states look like?
In several ways, we have a lot to learn from children. If you’ve ever watched young kids play games using imagination and creative thinking, you’ve likely noticed that they are not afraid to think outside the box. They’re constantly in an imaginative state and move through the world with an attitude of wonder and curiosity. Studies involving children have indicated that observing another person in his/ her creative process, watching a fantasy film, and unstructured play encourage new insights, analytical thinking, and creativity, suggesting that play is good for the mind. This also shows us that we can “exercise” our creativity the same way we do for our muscles. Repeatedly engaging in activities such as writing, trying new things, and observing the world around us by spending time outdoors can boost and encourage creativity.
Flow is about more than creativity and an active imagination, however. It’s also about action. Getting tasks done. Overcoming challenges. Flow helps us validate those creative ideas and set them into motion. Historically, humanity has accomplished incredible, seemingly impossible feats and invented innovative tools and technologies by harnessing creative thought and having the self-efficacy to believe such things could be done. This phenomenon can be referred to as the Barrister Effect, which posits that you must believe you can achieve a challenging task or goal before you are actually able to. And flow is what bridges the belief to the achievement.
Emerging science and research studies are finding that there are ways to train ourselves to tap into flow states more often, meaning that with some dedication and practice, we can all become master flow-ers! Learning how to flow is so important because when in flow, time shuts down and the sense of self disappears, freeing us to be our most creative, motivated and productive selves. Imagine how much work you could get done if you weren’t constantly looking at the time, counting down the hours until a deadline, or stressing over the quality of your work. External and internal pressures to perform halt the production process and can actually de-motivate students from turning in assignments and lead to burnout in educators.
Understanding that we could all use a little more flow, Bloom has curated a set of strategies that students and teachers alike can use to boost flow and improve overall wellness! The suggestions below cover a wide range because we want everyone to find something relevant and doable for them. Many of these strategies also require no cost, making it perfect for our students. So take a look through them, apply a few, and find what gets you flowing.
Bloom & Flow Strategies:
Meditation and Mindfulness
- Meditation can, in some ways, be described as a state of flow because it accomplishes similar goals: there is a sense of detachment from oneself during both, they increase creativity and happiness, and reduce stress
- Follow these links to explore different meditation techniques to try and find what works for you:
- Write/ Journal
- Journaling can be a form of meditation
- If incorporated as part of your morning routine, journaling can help set the tone for your day and create a more intentional mindset as you go about your tasks
- Another writing technique you can use is to sit in a dynamic setting, observe what you see, hear, smell, etc., and describe them
- Pursue a Passion(s)
- Getting into your flow state is all about focusing your attention on one particular task or activity. What better way to engage than in something you love? Whether it be painting or biking or a social justice issue like food insecurity awareness, getting involved in a passion (or 3) that has special meaning to you will almost certainly drive you into flow
- By getting into flow through a passion, you can then more readily tackle a task you may be less passionate about, but required to complete- like homework or data analysis report. This is very similar to the concept of skipping a challenging test question and returning to it once you’ve answered easier ones; it refreshes your mind and builds your confidence to achieve what seemed daunting before
- Work in a New and Exciting Environment
- Completing your work in a new space or a place you’ve never been before can help spark the creativity needed to flow because you’re not on automatic pilot and locked in a routine
- Simply being somewhere you’ve never been before heightens your sensitivity to your surroundings, making it easier for to think more creatively and differently; unpredictability triggers flow
- There is a caveat to this, though- avoid noisy or distracting environments, as they tend to interrupt flow
- Regular sleep
- Without the proper amount of rest, it is more difficult to concentrate and tap into flow
- Most healthy adults require between 7-9 hours of sleep a night to function at their best; this number is even higher for school-aged children and teens (9-11 hours)
- Deep breathing
- Before beginning an activity, assignment or tackling a challenge, close your eyes and find a comfortable, relaxed sitting position. Then, inhale for a count of 3. Hold your breath for another count of 3. And finally, exhale for a count of 5. Do this do at least 5 minutes
- This practice can also be done as a short break when feeling stressed or overwhelmed
Lynn Desamours is a recent graduate of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, where she received her MSPH degree in Health systems. She is passionate about global/ community health and women and girl's empowerment. Her past work with Bloom included co-developing and implementing wellness curriculum for middle school girls in Baltimore City with Founder and CEO, Dr. Stephanie Akoumany. She has also participated in community health initiatives and fieldwork in Cap-Haitien, Haiti. She plans to continue a career in health program development and management."