Emotional Health

Finding Your Zone: The Experience of Flow

Another factor is making your activity a priority, and making time for it. If being in the zone is “real living,” as Csikszentmihalyi asserts, then it must be an important place to be. Carving out time for “extra” activities is a constant challenge, but if you reframe them as vital, rather than extracurricular, it is easier.

Finally, you need to find a way to make your flow activity accessible and relatively easy to pursue. Recently, I took up painting again after a long hiatus. This stopping and starting has happened many times before. I would take a class, or a series of them, but when the classes were over, I rarely worked on my art independently. Setting up all the equipment for painting and then putting it all away every time was an impediment.  This meant every time I wanted to work I needed a major block of hours.

This time, like before, I took a class, a single one, following up the next day at an “open studio” class in order to finish my painting, a still life.

The open studio was attended by only one other student, and no teacher was present. I had a realization: I could continue painting on my own if I had an accessible place to do it. This had not been easy before, living in a cramped city apartment, but now I was living in a country house.

I envied a friend who recently built a new house with a dedicated studio, and while that was not in the cards for me, I found a solution. My house has an old sun porch, underused because it is too cold in winter and too hot in summer, and I now saw it would make an ideal studio with some adjustments to climate control.

These adjustments turned out to be merely finding a good space heater (and for summer, an air conditioner, already in place.) I was able to now keep all my materials, previously stored in closets and the attic, in one place, and I could leave my easel and paints readily at hand so whenever I wanted to work on a painting they were there waiting.

Since that time, I have been painting almost daily. As a result, I have already seen some improvements in my work. I am now able to take more time with each painting, going back to it the next day instead of having to wait a week or more before going back to it, as I did when only painting in class.

I have also been waking up earlier, energized by the need to find some extra hours in the day to keep painting. It reminds me of the time when I was a sleep-deprived teenager, but one who would spring out of bed early if it meant I could spend the day skiing. I did not get to go often enough to become really good at it, but it was so challenging and fun that I wanted to be on the slopes first thing every morning of my trip.

Finding something to do that puts you in the zone is a blessing. If you know what it is, do it, or do it more. If not, spend some time trying new things that might fit the bill. Your health and happiness might improve, and for more of the time, you will be “really living.”



Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. Flow. The Psychology of Optimal Experience. (1990).


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