Enhancing Your Later Years With ‘Flow’

What is it? Do I have it? Can I get more of it? These are all questions I asked myself when I first learned about flow.

That feeling of being in the zone, focused, unaware of outside noises or activities, totally immersed in what you’re doing – that’s flow. When people are experiencing flow, there’s an increase of dopamine in the brain, which is a chemical that involves pleasure and motivation.

The flow is much more than just watching a fun program on TV or at the movies; it’s more active than that. Flow involves a complete loss of self-consciousness, and it appears frequently during artistic or sports activities.

What does flow have to do with older people?

Flow has a great deal to do with aging, it turns out. Idleness is associated with aging, and our mind tends to lean toward the negative when it’s idle. This is known as the negativity bias. I refer to it as spiraling downward when I’ve not had enough outside stimulation, which, for me, is after three days of no contact with others.

In any case, we pay more attention to negative experiences and information and give them greater weight in our decision-making than we do positive information. This is reason enough to consciously seek out activities and interests that keep us in the flow.

Flow is a complete immersion in an activity that you feel is enjoyable in some way, and this activity must challenge you just enough to push you. Your skills must be tested. Flow activities excite us, provide underlying rewards, and help us develop our skills. For me, it’s writing. I get that feeling of exhilaration and bliss – not every moment, but most of the time, when I’m in the flow.

What activities qualify for flow?

Almost every activity that leads to enjoyment with the satisfaction of accomplishment qualifies as flow. That could be solving a math problem, conveying a complex concept to another and having them get what you’re explaining, writing, most problem solving on the job if the goals are clearly stated, and crafts that require concentration to complete them. Surprisingly, even spending comfortable time in solitude with your thoughts can lead to exciting discoveries about the topics we find most enjoyable.

It’s more than just feeling good

The next time you think of it, see if what you’re doing is in the flow. Remember, it’s more than just the pleasure of napping, zoning out in front of the TV, or socializing. The key distinction of getting into the flow is that you’ve voluntarily accepted the challenge you’re attempting to solve. That’s part of what makes it deeply enjoyable.

What were you doing when you last experienced the flow?