The Thought of Flow

It's true. I admit it...I've been living a lie for several years, or at least a half-truth. In spite of all the good I've experienced and the achievements I've attained, I have also lived daily with the bugaboo of negative, limited thinking. I was the one to allow its presence to creep into my mind with its insidious voice of doom. With my assistance, it found a cozy corner and settled in to do its worst work...chewing away at my confidence and self-esteem. Recently, I became aware of the critter and gave it notice to vacate the premises of my mind, body and spirit, then I reclaimed access to the core of strength that identifies my authentic self.

How do these things happen? Quite simply, my mind strayed onto a neural pathway where doubt and fear reside. I had taken a part-time job to quell money worries, expecting it to be a very temporary position. And yet the work environment held inherent dangers that I should have noticed from the start. These included negativity, dysfunctional and limited thinking, ineffective communication, and stifling of creativity. Little by little I moved away from my authentic self. And without this vital connection to my core of integrity, it became more difficult to make anything else in my life "work".

What brought me back to my senses was the wisdom of several friends, who echoed words I'd directed to them several years ago: "Attend to your creative life," one advised . "Keep your mind focused on possibility," another directed. And both of them reminded me: "I know you know these things, because you were the one that taught them to me." And yet I had forgotten, or let myself get distracted from them. By attending to my creative life, I felt my strength return. Soon my mind began to reach again...in the direction of hope, challenge, risk. I quit the job that was depleting me. I surrounded myself with inspiring books, to keep my mind focused on possibility: Giant Steps by Anthony Robbins; Real Magic by Wayne Dyer; and Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Each of these books directed me towards purposeful and effective thought habits. The first two were like primers for the real work of positive thinking...staying in the thought of FLOW.

I know what it's like to be in flow. It happens when I swim, and hit a rhythm of stroking with such fluid motion that I seem to become one with the water. I feel it when I sing, and my voice is like a golden ribbon, melting my awareness of existence until I become that ribbon of gold. It occurs when I'm writing and become so absorbed that time ceases to exist. I also experience flow when I'm in nature. In flow, there is no space for negative, unlimited thought...or for worry, doubt or fear. In the thought of flow, what I hope for is not only possible, it is PROBABLE. What I believe in flow is real, as long as I believe it. And so it seems essential to strive for conditions that will increase the likelihood of staying in the thought of flow. For me, the answers are obvious: swim, sing, hike, create. If I do these things, I will be in flow.

But what about the many hours that we are involved in activities that distract us from flow, or that contradict flow? We can't escape feeling anxious about uncertain situations, or disappointed when we are letdown by life. When we argue with our spouses or yell at the kids, we can't help feeling a little mean and angry. After all, we're human, and expressing a wide range of emotions is quite a human trait. The trick is not to let those moments define us, nor to let them extend beyond the small amount of time when they might serve a useful purpose.

Lately I've been using some of Anthony Robbin's suggestions for interrupting unproductive thought patterns, and find them to be very effective. (For details, see Giant Steps...it's an easy read.) One of the basic rules for cognitive change is that in order to create a new pattern of thinking, we must learn to interrupt our old patterns. Some refer to this method as stop-thinking. When you find yourself getting caught in the spiral of worry, doubt or fear, catch yourself at it and focus your thought on something positive, inspiring or funny. Your mood will change, and your mind will no longer be frozen in place. After a while, you begin to notice how more energetic you feel when you are thinking hopeful, creative or playful thoughts. The better you get at this, the more you free your mind to experience flow.

In just a few weeks, I've noticed a major difference, not only in my thinking, but in my experience of life. My thoughts are more focused on creative, productive efforts, and these efforts have resulted in surprising connections and successes that eluded me before. I'm thankful to be back on track, and moving forward again. The Buddha reminds us: "All that we are is a result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think, we become." Focus your thoughts on those things that truly deserve your attention, and you will become more adept at finding the thought of flow.

1998 Marybeth Bethel