When you’re reading a good book, playing a familiar song on your instrument, doing a word search or a jigsaw puzzle, or any number of absorbing activities, you might be experiencing flow.
A while back, my occupational therapist explained the concept like this:
If the difficulty of whatever you’re doing is too high and you haven’t spent very long doing it (aka: have a low level of skill), you’re likely to be above the “flow” line and feeling stressed.
If the difficulty is low and you just started, you’re probably pretty close to flow from the start. The longer you do it, though, the more skilled you get and the more bored you become.
This is probably pretty intuitive to most people. To stay close to flow, you need to adjust the difficulty level to match your skill. Otherwise, you get either overwhelmed or bored. Everyone has unique sensory needs, so your nervous system might react differently to inputs that create a perfect state of flow for another person. For instance, my ability to follow a cardio dance video is atrocious, but someone with awesome praxis skills might think it’s exactly right for them.
Currently, my favorite leisure activity is embroidery.
I started out with those pre-packaged kits that have the image inked onto the fabric, like a paint-by-numbers but for stitches. That was great because I didn’t know what I was doing, but as I learned and got more comfortable with it, those kits became a little boring. Now, I make it up as I go, so it takes some focus and creativity but it’s also repetitive and relaxing.
If, like me, you have trouble with sensory discrimination and often don’t know what you’re feeling or what qualities of something you do or don’t like, finding an activity at the right difficulty to produce flow might be tricky. Trial and error is always a good way to approach this. Give the “trial” enough time that you’re able to decide whether you like it or not, and why. When you do find something that gets you to a state of flow, don’t forget to up the difficulty on occasion. The challenge is what makes it interesting!