How to Live in Flow

For its Own Sake- Issue #60


By Solomon • Issue #60View online


“Ask yourself whether you are happy,” said J.S. Mill, “and you cease to be so.” “It is by being fully involved with every detail of our lives whether good or bad,” writes Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his book Flow, “that we find happiness, not by trying to look for it directly.” In fact, looking as Dr. Joe Dispenza teaches, means we’re feeling separate from it - happiness, joy, creation - instead of connected to it.

A few weeks ago on a Shabbat morning (Saturday), I learned about 3 levels of ways to do mitzvah (commandment) from the discourse Vekibeil hayehudim 5711 - habit, pleasure, and for its own sake (lishmah). One’s prayers, for example, can be done by habit, which doesn’t really have any life or soul to it and it’s become rote and mechanic. One level above habit is pleasure in which one derives pleasure from prayer and the benefits it brings. However, both approaches are limited compared to the person who prays for it’s own sake. Lishmah means for its own sake, for the sake of the mitzvah. When a mitzvah is fulfilled “for their own sake, not for our benefit, but because they are His will, our observance is not rooted in our sense of self, but in our surrender of self.” The mitzvah is a connection. It shares a root with the word tzavsa, which means “bond.” The mitzvahs are expressions, “limbs,” of the Creator; through performing them we bond with Him. We are always connected and bonded with G-d, so, on a deeper understanding, it means we can be more in tune with and conscious of that bond. In effect then, performing something lishmah is for the sake of Heaven.

Learning about doing things lishmah reminded me of the state of flow with which ignited my journey into coaching i.e how we can live life in this state. Since that Saturday, I have been reviewing sections from the book Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, which is about the state of flow an optimal experience. According to the author, “the key element of optimal experience is that [the activity] is an end in itself.” The activity - not the experience - is the an end itself, which I wrote about in What’s A healthy mindset toward having experiences? Testimonials of people who experience the state of flow, whether a doctor, sailor, author, athlete, or even people in conversation (like a podcast), describe the experience as enrapturing and very present; or as Mihaly shares about a surgeon, “it is so enjoyable I would do it even if I didn’t have to.” Earlier in the book the author describes flow as “a state of mind when consciousness is harmoniously ordered, and [people] want to pursue whatever they are doing for its own sake.”

In the Greek language, an activity done not with the expectation of some future benefit, but simply because doing itself is the reward, is autotelic. Autotelic from the words auto meaning self and telos meaning goal. This approach differs from exotelic experiences which means doing things for the end. In the writing of the author, “when the experience is autotelic, the person is paying attention to the activity for its own sake; when it is not, the attention is focused on its consequences.” I think this is the main difference between the best athletes and the average ones, the best teachers and the average ones, the best doctors and the average ones. Although most of us do things in a combination of two, focusing on the activity lishmah is what facilitates true presence with the activity. In the case of a teacher, she continues to work on how to best deliver information to each child rather than just giving over a lesson in order to _ (fill in the blank).

Similarly, at yeshiva I learned about two Hebrew words that correspond to autotelic and exotelic, which are atzme, for the purpose itself, and emtzoye, as a means to an end. (Hopefully, I spelled these correctly). Some things such as zerizus, alacrity, can be both as a means to an end and an end in itself!

What are some practical takeaways? How can we get to a state of doing things for their own sake?

The following are a few steps to start:

  1. Consider the activities you do during the day and why you do them. For example, why are you exercising and eating healthy? Rather than focus on the outcome, focus on the process. Checkout my blogs on Health

  2. Reflect and ask, “where can I improve?” This puts the focus on the activity rather than focusing on what I can get out of something? Also, be sure to ask in a curious way rather than with judgement or resignation. Work from a mindset that you know it is possible. Then, self-correct until you make it possible. Checkout the blog: Puzzle of the World

  3. Adopt a joy for what you’re doing. This will lead to continuous education in the subject matter. The more we can learn the meaning to something, the greater we understand it and the greater it has an effect on us.

  4. Recognize that we are at our best when we’re present. When we’re present we’re most ready; we are at our most ready when we forget about ourselves. Checkout this blog: Self-Care or Soul-Care

  5. In response to a sudden and unpleasant event, work on not reacting to it. Rather, learn to respond calmly and effectively. In this way, you are most present and fluid with life. Checkout this: Feeling Rushed? Try this, How to Achieve Inner Drunk, What I believe now

The following are some ways to help facilitate “a state of mind when consciousness is harmoniously ordered:”

  1. Nutrition and Fasting

  2. Meditation and Prayer

  3. Mindset -

  4. Exercise

  5. Cold Pool , Fire & Ice , H.B.O.T

  6. Doing more of what you’re passionate about

When the body and mind are healthy, and we’re doing what brings us joy and in a joyous way, we’re living in the flow. Enjoyment does not depend on what you do, but how you do it.

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