Concentrating on boiling a ham on the hob yesterday, I was reminded of a key aspect of ‘flow’ – immersion. ‘Flow’ is ceasing to be self-conscious or unduly conscious of others and becoming thoroughly immersed in the task or activity.
When you look at it this way, a number of things we usually consider important in enjoyable achievement turn out not to be – notably the immediate judgement and appreciation of others. Also, a variety of things we consider dull can suddenly become a joy.
Take hoovering the house. Usually a chore, and one I resent. I enter into it – if at all – with little a priori enthusiasm. I have, however, discovered it passes more easily with an iPod, headphones and music.
Surprising then to discover last weekend during a particularly energetic and virtuoso vacuum – as I removed the ‘T head’ to more precisely target the skirting boards in the kitchen – I was in full ‘flow’. It was an absorbing task, in which my goal was evident, feedback clear (disappearing crumbs and detritus) and my mental energy was fully absorbed (in music and coordinated physical effort). Stone me, it’s that simple I realised.
I was talking to another parent yesterday about how this applies to kids, sports and music. The art is perhaps in helping a child to become completely immersed in the ‘process’ of playing football or the piano to the point they cease to be self-conscious or unduly conscious of you and your anxiety/impatience/projection of your own hopes and fears (delete as applicable).
A lot of what we do with children and activities is the opposite. We make them concentrate on us, keep pushing them on – before they’ve had time to master or enjoy developing skills – and most of all we distract them with incentives and threats. The art of ‘flow’ is to let them lose themselves in what they are doing and forget we’re there – not focus them on extrinsic rewards or punishments.
More immersion perhaps means less coercion. And letting go a bit and getting lost in what they’re doing makes parenting ‘flow’ more easily too.