Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Mindfulness and flow: are they the same?

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Ayrton Sena, the famous Formula 1 racer who tragically died in an accident, used to say that at one point during the competition he entered a deep and magnetic tunnel that invited him to sink satisfactorily and made him feel free and powerful. In that state, which we can call “flow”, the temporal coordinate disappeared and only the full experience remained.

Also called “being in the zone,” Flow seems to be that ideal state in which an athlete, or even a person at work, or an artist in their creative place, inspiredly displays a series of highly effective behaviors that seem to be very close to each other. Associated with a passionate and very intuitive state of mind (body memory?).

Does this have to do with mindfulness? It seems that a little, not so much. Some say that there is some association, others like Sheldon and team that they are totally incompatible. Let’s see.Mindfulness and flow can be trained.  Photo Shutterstock.Mindfulness and flow can be trained. 

Two fashion concepts

Undoubtedly what they clearly agree on is that both are in fashion. Mindfulness, with a little more antiquity and clearly more scientific support.

The Flow arises in the context of positive psychology and its creator was Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1990), who described it for the first time as “a pleasant experience in itself that occurs in activities that people carry out despite the costs or the exhaustion that they might suppose and get fully involved in them, to the point of losing track of time”.

This author marked some conditions that facilitate it:

1. Have clear and realistic goals.

2. An immediate feedback on the execution of the task.

3. Balance between personal skills and the challenges or difficulties presented by the task.

Mindfulness, with deep roots in Buddhist psychology, reaches the West mainly through Jon Kabat-Zinn as an experience of greater presence in the moment we find ourselves.

Its components are:

1. Intention or purpose of opening ourselves to the experience of presence

2. Attention to the present moment

3. Non-judgmental

Both can be trained . The flow seems to be more than spontaneous and sometimes even fortuitous. Mindfulness can become a trait and is clearly related to training time and the purpose of activating it daily in our lives.Mindfulness and flow can be complementary experiences.  Photo Shutterstock.Mindfulness and flow can be complementary experiences. 

Similarities and differences

They have some similar things and many different ones. In both experiences attention plays an important role , but while in flow it is a deep and passionate absorption in mindfulness it is rather totalizing, open and calm.

A second aspect is the feeling of connection with the present , but while in flow this connection is related to dopaminergic levels in the brain (reward) that seeks to achieve certain objectives through action, in mindfulness it seems to correlate more with serotonin and endorphin. and with a relaxation response that varies according to the activity that is carried out, but where the mode of being or contemplative is more activated.

The flow is explosive and transitory , with a moment of cognitive and behavioral effervescence that leads to efficiency in the task at hand, and also produces a satisfaction closely associated with passion, while mindfulness is more lasting and can (as we said) become a trait, that is, a lasting condition of human experience (mindful brain).

Sheldon and colleagues say that flow involves a loss of self-awareness while in the activity, while mindfulness maintains that self-awareness. They carry out 3 studies where they examine this relationship and only find negative associations between the two, that is, incompatibility.

Complements, not enemies

However, we can also think of them as complementary experiences.

In some processes, such as creativity, we can assume that the strong, intense innovative impulse that shakes the foundations of mind and body (like that restlessness that makes us search for an answer) arises at one point and perhaps later in time. , a more contemplative and calm moment where all the learning from the first stage is channeled.

Perhaps the athlete can experience it like this too: moments of calm contemplation and mindfulness, and disruptive moments full of passion and creative action.

For some authors, being more “mindful” would better predispose to moments of flow . But for now we have no clarity on that or research to support it.

Conclusion? Both are exquisite experiences of the human being that we can cultivate and that we need to live with more happiness . One (the flow) has the flavor of hot sauce that ignites our passion, and the other (mindfulness) the balm of contemplative peace that balances us in the face of vital challenges.

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