Boredom and apathy have a few characteristics in common. When bored, we usually experience just enough energy to do something, but we don't know what to do with that energy. In apathy, our energy levels are usually low – we might feel tired, demotivated or discouraged. Most importantly, in both states, we experience a lack of goals and lack of challenges.
Contrary to boredom and apathy, the experience of flow is marked by high levels of challenge and energy (skill). We know what to do and how to do it – the level of challenge matches the level of our skills, will and energy. So, wouldn't finding this balance provide us with a way out of boredom or apathy? Sure, but that's not the only element of the flow states.
When I first discovered flow states, I thought that these are just random states beyond my control. A sort of gift from the universe. I didn't know much about psychology back then and even less about my own self. However, I knew that there is something I need to do to induce these states – although it wasn't very clear what it was. At that time, my theory was that my mental state needs to match what is happening around me. Quite vague – but it seems I was close enough as it enabled me to induce flow states at will. Like a drug addict, I was looking for every opportunity to be in a state of flow – when reading, cleaning, walking, talking. Not a very sustainable method and it eventually lead me to burnouts on numerous occasions – what did I do wrong? I forced it. So eventually, instead of flowing, I was dragging myself forcefully and kept ending up where I started – feeling bored or apathetic.
Flow experiences possess a distinct quality of awareness and attention – when we are flowing, we are focused on the present moment and we merge with the activity we are engaged in while losing our sense of self. In a way, our attention narrows down to the priority at hand – there is no observer describing how we are feeling or what we are doing, and there is no concern with anything irrelevant to our goal. There is no inner motivator telling us what to do next and why – and there is no need for such pep talk, simply because we are flowing and we intuitively know what to do.
What I did wrong back then was neglecting all states that were not flow. Since flow narrows our attention to the task at hand, it might be easy to forget about our needs, responsibilities – and essentially, about a basic emotional self-care.
Boredom and apathy are important states as they tell us something about our needs. What these needs are depends on our current situation. A few examples include a need for relaxation, meaning, purpose, goal, rest. So, the first thing we need to do when feeling bored or apathetic is to go back to the present moment and start paying attention to what we need in that moment. We might say 'I don't know and I don't care' – which is totally true since you are bored and apathetic, but does this statement tells you anything about your needs?
When you are focused on the present moment, you will probably observe that you neither know what to do, nor that you care. And it's great – that's the first step to grounding yourself in the present moment and preparing yourself for the flow experience. Observe your feelings and thoughts – what else are you aware of? What do your feelings and thoughts tell you? If you continue thinking only about not knowing and/or not caring, and there is seriously nothing else going on – perhaps there is no delicate way out and you need to rebel against the state that you are in. How about you use exactly the same statement 'I don't care' against the thought and feeling 'I don't care'? What will happen if you stop caring about not caring?
The next step, once you ground yourself in the present moment, is to allow yourself to move into the direction that you feel is right. Yes, I realise that it's rather vague but hear me out. It might seem impulsive, intuitive, instinctual – whatever that feeling is in that moment, but there is always something that will compel you to do something. Avoid giving it too much thought. There is no need for analysis and evaluation either. Whatever that impulse is, just follow it mindlessly whilst remaining present, aware and observant of what is happening.
The last step, after you feel that you are moving towards something, is to let go. Immerse yourself in this experience by paying attention only to what you are doing without intervening. At this point, it would be very useful if you avoided all possible distractions. If you remember that you need to do something, try to ignore it – unless it's aligned with the present moment and your whole self.
On a very basic level, flow states are based on the energy movement – quite contrary to the energy being stagnant whilst feeling bored or apathetic. If none of the techniques described above helps you with overcoming boredom or apathy, try changing something in your experience first. Stand up, move around, go for a walk or listen to some energetic music. The key here is to start moving the energy. Once you notice the change in how you are feeling, follow the steps outlined above – ground yourself in the present moment, listen to your needs, drives or intuition; let go of the need to control the experience and lastly, immerse yourself in your goal and/or task at hand.
If you find staying in the present moment challenging, or if you'd like to improve your ability of staying mindful – check out my workshop on expanding awareness and overcoming dissociation where you will learn how to increase your ability to stay grounded in the present moment which will support you in inducing flow states.
To learn more about how to induce flow states and how to overcome blocks to being in the flow, schedule your free coaching consultation.
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