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How to Go From Shame to Flow

The state of flow should not be a crutch to escape shame and your shadow, but it is an ideal state to feel happier, freer, and achieve your goals without being held back.
07/15/2015 09:07pm ET | Updated July 15, 2016
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Shame is something we all hide but we all have. Having an awareness of our shame and shining a light on it can give it less power, but our "shadow" is always lurking somewhere beneath the surface. The most important thing is to keep our shadow in front of us where it can have less effect on our daily lives.

There is only one place the shadow cannot follow: the state of flow.

Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi coined the term "flow" in his 1990 book pulling from decades of research. This feeling is unique and, according to him, being in flow is the key to human happiness.

We have all felt moments where we are so focused and motivated on achieving something that everything else ceases to exist. The past and future no longer trouble you, the brain stops thinking consciously about every move, and suddenly you are doing something with better performance than ever before. Best of all, you do so with more freedom and peace of mind. This is the state of flow where the shadow cannot follow.

Danny Way is one of the most famous skateboarders alive. In his death-defying stunts he entered a flow state numerous times. By his own account, it was the feeling he sought when skateboarding. Underneath the surface:

"The ghosts that hunt for Danny Way are unremitting ... the ghosts of his injured brother, his alcoholic mother, his dead father, his dead stepfather, his first coach, the man who saved him from himself, T-boned at a stoplight and dead also, his best friend in jail for murder, his broken neck, his broken back, his umpteen surgeries, his anger, his pride -- a relentless roar only truly silenced by the salvation of the edge."

Facing the shadow, Danny Way only has one way out -- the flow state that skateboarding brings him. Everyone has flow state activities. Csikszetmihalyi theorized about the conditions conducive to slipping into a flow state.

The primary three requirements include:

1. Engaging in an activity with a clear set of goals and progressions. Scoring and winning a soccer game is a prime example.

2. The task must allow for clear and immediate feedback. To continue the soccer analogy, scoring a goal or getting scored on provides immediate feedback about reaching the final destination of winning the soccer game.

3. There must be a balance between the perceived challenges of the task and perceived skills. Essentially, one must have confidence that the task can be completed.

With these three things in place, reaching a flow state is inevitable, but not guaranteed or necessarily controllable. The Rise of Superman discusses how near death or high risk activities lead to flow states more readily out of necessity.

You don't have to face death or serious injury every day like Danny Way on his skateboard. There are plenty of flow state activities that you can find for yourself and engage with routinely.

It is important not to think of "flow" as a safe base to run to in order to forget about your shame. While living in constant flow is ideal, it isn't yet realistic for most people. Over 70 percent of American workers are "not engaged" or "actively disengaged" from their job, which means the vast majority of people spend 1/3 of their life doing things that do not bring them into flow states.

The state of flow should not be a crutch to escape shame and your shadow, but it is an ideal state to feel happier, freer, and achieve your goals without being held back.