Psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi proposed the concept decades ago—a state of mind achieved when you’re fully immersed in a project or task—but the basic tenants of flow date back to the teachings of Taoism and Buddhism. As the Buddha tells us, “Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.”
This is one—albeit daunting—step to achieving flow, and there are others: Choose work you love, stay positively challenged, find quiet time, and enjoy yourself. But how to get there?
Researchers at the University of Nottingham and the National Institute of Education in Singapore reviewed 83 studies on self-control and came to the same simple conclusion: Our willpower is strongest in the morning (http://www.psy.lu.se/upload/psykologi/pdf/strength_model4.pdf).
Flow is obtainable by any one of us, any day, but it is the very first hours of the day that serve us best. To tap into unchartered levels of focus, joy, and creativity, try waking up to one or more of these new morning routines.
1. Rise with the birds
According to New Scientist, only 10 percent of the population qualifies as “morning people,” so this may not make sense to all: Try rising with the birds. Birds are up long before daybreak. They began chirping just as the sun is rising in the far, far distance: When the sky is no longer pitch black but still a solid navy.
It’s always best to follow your own circadian rhythm and not the blaring of an alarm, but the earlier you can get to sleep and the earlier you can encourage yourself to rise, the better. Pad your morning with time for a quiet meal, meditation, or gentle exercise.
2. Pour a large glass of lemon water
While you sleep, you slowly dehydrate. And your kidneys, which normally do a great job of cleansing your body of toxins, can’t function properly unless your intake of fluids is adequate. One of best and most important things to do when you rise is get fluids into your body as soon as possible. This not only helps to hydrate your system, it also helps to flush out toxins that have built up overnight, and kick-start your metabolism for the day.
Start with an 8 or 16-ounce glass of room temperature filtered water with lemon. Add ginger, if preferable. This will get your system up and running before food is added to the mix.
Whether you face a computer all day or not, doing gentle stretches in the morning will stave off aches throughout the day. Stretching at night, before bed, is similarly helpful. This is also a great time to do yoga or another exercise routine.
There’s no set amount of time to follow; just be sure to make some time. And ensure the stretching you do is aligned with the needs and ability of your body. Don’t take on exercise, or positions, you can’t currently handle.
4. Make time for mindfulness
Zazen is a Zen Buddhist practice performed to calm the body, mind, and spirit in order to gain insight into the nature and experience of one’s life. It sounds complicated, but all it requires is stillness: Sit, slightly elevated, with folded legs and hands (cupped with thumbs touching) and erect spine. Lower your eyes and breathe from your belly. Then count to 10: One for your first in breath; one for your first out breath; two for your first in breath; and so on. Should extraneous thoughts come to mind, pass no judgment. Don’t attach yourself to them. Continue breathing.
This is one form of zazen, and a simplified version. Some will rise with the moon in the morning in order to have time to meditate, but following their lead isn’t necessary. What’s important is simply setting aside time for clear mindedness: whether it’s meditation or sitting down at the kitchen table, even a few minutes to breathe, clear your mind, and feel gratitude for your life will serve you well.
5. Choose your fuel wisely
Each person must choose how to properly nourish his or her body in the morning, and no one way is necessarily right or wrong. What matters is that you don’t go without.
Properly nourishing your body is one of the greatest signs of self-respect you can show. Since your digestion is weakest in the morning, consider a lighter, healthier, yet still protein-packed meal—or a smoothie. Forgo cheap, on-the-go options for food that will truly fuel you throughout the day.
6. Uplift with iTunes
Many of us are newshounds and want to flip open the paper first thing in the morning or turn on NPR as soon as we slide into the car. We want to know what’s happening in the world.
If this sounds familiar, try forgoing news in the morning—as a test. Instead, consider throwing on music that is soothing, uplifting, or inspiring, or even an audiobook along the same lines. Cultivate peace in the morning. Save hard news for later in the day. What’s noteworthy and important will undoubtedly make its way to you by mid-morning, whether you heard it on the news yourself or not.
Finding flow is about more than having an inspiring project to get lost in all day; it’s a way of living and viewing ourselves and others that promotes kindness, courage, and understanding. As the Buddha says, “She who knows life flows, feels no wear or tear, needs no mending or repair.”
Author Bio: Andrea Fisher is a writer living in Greensboro, North Carolina. She has appeared in The Chicago Tribune and Business Insider, among others. Follow her on Twitter @andreafisher007.
“Ego Depletion and the Strength Model of Self-Control: A Meta-Analysis”: http://www.psy.lu.se/upload/psykologi/pdf/strength_model4.pdf
New Scientist, “First physical evidence of why you’re an owl or a lark”: http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn24292-first-physical-evidence-of-why-youre-an-owl-or-a-lark.html#.VBGoq0viIdv