When we spend our time doing hard things we get into a flow state.
A flow state takes occurs when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.
When our bodies and minds are stretched to there limits to achieve something difficult we stop focusing on the past or future.
The difficult task at hand (whatever it may be) forces us to be so present in the moment that it creates for us as Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi the author of flow says an “optimal experience”.
Doing Hard Things Makes Us Happier Individuals
When we push our boundaries, we get a deeply satisfying feeling.
And I honestly believe that if we’re not improving in our lives we’re almost certainly getting worse.
I’ll give you some examples:
Going to the gym and working out is a hard and uncomfortable thing to do compared to sitting on the sofa watching tv with a bag of crisps.
But even though you may not feel like going to the gym and end up going anyway, 9 times out of 10 you’ll always feel glad you went. In other words, you’ll never regret going to the gym to push your boundaries and improve yourself physically.
On the other hand, if you planned to go to the gym but didn’t go and instead watched tv on the sofa while eating a bag of crisps, you’ll feel a sense of dissatisfaction and guilt because you didn’t achieve anything meaningful.
I get this same feeling with writing, sometimes I dread writing but I’m always glad that I’ve written something.
The truth is spending our time on meaningful activities or projects fills us with a sense of achievement and happiness, whereas sedating ourselves with tv, food, drugs or porn fills us spiritually with guilt and leaves us feeling empty.
John Lennon Knew this back in 1970 when he released working class hero, here’s what he said.
” Keep you doped with religion and sex and TV, And you think you’re so clever and classless and free, But you’re still fucking peasants as far as I can see”.
Regarding religion, I’m indifferent to what John says there because I believe that religion should have the primary goal to make man better and improve society as a whole and any religion that does that is a net good in the world.
But I do agree with the rest of what he says, there are a number of distractions and sources of instant gratification in this world that make doing hard things and getting into the flow state difficult.
If we focus on pleasure over meaningful action. Then we become a slave to our instincts.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi puts what I’m trying to say well in his book flow:
” The person who cannot resist food or alcohol, or whose mind is constantly focused on sex, is not free to direct his or her psychic energy. “
If we become a slave to consumer culture how can we seriously control our psychic energy on meaningful tasks and get into the flow state which inherently is what leads to happiness?
The answer is if we become a slave to consumer culture putting our energy into meaningful tasks becomes harder and harder to do.
Being In The Flow State Embodies Virtues
When we put our energy into doing hard and difficult tasks, these tasks embody virtues. For example, putting your time and effort into building a healthier and stronger physique embodies virtues like self-control and courage.
Reading a difficult book requires self-control, and resolution. Climbing a mountain requires courage, self-control, and resolution.
In other words, doing hard and difficult things make us more respectable individuals. The people that we look up to in this world are generally people who have done amazingly hard and difficult things.
And pushing our boundaries physically and mentally makes us stronger individuals. As Friedrich Nietzsche says “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”
A List Of Difficult Tasks That Help You Get Into The Flow State And Achieve Happiness
Below is a list of activities that should help you get in the flow state. And as Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi says a flow state is an optimal experience of ultimate happiness.
- Sports and extreme sports.
Any activity can help you get in the flow state if you become completely immersed in what you’re doing. But the easiest way to get into a flow state is to satisfy the below criteria.
For a flow state to occur you need to:
1. Push yourself either physically or mentally so you’re completely immersed in what you’re doing.
2. Have a clear goal in mind.
If I take each of the aforementioned activities you’ll see how they satisfy the flow criteria, but ultimately any activity can satisfy the criteria of being in a flow state.
Hiking And Walking
When you go on a hike there’s always a clear end goal. Climbing the summit of the mountain or reaching your desired destination. Each step of the way you’re covering new terrain and testing your limits totally absorbed by the scenery.
Those who have hiked mountains will know this unique feeling of being in a flow state.
Heres an excerpt from the book flow of a mountaineer describing being in the flow state:
“When you’re [climbing] you’re not aware of other problematic life situations. It becomes a world unto its own, significant only to itself. It’s a concentration thing. Once you’re into the situation, it’s incredibly real, and you’re very much in charge of it. It becomes your total world.”
Just like an Olympic athlete breaks their own records and is wholly absorbed by the goal at hand in their given sport, we can break our own records in whatever given sport we pursue.
Weightlifting provides one of the most tangible mediums to express our physical potential.
When you deadlift ( or perform any other exercise) and achieve a new personal record you’re always pushing your limits and not focusing on the past or future just the goal at hand.
This is what causes the flow state. And enjoyment occurs because when we push our limits we have to be fully immersed in the experience. And when we’re so fully in the moment negative emotions cease to exist.
Reading And Writing
Reading is a good way to push ourselves mentally rather than physically. Understanding new words, ideas, and concepts help us enter the state of flow because at the moment we are immersed in the book past and future cease to matter and we’re totally absorbed by the task at hand.
Writing is similar to reading because a decent chunk of time that you spend writing you spend reading.
Its also harder than reading, it takes more effort, but that’s part of why I love writing.
Writing immerses me more in the task at hand.
Sports And Extreme Sports
Competing against others in all sorts of sports forces us to be at our very best, and to be at our best we need to be fully immersed in the task at hand.
Why do you think climbing rock faces, bungee jumping and sky diving are activities that some people enjoy doing?
It’s because these activities force individuals to be present and fully immersed in the task at hand and enter the state of flow.
The better you get at meditation the more control you have over consciousness. And being in full control of consciousness can immerse us deeply in the present moment. Thereby allowing us not to focus on the past or future but help us become deeply rooted in the present moment.
This full control over consciousness and becoming fully present can help us dissolve our egos and help us get into the flow state.
The goal of meditation is to create a duality of body and mind and have full control over consciousness. The more we do this the better we get in our spiritual endeavours.
In any sort of work, we can always push our boundaries to improve. Just like the athlete focuses on improving his time at the 100m sprint, the production line worker can improve his speed and efficiency at the job at hand or position in the hierarchy.
For the writer, there will always be something to write about and the skill of writing can always be honed.
The delivery driver can focus on being as quick as he can (within reason) by finding the quickest routes and taking in whatever scenery may abound.
When we voluntarily push our limits and focus fully on our work we can enter the flow state quite easily.
As long as we’re open to it, we can enter the flow state in all situations in our daily lives. But difficult tasks are usually the best at helping us enter this state. They also genearly provide the largest rewards and benefits.
The Bottom Line On Why You Should Spend Time Doing Hard Things
- Engaging in difficult activities that push our limits help us experience true happiness by allowing us to enter a state of flow.
- Spending time on shallow activities like watching tv and browsing social media is okay in moderation but try to fill most of your day engaging in activities that help you get into a flow state (most activities can help you enter this flow state).
This article was inspired by the book Flow which I’m currently reading. I’ll probably do a book review on it in the near future.
Does spending your time on difficult but meaningful activities enhance your feelings of happiness? Let me know in the comments below.