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Harness the Positive Power of Flow State

Harness the Positive Power of Flow State

Athletes call it “getting in the zone” but sport and exercise are just two ways to get the benefits of a flow state. Positive psychologists sometimes call it a state of positive engagement. What exactly is a flow state and why would you want to be in it?

Flow Defined

Mihály Csíkszentmihályi is sometimes considered the father of flow. He defines it as “optimal experience” and believes what makes an experience genuinely satisfying is the state of consciousness called flow. During flow, people typically experience deep enjoyment, creativity, and a total involvement with life.

9 Characteristics of Flow

  1. The activity requires skill or is challenging
  2. There is direct and immediate feedback (you know if you are successful)
  3. There is a clear goal
  4. Action & awareness become merged
  5. You are fully absorbed in the task
  6. There is a sense of control or mastery
  7. You lose self-consciousness
  8. Time seems to speed up or slow down
  9. The task is intrinsically rewarding

Basically flow requires a high level of skill and challenge. This means that although you can lose track of time while reading a good book, you probably weren’t in a state of flow while reading.

Why Does Flow Matter?

According to Steven Kotler, Flow Genome Project founder, flow might benefit you if:

  • You are finding it increasingly hard to shut off your relentless Inner Critic
  • You spend most of your time not in the present, but “elsewhere”— daydreaming or worrying about the past or the future
  • You routinely run out of willpower and have a list of personal dreams and goals that never get any closer to reality
  • You’ve looked into some spiritual or personal growth programs but felt like an outsider or a total cynic—unwilling to “drink the kool-aid”
  • You find yourself looking back on an earlier phase in your life where you did experience Flow, and have been quietly resigning yourself to never seeing “the good old days” again
  • You self medicate or distract in ways that leave you feeling even less satisfied than before (think: social media, Netflix binges, shopping, porn, video games, substances)
  • You occasionally ask yourself “is this really all there is?” and suspect the answer might just be, yes

He says “flow is an optimal state of consciousness where we feel our best and we perform our best”.

What Research Says About Flow

Flow increases your positive emotions

Flow stops procrastination

You feel healthier in the short term

You may feel depleted emotionally and physically after long periods of flow state

Accumulation of flow increases one’s ability to flourish

Flow at work increases productivity & innovation

Flow Happens in a Cycle

It begins with a struggle. It is always about greater and greater challenge so the struggle may be to set the next goal or to get started toward the next goal.

The next step is release- you are doing your thing and let go of expectations, get present, and become completely engaged.

You then hit the flow state, where your high level of skill comes together with the big challenge. It’s a peak experience not a permanent one.

When the flow stage is over, there is a period of recovery.

Flow For Teens

I ran a dance studio for many years and at least once a year I would have a teen student call to say they couldn’t make it to class because they had just been dumped by their boyfriend. I always told them that coming to class when they felt too sad, too angry or too broken was actually the perfect choice. Dance requires a balance of skill and challenge that puts you right in a flow state. After class I would always hear from the student that for the hour they had forgotten their troubles and, even better, the chemicals released by the brain during the flow state had a lasting effect that kept them feeling a bit better even after they stopped dancing. Teens quite often have trouble getting out of the negative loop of conversations in their head. Finding a way to engage in a flow state can help.

What Are the Flow State Chemicals?

Performance enhancing chemicals are released by your brain when you are in the flow. These include:

  • dopamine
  • endorphins
  • serotonin
  • noradrenaline
  • anandamide

These amplify motivation, creativity and our ability to learn.

Can You Find Flow at Work?

Interestingly most people report preferring leisure over work yet people experience more flow at work. 54% of flow state happens on the job. Flow is often thought of as a solo experience but flow can happen in groups and in fact it is somewhat contagious. Performing a flow activity yourself is one way to experience flow but watching someone experience a state of flow also gives you, the spectator, some of the benefits.

Don’t Forget the Downside of Flow

People who have bipolar disease or narcissistic tendencies can get addicted to a flow state which can lead to risk taking and self-centeredness. You can also get into a flow state at a time where it doesn’t work. One example of this would be a teacher who gets fully engaged in teaching a concept that is above their students’ level. The teacher gets the flow experience of delivering a lesson they love however if the class all spaced out, the lesson was not effective.

Finally, the Five C’s

If you want to nurture flow in yourself, in your children or in your team at work there are five things you need.

  1. Clarity- goals and expectations need to be measurable. Who will do how much of what by when?
  2. Choice- flow activities aren’t prescribed, they are choices.
  3. Commitment- involvement in an activity of interest where there is no judgement
  4. Challenge- continually setting higher goals for yourself as you master your current challenge
  5. Centered- the activity requires you to stay focused and present

I know for me dance, yoga, public speaking, and creative work like graphic design put me in a flow state. Where do you attain a state of flow? Comment below.









Wanna Be Happier? Learn the Rule of 50-10-40

Wanna Be Happier? Learn the Rule of 50-10-40

I have been curious about happiness for 20 years. It began when I noticed that I wasn’t unhappy. I also noticed that not being unhappy didn’t mean I was happy.

My happy isn’t external. I’m not loud or flamboyant about it. I am not always at the beach jumping in silhouette. I’m not a “gusher”.

I also don’t judge people whose brand of happiness gushes. My happiness stems from being calm. I learned the word “unflappable” from my friend and mentor Barry Neil Kaufman and I like to think I’m pretty skilled at remaining unflappable even when everything around me is in chaos.

I have learned from master meditators like Deepak Chopra and the Hindu monks of Kauai. I’ve also studied under the PhDs who seem to study the phenomena of happiness far more than they embody it. I became the Chopra Center’s resident “happiness expert” and in the words of Oprah “what I know for sure” is that each of us has an individual recipe for boosting our happiness no matter what level we begin with. If you want to be happier or conversely if you want to feel less stressed, anxious or depressed you have to put some effort to it.

If happiness was an equation, it might look like this:

Genetics + Circumstances + Mindset & Ritual = Happiness

Genetics account for up to 50%

Circumstances like having enough food, shelter and not living in fear another 10%

The remaining 40% is entirely up to out thoughts and our actions.

This article will outline seven science-backed areas where you can impact your happiness through regular practice. My personal goal is to teach you how to make the most out of your 40%.

Positive Purpose

According to a study done in 2009 by Steger et al those who felt a sense of meaning experienced greater life satisfaction, more optimism, and experienced more positive emotion. Meaning and purpose in life correspond with greater overall happiness, better health, resilience and connection to those who share your purpose. I see people becoming confused and thinking that their job has to be purpose-driven. This can be true and certainly is desirable but it can also set unrealistic expectations. Your job doesn’t have to be the place your find purpose. Any altruistic activity contributes to a sense of meaning. When searching for purpose and meaning the real question is “What is important to me?”

Rituals for Purpose

Theme of the day/week/month/year Choose a single word or short phrase to describe the day/week/month/year you want to have. (suggestions like GROWTH, COMPLETION, HARVEST, JOY or MINIMALIST) As you start to get purposeful about smaller segments of time it will act as a stepping stone to your larger purpose.

Write your eulogy- What do you want people to remember you for? Keep it short and sweet.

Describe your ideal self– Include who you are, what you are doing and how it impacts others. Don’t edit yourself ot talk yourself out of anything.

Purpose Worksheet-  Email tamara@posminds.com with Purpose Worksheet in the subject line to receive a helpful worksheet.

Purpose Meditation– Meditation helps you to tap into the wisdom beneath your awareness. Deepak Chopra suggests  “Ask what your heart deeply desires and yearns to express and listen quietly for an honest response … don’t fixate on one response.” You can also try this guided meditation.


Positive Social Connection

The people you choose to spend time with can either lift you up or drag you down. Secure relationships allow you to feel that you belong somewhere rather than just fitting in. Relationships that encourage you to flourish are the ones where you feel simultaneously supported and encouraged. Positive relationships buffer anxiety and depression and keep us motivated and engaged. The can also contribute to a personal sense of meaning.

Rituals for Social Connection

These rituals are simple. Choose one or two and schedule them. What gets scheduled gets done.

  • Ask a friend to lunch.
  • Join a book club.
  • Plan a romantic dinner.
  • Write a letter to an old friend.
  • Host a meetup for your work community.
  • Adopt a grandparent.
  • Join a sport team.
  • Take a class.
  • Make a list of 5 people you’d like to know better.
  • Use the Questions for Connection to have a conversation scientifically designed to bring you closer. Click here to access the free download.

Positive Release

When you hold on you constrict your ability to experience positive emotion. Positive release is all about letting go of things that get between you and happiness. This includes things like forgiving yourself and others, getting rid of unrealistic expectations, dropping comparison and wanting to change the past. When you release these you open up a field of potential for new opportunities.

Rituals for Release

Celebrate “Let Go” Successes- Make a list of all the big things that you have let go of. Include past break ups, jobs you didn’t get, things you tried and failed at, things you wanted to do or be that you no longer want. The longer the list the better. Gather evidence to prove to yourself that you can let go.

List What’s Holding You Back- Do you know what’s keeping you from letting go? Fear of failure? Limiting belief? Make a list. Then burn it. The only thing that holds you back is your thoughts. Figure out a new way to think and change your ability to move forward.

Create a Personal Affirmation- A phrase like “that was the old me” or ” Your actions no longer affect me” can do wonders to get you away from habitual thinking patterns.

Positive Self-Knowledge

When you become curious about how you interact with those around you it opens your ability to see your strengths and your weaknesses. It allows you to understand that different doesn’t mean better or worse, different means unique. We are all unique and in order to effectively communicate with others becoming aware of ways you can be the same or different will help honour who you are while also accepting others who are not like you.

Rituals for Self-Knowledge

Personality Assessments Try any of these personality assessments. I’m hooked on knowing how I am alike and how I am different.

Facial Resting Posture- Get a friend or family member to take candid pictures of your face at rest when you aren’t aware they are photographing you. Do you look the way you feel? If not work on having your outer match your inner.

Positive Experience

If you knew that tomorrow was your last day what would you want to do today? Obviously you can’t live every day ticking items off a bucket list but you can find some joy in every day. For me a walk on the beach is something that brings me great joy and is easy to fit in my day. Think of the small experiences (a good book, a fabulous glass of wine or a walk through the art gallery) that you can weave into your weekly schedule.

Rituals for Experience

Joy Day- Pick something that feels fun and put it on your schedule. I do this every Friday. Choose something that takes a few minutes or a few hours.

Positive Mindfulness

Being present and mindful are shortcuts to happiness. Happiness doesn’t come from wealth, achievement, and external success. True happiness comes from being comfortable in your own skin without external barometers of success. When you practice mindfulness through either meditation or activity that keeps you present you strengthen your ability to savour the good without getting dragged into the “what ifs” of fear and the “what nexts” of our conditioned ego. Mindfulness is a fancy way of saying ‘be present”. The benefits of being present include increased resilience, better immunity,  pro-social awareness and more happiness coupled with less anxiety/pain/depression.

Here’s mindfulness is a nutshell:

INTENTION- Set the stage for what is possible

ATTENTION- Present moment awareness

ATTITUDE- How we pay attention; with acceptance, curiosity, kindness, compassion, self-trust

Rituals for Mindfulness

Learn to Meditate- try an APP like Insight Timer or CALM

Walk Mindfully- Take a walk where you notice the sounds, sights, smells with heightened focus

Listen Mindfully- Have a conversation where you wait for the other person to pause before speaking. Then respond succinctly. Keep an open mind. Let the conversation unfold without and agenda. Ask clarifying questions like “tell me more about that” or “how did that feel”.


Positive Gratitude

According to Robert Emmons “Gratitude can potentially satisfy some of our deepest yearnings- our ceaseless quest for inner peace, wholeness and contentment.” Gratitude includes both being aware and thankful; when good things happen, fostering a sense of awe and wonder and accepting gratitude when it is given to us without belittling our role. Gratitude forges a bond to socially connect people. It keeps us out of comparison and envy and in the moment. It allows you to be a participator rather than a spectator.

Rituals for Gratitude

3 Good Things- At the end of each day, write  down three good things from that day. No good thing is too small.

Gratitude Letter- Write a letter to someone who positively impacted your life that you may not have thanked. Make sure you include what they did, why it was so important and how it impacted you.

Receive Well- Often we are better at giving thanks that we are at receiving it. Take a week to practice receiving gracefully. Don’t belittle your role by saying things like “It was nothing.” Instead feel  the gratitude fully and acknowledge it.


To hit your peak happiness potential, you have to work at it. Neuroscience has shown how much we can change our brain. If you want to be happier you have to flex the happiness muscle more. I’d love to hear your happiness rituals. What do you do regularly that makes a difference in your ability to flourish?

Please comment below or send your tips via email. Together we can spread happiness.



The Time for Meaning is Now-Is Finding Purpose the Most Pressing Need of Our Time?

The Time for Meaning is Now-Is Finding Purpose the Most Pressing Need of Our Time?

Things have changed over the past few  generations. Conversation has turned from making a living to living a meaningful life. Consciousness experts like Deepak Chopra, Jean Houston, and Martha Beck have all noted that more than ever before people are waking up.

Waking up to a higher level of living where life’s greatest questions are:

Who am I?


Why am I here?

Despite this awakening, most people have occasional moments of wondering or even actively searching for their purpose yet the majority of us never spend specific time focused on discovering purpose.

For many, the search for purpose starts like this:

  • You recognize something is wrong but you can’t quite put a finger on it
  • You identify that you want more  (but don’t always know more of what?)
  • You crave making a difference and living a life of impact
  • You get hints about what that would be like, sparks of inspiration & recognition
  • You become paralyzed and don’t act out of fear

We were taught to make a living but not about making a life. People ask “What do you want to be when you grow up?” and we begin at a young age to equate purpose with a job. But purpose isn’t about how you pay the bills. It’s about passion.

It can seem that everyone is passionate about something and either yours is missing, hidden or you have piled it beneath a to-do list that might keep it buried for good.

Or perhaps you are surrounded by people who don’t dream, don’t follow their passion and who try to keep you from going after yours. this can lead you to a state positive psychologists call purpose anxiety.


Purpose anxiety happens when looking for your purpose actually increases anxiety. Research says up to age 23 looking for a purpose is fun but older than that it actually causes unhappiness and depression. This means many people looking for their purpose are looking from a negative place.

Carin Rockland, purpose researcher, gives this advice:

  1. Purpose is not a noun.
  2. Purpose is a verb
  3. Starts with the word to_____________. (as in to write, to teach, to inspire)
  4.  Goals, Meaning, Passion are not purpose. You will have many goals on the way to purpose but these goals are not the purpose. Meaning is the comprehension of the world around us. This is not the same. Meaning is greater context purpose is an active life aim. Passions change. Passion is a strong inclination toward something. Passion is a clue to purpose but isn’t the same as purpose.

Three aspects of purpose

  • BE
  • DO

Finding purpose

Some people are naturally lucky. They know what their purpose is from a young age. Social modeling can influence children or a trauma happens that sparks a realization. Spirituality plays a role for some. But what about those of us who don’t?

  1. Replace the word find with the word uncover. Let’s not imply that our purpose is lost.
  2. Have more positive emotions. They help us see connections that we might not otherwise see. You have to be in a positive mindset before you begin.
  3. Be curious.
  4. What are your strengths and when have you used them in a way that felt like you made a difference.
  5. Tell people about your joy. Sharing our joy increases joy. When you share a story about a happy or joyful experience it has far greater benefits than just remembering it or writing it down for ourselves.

Purpose can hit you over the head like a sledgehammer or it can land on your shoulder like a butterfly. My personal experience was like bringing a camera into focus. I had the picture right there in the frame but it took awhile to decide where the focus should be and what was in the background.

Do you have a purpose? I’d love to know how old you were when you discovered it and what it is.







Why All Work and No Play Will Suck the Life Out of You

Why All Work and No Play Will Suck the Life Out of You

You’ve probably heard the old adage “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”. Finding time for fun and joy doesn’t just balance the time you spend at the office, they actually make it possible for you to be more efficient and effective when you are there. Ensuring you spend the optimal amount of time prioritizing joy will ensure you avoid being left with regrets later in life.

Too many people place play and joy at the bottom of their “to do” list. I’m not a fan of the bucket list since it puts pressure to have big ticket items like skydiving and hiking the Camino on it. Instead, I recommend adopting a lifestyle of joy where you discover the activities that fill your cup then participate in them regularly.

As a culture, we seem to be at odds with how we think about play. 30,000 schools in the US have eliminated recess to allow for more academic time awhile companies like Google have offices like Googleplex that foster the feel of a playground at work.

 “Happiness is never better exhibited than by young animals such as puppies, kittens, and lambs when playing together like our own children.” Charles Darwin

Taking every opportunity to model joy for our children and practice feeling joy ourselves actually helps to rewire the brain for happiness.

Suggestions of Joy Boosting Activities

It would be awesome if as adults we remembered the ease of play yet many of us have a hard time getting back to that childhood feeling of unscripted freedom. Here are a few joy boosters that might spark an idea or two, and remember a joy boosting activity doesn’t have to be adventurous- sometimes relaxation is your joy of choice.

  • hiking
  • biking
  • sailing
  • cooking
  • surfing
  • gardening
  • knitting
  • painting
  • riding
  • reading
  • camping
  • boating
  • volunteering
  • singing
  • writing letters
  • clearing clutter

I’d love your suggestions to grow this list. Comment with your joy boosting activity and I will add it.

Watch for These Joy-Suckers

Rushing- Hurrying denies us the time to have experiences of joyful play and if we rush through the moments we do have we lose the chance to savor an experience which adds to the positive impact of playfulness.

Martyring- I’ve been guilty of falling into the trap of this joy-suck. As a mom, it felt like I was doing a good job if everyone else had their needs met. What I’ve learned is when I set this example I am telling my loved ones how I want to be treated. And for my daughters, I am teaching them that being a good mom means putting yourself last. It has become important to me to share joy with them in a way that models positive living and self-care.

Novelty (or lack of novelty) – The research says that for most people joy comes from novel experiences. Something novel that you do occasionally and not on a regular schedule. Others prefer a clear scheduled regular joy. Knowing yourself will help you know if new novel adventures or familiar regular joy moments will be more beneficial to you.

Fatigue- It’s hard to have fun when you are physically or emotionally depleted.

Hunger- It’s also hard to have fun when you don’t have fuel in your body.

How Can We Compensate for the Joy-Suckers

A team of researchers from Brigham Young found that discussing positive experiences leads to increased well-being and overall life satisfaction. Reliving past moments of play and joy trains your brain to look for similar experiences and the reliving gives you a second dose of the original joy.

Giving also primes you for joy. If you are feeling bummed out it’s hard to switch that directly to joy. Doing something for someone else promotes a chain reaction of positive chemicals that help reset your mindset.

Go outside. The most natural things like sunlight and fresh air are mother nature’s medicine. I recommend at least one dose a day- the great thing about this is you cannot overdose!

Some of my greatest memories of joy are simple moments of laughing fits in an elevator or floating in the ocean. I’d love to hear your stories about joy. And as I said above, sharing makes the joy more powerful. Please comment below or via social media.