The concept of flow was first outlined by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in a best-selling book by the same name on the subject. Flow does not refer to “going with the flow,” however, it refers to the state of mind one enters when completing a particularly difficult task that engages certain neural centers of the brain. This usually happens with a challenging workout or a game that requires timing and attention.

When you enter the state of flow, it stops you from overthinking about your yearly evaluation at work, or about those upcoming holiday parties where you must endure a round of questioning by your aunt who wants to know why if you are still single she can’t set you up with that nice doctor at temple.

Flow Helps Solve Problems

Flow does something else, though, it increases problem-solving skills and reduces your reactionary thinking in moments of stress because your neural pathways have practice at readjusting for unexpected challenges. Over time, neural pathways can be strengthened and our thoughts tend to repeat in whatever particular way we practice. Therefore if you practice making healthy and rational adjustments to unexpected challenges, when you face one in real life, like a delayed flight when your parents were adamant about dinner reservations the second you land for Christmas, you will be able to more calmly adjust without that dramatic reactionary stress.

It Can Be Used as a Strategic Tool

It is also a strategy you can use during a stressful task. For example, you can create a challenge for yourself at work on how to tackle a complex assignment so that you hit certain goals by particular times of day, creating a game for yourself out of the task. If you look at your work as an opportunity to induce a state of flow, you will be able to turn it from an anxiety-producing experience into an anxiety-reducing experience.

Flow is Easy Implement

This is fairly easy to implement, enjoy a reasonable amount of video game time at home after a stressful day, or a game of Tetris on your phone for a few minutes immediately following a stressful meeting. Or you can choose to combine your sense of flow with physical exercise by picking a fitness class that involves a somewhat complicated routine, like a boxing class, bootcamp, or dance class. It is okay if you aren’t good at the choreography, the point is just to focus on completing a complicated task that is purely for enjoyment.

During your holiday travels download games like Tetris for your flight, grab your favorite cousin for line dancing at the local country bar in your hometown, or if you have family visiting Miami, bring them to try out a Salsa night and really focus on learning some new moves.  Try treating your gift-wrapping and holiday shopping as opportunities to get lost in the task you are completing in order to block out other stressors.

Take a look at a few of these resources below to get more information on the concept of Flow and how to implement it: