Mindful Self-Regulation & Living in Flow

Restraining impulses can be hard…

A common approach to behavior change and productivity is to simply force ourselves to act, or to restrain ourselves forcefully from acting on impulses. We push ourselves to go exercising, for example, or restrain ourselves from eating chocolate in order to lose weight. While this approach may work for a while, sometimes even for years, it often breaks down at some point, for example when we are stressed, emotional or simply worn out. But more importantly, it simply does not feel good. Together with Judson Brewer and Kirk Warren Brown, we have developed a theory which shows how, by simply being aware, we can overcome unhealthy habits and change our behavior for the better without forcing ourselves, simply by being mindful.

Yes, over the years I have learned – not only through my scientific work, but also through my personal experience – that there is another mode of self-regulation and goal-pursuit, different from forceful self-control: a mode that is effortless and joyful. In this state, we are highly productive out of joy of creation without much thought about potential future rewards. We act in a way that is authentic to us, we do not beat ourselves up when something “goes wrong” but rather learn from our experiences and move on. It is akin to the Flow-state as described by Csikszentmihalyi or to autonomous self-regulation/intrinsic motivation as described, for example, in self-determination theory. In this state, we authentically express ourselves and have a lot of energy. Things happen in their own timing, sometimes very fast, sometimes slowly, but somehow it all works out.

Flow is a wonderful state of being, which requires a lot of courage: In order to enter this state, we need to totally surrender to each moment, let go of the expectations of our minds of “what we should do” or “how we ought to live”, and we need to allow ourselves to be truly happy. In the video below I metaphorically demonstrate what is meant by this.