Why cake mixes don’t include eggs
Did you know that when cake mixes were first made all you had to do was add water to the cake mix, stir it and put it in the oven (at the right temperature of course!) Interestingly this version of the product wasn’t as successful as was first thought. It seems we want to have some challenges when baking. We want to crack the eggs, and add the milk. Just adding water, while convenient, isn’t satisfying. The human brain is wired to learn. If a task is too easy we quickly get bored and if it is beyond our capacity we may feel a little anxiety. If we do nothing, we feel apathy. The sweet spot is called “flow”.
Flow is that experience where you are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter. Your concentration and focus is so intense that there isn’t room for aimless thoughts or worry.
When reflecting on moments where I’ve felt flow a few moments come to mind. I felt it this morning while I was gardening and creating a basic brick wall between the good soil and bad soil. I want to learn how to garden as I feel this will be a very satisfying and a flow like activity. I also think about when I made this video. I had never done video editing before so I was learning on the fly. It was an extremely satisfying process as nothing was too far from my capacity. If I encountered a snag I’d search for the solution on Youtube and resolve the problem. Another (geeky) moment of flow was just the other day when I was researching Docusign, a software that captures signatures on forms. I find it very enjoyable learning how to make paper based processes automated and online using Power Automate and other types of software.
What these activities all have in common is that they have the right amount of challenge and there is a clear way to learn and develop in skill. So as I was challenged, I had to increase my skill which allowed me to solve the problem (which leads to satisfaction).
It makes sense that so many of us have been making sourdough or banana bread this isolation period. We want to be stimulated in a way that is energising. When faced with endless time, we have become bored by constant netflix and want to do something satisfying.
If you’re seeking this satisfaction, find an activity that you loved when you were younger and has the ability to constantly increase in challenge. For example, watching a TV show is nice for relaxation (i.e. my housemates and I have already finished 4 seasons of Mad Men) however you won’t necessarily achieve a sense of flow from watching TV (unless you’re learning Spanish and you’re watching a Spanish show!)
Then set some micro-objectives around the activity. For example, I want to convert our back garden plot into a vege garden by the end of the month. I’m going to plant vegetables we commonly eat (such as zucchini, broccoli, and cherry tomatoes) and I’m going to work on it every Saturday morning. The next step is to have a feedback mechanism. One of our neighbours is studying horticulture but lives in an apartment and has no access to a garden. We live in a big old sharehouse with a massive front garden, so my hope is that when isolation measures relieve, she can help us with our garden and we can benefit from learning from her studies. Gardening is a great flow activity as it is endless in how much you can learn and it is satisfying as if you do well, you receive the tangible feedback of a flourishing garden.
I wonder if there has been a shift in the way that we think about our time as a result of having so much of it to ourselves. I was chatting with a good friend today and she noted that during these lockdown periods, she struggled a lot. Living alone, she craved her friends and other experiences common to her normal life. She told me that she is now in a better place as she has recognised that in the past she would seek so many external experiences to capture her focus. With that all taken away from her, she has had to develop new ways to spend her time. This process has lead to a deeper understanding of her needs and also activities that can bring joy.
My hope is that we can take some positives from this 2020 Covid chapter. Whether it be a renewed appreciation of our time and the activities that fill it, or the common humanity that we all share. This period has paused our society and has allowed us to reflect on how we have been living. My hope is that this pause will lead to a more sustainable way of being that is less focused on consumption and more on seeking satisfying joy and connection - the good life.