Mindfulness & Flow

A month or two ago I completed a Salesforce Trailhead module on Mindful Living. Maybe a little odd for a product company to be providing mindfulness training, but I welcome it. Its been an important part of my life for a while, something I’m aware of and continuously strive for.

In our daily life very often our body is there, but our mind is elsewhere. Our mind is in the future, in our projects, in the past, caught in anger, fear, anxiety, and very seldom our mind is with our body. That is why, when you bring attention to your in-breath, and breathe in, you bring your mind home to your body.

Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh

This makes sense to me. If you’ve ever caught yourself in deep thought or a daydream you know that when you “snap out of it” you feel discombobulated, even if its only for a few seconds. You were somewhere else for that time and not present (mindful).

There is a video in the Building a Foundation of Mindfulness unit where Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh suggests that when we are at our computer for 2 hours we forget about our body and cease to exist. That we should set up a reminder every 15 minutes to come back to our body (and be mindful).

This sounds great in theory, but during a normal work day, is it practical? Especially for jobs that require deep thinking, like writing, surgery, or software engineering. Those typically require a state of flow at one time or another, to produce quality work. I feel like flow is the antithesis of being mindful. Can they coexist? Can I, as a software engineer, write high level code while still being mindful?

I found an interesting reddit thread on the topic where the author basically asks that very question.

Part of that job is to think (maybe worry) about all the bad stuff that could happen. There are lot’s of scenarios with “unexpected” user-input, multithreading situations and other exceptional things. Is it even possible to be mindful during such an activity?

Reddit u/affenlehrer

I’d add that, after thinking through the problem, creating (coding) the solution can require an equal amount of concentration (flow). A lot of the time that flow can last for a while. And it needs to. According to one source I found, it takes 15 minutes to get into a state of flow. If that’s the case, setting a reminder to be mindful ever 15 minutes would be counterproductive.

I’m not if you can be mindful and in a state of flow, but I think it’s an interesting conundrum that’s worth thinking about.

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