How I’ve benefited from finding flow with my ALS

I've discovered how to wake myself up and get present in the moment

Dagmar Munn avatar

by Dagmar Munn |

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I’ll admit I often worry if I’m being productive with my time and spending it wisely. That’s always been important to me, but it intensified the day I was told I had ALS. That’s when I heard the words “average life expectancy of two to five years” and left the doctor’s office with the eerie feeling that time was slipping away, much too fast.

At home, like many ALS patients, I made endless bucket lists and goals, and I felt guilty when taking much-needed breaks and doing nothing. “I should be doing something!” I’d remind myself, thinking of time going fast. But instead, ALS made my movements slow and my energy even lower, and I entered the slow lane of ALS.

My concerns became clear: How do I do what I want without running out of steam? How can I be productive even during my downtimes? How can I not waste time?

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Flow to the rescue

In 2010, two years after his book was published and in the first year of my ALS, I read “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience” by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, and my perspective changed. I read that it doesn’t matter if our physical self is less than perfect; mentally, emotionally, and spiritually we can all challenge ourselves in the voluntary effort to accomplish something worthwhile. And that voluntary effort was the state of flow. It’s also called  “in the zone,” “in the groove,” or “losing track of time.”

Sign me up!

Over the next several years I explored more about flow and began blending it into my life. Not only did I practice finding the state of flow when writing my columns and big projects, but I also applied flow awareness to the small moments as well: walking across the room, eating, conversations, even riding in the car.

I realized that being aware of the small moments between events made those moments just as important. I wasn’t wasting time. I was being productive after all.

How to flow?

There are many positive benefits to finding flow, and many tips for how to get into it.

I suggest you begin with a simple awareness exercise. One that’s worked for me when I notice I’m not focused, not paying attention, and not present is to jar myself into presence by quickly noticing five things around me, the sensory details in my immediate surroundings. Then, once “awake,” I try to stay in that awareness, in the moment, in flow.

Next, set a clear goal for your project or rest period, do something you find mentally interesting, and block outside interruptions. To help your brain get into the zone, have a preflow ritual. I like to listen to “Zen music” when I begin writing my column. Soon, you’ll feel relaxed, present, and engaged.

Let’s live well with ALS and live in flow.

Note: ALS News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of ALS News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to ALS.


Dave Smiglewski avatar

Dave Smiglewski

Thank you for another of your always inspiring columns. They help to keep me going and to remember to stay mindful of my movements and my tasks. I like to stay busy too (which as a retiree, is certainly no problem) but every now and then we need a gentle reminder that we are still in control of how we approach life with ALS. Your column regularly serves that up in tasty morsels!

Dagmar Munn avatar

Dagmar Munn

Thank you, Dave!

John Tichenor avatar

John Tichenor

Wonderful column Dagmar. I particularly appreciate the exercise of noticing 5 things around you to refocus your awareness on the present moment. I will add this to my toolbox. Your columns are always very helpful.

Dagmar Munn avatar

Dagmar Munn

Thank you John!

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