COLM O'REGAN: Getting into the flow of the mundane

IT DOESN’T happen to me very often — ‘flow’. Flow, in positive psychology, means being so completely immersed in your task, having such a full focus that even though the task might be complex, it’s enjoyable and you’re getting it done, writes Colm O’Regan

It’s also called ‘being in the zone’ but I prefer flow. ‘In the zone’ has connotations of rugby fly-halves in yoga-postions on the pitch spending so long on the penalty kick that you’ve time to make toast during the build-up.

Flow was coined by the Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. I would imagine he was probably inspired by the first time he managed to touch-type his own Scrabble-tastic surname.

It used to happen to me more often before, cutting thistles on the farm at home and I’d be pretending that the thistles were rebel groups and I was the vengeful dictator determined to wipe out insurgents. I’d ‘wake up’ half an hour later having wiped out a rebel stronghold. It rarely happens when I’m writing. Each word is dragged out of me, in between visits to Facebook to look at someone’s wedding photos from 2010.

Most of my flow happens on mundane tasks — say emptying the dishwasher but only if the dishwash hasn’t been complicated by a rogue sieve creating mayhem with a water trajectory like a saboteur.

Over the last while I’ve found a new source of flow: getting the groceries sorted — specifically at the checkout. Shopping in certain German supermarkets can stifle flow. You’ll sail through the fruit and veg bit, virtuously filling the trolley and then become bogged down in decisions like colouring book or diesel generator?

But it’s at the checkout where I have turned my life around.

I hear people complain about the German supermarket checkouts saying “Oh they just throw the products at you, I get panicked.” No my friend, you are acting the victim. You need to own your checkout experience. You need to optimise.

First of all, put your bags into the trolley and sort as you shop. Then when you get the checkout you can lift the products en masse onto the conveyor belt. Now you can’t just upturn the bag on the belt because nothing messes with flow more than the flow of egg yolk onto your fabric softener bottle.

Last week as Peak Checkout. I had a big shop. My sorting system was ‘on fleek’ (Don’t ask). I magnanimously waved through the fella behind me in the queue carrying his champion’s breakfast of one can of Hoffensteffeinfeisergesicht Pilsner and a plum. I needed a clear run at this.

And then I was ready for my nemesis: The German supermarket checkout man.

Our eyes met. He saw the swagger with which I swung the trolley around to park in the bay next to the till. He knew he was dealing with a pro. Then began the blizzard of groceries bip-bip-bip-bip-bipping across the scanner. I ‘trolleyed’ at such a speed I could have been in a propaganda movie for Stalin’s Five Year Plan. Because I’d put the stuff on the belt in order, I could put it back in the trolley in order. This was optimisation. This was living. The bags were filling up, one at a time: Fridge. Press. Fruity veggie. Scenty or poison stuff. Middle aisle mad yokes.

Then it was over. The card was out. It went in first time. I remembered my pin. I remembered to take my card. I spun my trolley away from the docking bay. I was the king of the world. All around me people were struggling to pack their bags on the narrow ledge. ‘Fools,’ I thought. ‘Take some control of your lives’. I headed for the door, smooth like Johnny Cool.

“Excuse me sir,” a voice shouted.

It was the checkout man. I’d left the colouring book behind me.


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