When you can’t take the heat, head for the kitchen.
It was one of the very first classes that I took in positive psychology, in the first iteration of the Positive Psychology diploma program at the Universidad IberoAmericana, led by Dr. Margarita Tarragona. And we were asked to think of some of those magical moments when the stars align: when you are doing something that you do well, feeling fulfilled and experiencing flow (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990).
Without a shadow of a doubt I instantly knew that those moments often happen for me in two very different circumstances. When I am deep into research, putting together ideas in new ways, and when I am cooking.
There are similarities between the two, as well as a way of balancing the two at times. I can become totally immersed in both. But when I have a lot of things on my mind or am wrestling with too many concepts and ideas, by far the best place for me to make a fast return to focus is in the kitchen.
The shortages of strange ingredients like flour and butter, the number of people talking about recipes, posting photos of spectacular culinary creations, and bemoaning the amount of weight they have gained in the last couple of months; all lead me to think that I am not alone in finding this to be surefire way of coming back to center.
Oriana Tickell, Director at iOpener Institute
Since the beginning of the pandemic, here in our little enclosed world we have enjoyed our kitchen more than ever; getting ever more creative and – ‘though I say it myself – eating much better than many mediocre meals that I have paid top rates for in restaurants.
Whatsapp groups have sprung up out of nowhere. Someone knows someone who can’t sell their crop or production because restaurants and other clients are not buying any more. So far, we have been offered boxes of wholesale quantities of artichokes, figs, mangoes, limes, blueberries, and top grade frozen fish. I have said yes to them all. There is also a local Whatsapp recipe-sharing group where the 250 participants send an average of over 300 messages a day. Plenty of inspiration there and a great sense of community.
But, really, it’s the magical alchemy of baking that is keeping me experimenting with flour, yeast and water. So far, I have mastered making rustic country bread and focaccia. Doing this absolutely fulfills the requisites of flow, as I:
- experience complete concentration on the task
- maintain clarity of goal and reward in mind
- get immediate feedback from the task
- experience a transformation of time (speeding up/slowing down)
- find the experience to be intrinsically rewarding
- experience effortlessness and ease
- find a balance between challenge and skills
- find that actions and awareness are merged, losing self-conscious rumination
- feel that I have control over the task.
(Mike Oppland, 2020)
This coupling of tasks also makes sure that I keep moving. My office and the kitchen are on different floors. There would be no way of doing this in a ‘normal’ work day. Right now, there’s no going to appointments or getting stuck in the traffic. The dough does not forgive you for running late or getting distracted.
Every time I return to my desk I have to set an alarm on my phone to make sure I go back at the right time to stretch, fold or check the oven. So I run up and down the stairs, switching from baking flow to brain flow and find that I am more productive and focused in both with these enforced minibreaks.
Another benefit for me is finding the link to one of the basic precepts of positive psychology as coined by Chris Peterson, “Other people matter”. There is, of course, great satisfaction in seeing the bread rise and forming a crust but, more than that, for me it’s about being productive in a way that will also give pleasure to others.
It is an effective centering process, which creates flow in the moment and clears the brain, giving the mental space for focus and creativity in other areas. Whilst also making sure that I stand up, move away from my desk and add some steps to my daily count before getting an electronic reminder.
Never had I realised that baking could be about so much more than making bread.
by Oriana Tickell, Director of The Science of Happiness at Work and Director of Coaching at iOpener Institute.
Oriana divides her time between Mexico City and London. She has a Masters in Applied Positive Psychology from the University of East London.
For more information about online positive psychology leadership workshops and / or virtual accreditation in The Science of Happiness at Work diagnostics, please contact Oriana.Tickell@iOpener.com