Advertising
Advertising

Published on February 24, 2020

How to Improve Focus and Concentration by Mastering the Flow

How to Improve Focus and Concentration by Mastering the Flow

Imagine being totally immersed in an optimal state of consciousness, giving your fullest attention to an activity or task through improved focus and concentration, and heightening all aspects of your performance in the process.

Your mind declutters and the noise of your environment fades away, placing you in a non-distracted zone that creates a sense of uninterrupted fluidity between mind and body.

For those who struggle to concentrate or stay focused, this sounds like heaven.

This is known as the “flow state,” “flow,” or colloquially in sports as “in the zone” or “on a roll.” Surprisingly, you don’t necessarily have to be LeBron James, a super yogi, or a psychology guru to achieve it.

Whether you’re an athlete, an artist, or just a regular person engaged in a simple day-to-day task, with the right know-how, the flow state can be achieved. It may not quite be heaven, but it’s close enough for the easily distracted.

For many of us, focus and concentration have fallen prey to an onslaught of distractions and stimulation, some of which are deliberately engineered to capture our attention. This leaves us with little to no uninterrupted time to focus and concentrate, causing us to feel overwhelmed and helpless.

However, learning how to improve our focus and concentration by getting into the flow could be a silver bullet for the unrelenting distractions.

Characteristics of the Flow

According to psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who recognized and named “flow,” the concept has eight main characteristics:

  1. Complete concentration on the task.
  2. A feeling of control over the task.
  3. Effortlessness and ease.
  4. Clarity of goals and reward in mind and immediate feedback.
  5. A balance between challenges and skills.
  6. The experience is intrinsically rewarding.
  7. Transformation of time (speeding up/slowing down).
  8. Actions and awareness are merged, losing self-conscious rumination.

As a result of its positive characteristics, flow has several benefits.

Research conducted by Harvard professor Teresa Amabile revealed that people who have experienced flow report higher levels of productivity and creativity for up to three days. However, these are just two of the many benefits.

The Benefits of Flow Immersion

The benefits of flow are multitudinous. Here is a sampling of how it can benefit you:

Advertising

Improve Concentration

The ability to focus deeply minus distractions leads to higher output and quality work. When in a flow state, concentration becomes so laser-focused that everything else seems to fall away.

When in flow, your body and mind are in unison and know what to do without having to consciously think about it.

Eliminate Distractions

While in flow, the distracting emotions that usually cloud our minds, such as stress, worry, self-doubt, and lack of confidence, take a back seat.

Improve the Ability to Cope

Emotion regulation, a crucial skill when coping with negative emotions and memories, is directly connected to focus, one of the prerequisites of flow.

Flow directs our focus outward on the task at hand, instead of inward on our worries, fears, and frustrations.

If you know how to tune out negative distractions and focus on solving problems, you’ll get better at handling and moving on from major setbacks.

Create Happiness

Flow is said to be one of the most productive and happiest states that humans can be in.

Being fully immersed in a challenging task and feeling at one with it brings a general sense of well-being and a lasting sense of happiness and fulfillment.

Engage in a Positive Experience

The pleasure that comes with being deeply engrossed in something of significant interest or passion is said to result in an intrinsically positive experience.

Enhance Learning

Because it releases dopamine, flow enhances learning. Dopamine goes beyond providing a temporary high. It also heightens attention and decreases distractions, helping to raise our awareness.

Heighten Performance

A study [1] found that top executives who practice getting into the flow report being five times more productive.

Advertising

Another study done by Harvard Business school reveals that creative teams are more creative and productive even a day after being in the flow.

According to scientists, the flow of our brain waves shifts from the beta waves of concentration to the alpha waves of rest and relaxation and the theta waves that occur during meditation. Theta waves are said to be prerequisites for moments of insight and the gateway to creative genius.

Improve Productivity in the Workplace

Due to its powerful influence, flow can be a major source of inspiration for employees to perform at their peak.

According to scientific research, the average employee switches tasks every three minutes. Due to the resulting “attention residue,” whenever an employee gets distracted, it takes an average of 25 minutes to regain full attention on the task at hand [2].

Consistently entering a flow state can facilitate employees to increase focus, which will lead to higher productivity and better work. This is music to the ears of not only employers but employees as well as it can ultimately lead to significant advancement in a career.

However, knowing how to improve focus and concentration using flow takes some effort. It is a delicate process that you won’t master by simply reading about it.

With that in mind, here is a breakdown on how to improve focus and concentration by getting into a state of flow.

How to Improve Focus and Concentration by Getting Into Flow

Getting into flow sounds great in theory, but mastering the skill of repeated immersion in flow is not easy.

You won’t achieve a state of flow in every attempt, but you can prime your environment and yourself for flow so that you experience it more often.

Here’s how:

1. Have Clear Goals, Outcomes, and Expectations

Your mind will struggle to achieve optimum concentration and focus if you lack clarity about what you want to accomplish.

Advertising

If there’s no clear outcome, you won’t know exactly when you’re finished with your task. This will breed mind-wandering and procrastination and encourage quitting and switching to easier tasks.

2. Work on One Very Specific Task

Just like the goal, if you lack clarity on exactly what you are going to work on, it will be very difficult to enter a state of flow. You will either switch between multiple tasks too quickly or get distracted much more easily – both are serious detriments to achieving flow.

Multitasking creates a web of distractions that can make it impossible to achieve flow, so try to focus on one important task at a time.

3. Eliminate All Distractions and Avoid Interruptions

Research says external distractions must be eliminated to reach a flow state.[3]

Each time you get pulled away from your focus, you’ll be taken further away from flow.

It’s vital that you devote all of your concentration and undivided attention to the task at hand. You can only get into flow when you’re able to keep your focus and concentration for at least 10-15 minutes.

External distractions – Turn off your phone, television, other devices, and objects in your work environment that might distract you from the task at hand.

Try to set aside a time and move to a quiet environment that is conducive to “deep work,” where you won’t be interrupted or distracted.

Internal distractions – You’ll also need to eliminate internal distractions. Stress and an overwhelmed mind will make it very hard or even impossible to get into a flow state.

Eliminating all distractions will protect you from being disrupted and allows you to enter a state of deep focus and concentration, which is one of the most important elements of flow.

4. Do Something You Love

The easiest way to get into flow is to do something you love that is intrinsically rewarding. It will satisfy your mind’s craving for something challenging but doable.

Advertising

5. Identify Your Peak Productive and Creative Times

Identify the times where your mind most naturally functions at peak performance. For many people, the morning after a good night’s sleep is the most productive. Focusing on the day’s main task during these times will make flow easier and more effective.

6. Create a Ritual

Try to create a series of actions that you do every single time you’re about to begin a task that requires you to enter a state of concentration.

This could be anything that helps, such as meditation or stretching. Whatever the activity, it will trigger your brain to get ready for what’s about to begin.

7. Focus on the Process, Not the End Goal

While having goals and a specific task are crucial, getting into the flow also requires enjoying the journey and not just fixating on the outcome.

Try to allow yourself to simply live in the present moment without worrying too much about the end product of your efforts. This will allow the experience to be pleasurable, which will encourage you to do it more often.

Conclusion

Getting into the flow is a powerful practice that can pave a pathway to achievement and personal improvement.

Mastering it is also a great way to learn how to improve focus and concentration, which is essential to achieving goals in life.

However, like every skill, it’s going to take intent and practice to master. We hope these tips will help you to go with the flow and develop the laser-like focus that will improve your performance on the job or in your daily life.

More Productivity Tips

Featured photo credit: Avi Richards via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

The Lifehack Show: Yoga to Combat Stress and Improve Your Life with Nicole Lovald How Systems Thinking Makes You a Smarter Person How Do You Change a Habit (According to Psychology) How to Learn Quickly And Master Any Skill You Want What Is Creativity? We All Have It, and Need It

Trending in Smartcut

1 How to Set Ambitious Career Goals (With Examples) 2 15 Ways to Set Professional Goals (Examples Included) 3 How to Change Habits When You Feel Stuck in a Rut 4 Need Journal Inspiration? 15 Journal Ideas to Kickstart 5 How to Set Financial Goals and Actually Meet Them

Read Next

Advertising
Advertising
Advertising

Last Updated on March 25, 2020

How Do You Change a Habit (According to Psychology)

How Do You Change a Habit (According to Psychology)

Habits are hard to kill, and rightly so. They are a part and parcel of your personality traits and mold your character.

However, habits are not always something over-the-top and quirky enough to get noticed. Think of subtle habits like tapping fingers when you are nervous and humming songs while you drive. These are nothing but ingrained habits that you may not realize easily.

Just take a few minutes and think of something specific that you do all the time. You will notice how it has become a habit for you without any explicit realization. Everything you do on a daily basis starting with your morning routine, lunch preferences to exercise routines are all habits.

Habits mostly form from life experiences and certain observed behaviors, not all of them are healthy. Habitual smoking can be dangerous to your health. Similarly, a habit could also make you lose out on enjoying something to its best – like how some people just cannot stop swaying their bodies when delivering a speech.

Thus, there could be a few habits that you would want to change about yourself. But changing habits is not as easy as it seems.

In this article, you will learn why it isn’t easy to build new habits, and how to change habits.

What Makes It Hard To Change A Habit?

To want to change a particular habit means to change something very fundamental about your behavior.[1] Hence, it’s necessary to understand how habits actually form and why they are so difficult to actually get out of.

The Biology

Habits form in a place what we call the subconscious mind in our brain.[2]

Advertising

Our brains have two modes of operation. The first one is an automatic pilot kind of system that is fast and works on reflexes often. It is what we call the subconscious part. This is the part that is associated with everything that comes naturally to you.

The second mode is the conscious mode where every action and decision is well thought out and follows a controlled way of thinking.

A fine example to distinguish both would be to consider yourself learning to drive or play an instrument. For the first time you try learning, you think before every movement you make. But once you have got the hang of it, you might drive without applying much thought into it.

Both systems work together in our brains at all times. When a habit is formed, it moves from the conscious part to the subconscious making it difficult to control.

So, the key idea in deconstructing a habit is to go from the subconscious to the conscious.

Another thing you have to understand about habits is that they can be conscious or hidden.

Conscious habits are those that require active input from your side. For instance, if you stop setting your alarm in the morning, you will stop waking up at the same time.

Hidden habits, on the other hand, are habits that we do without realizing. These make up the majority of our habits and we wouldn’t even know them until someone pointed them out. So the first difficulty in breaking these habits is to actually identify them. As they are internalized, they need a lot of attention to detail for self-identification. That’s not all.

Advertising

Habits can be physical, social, and mental, energy-based and even be particular to productivity. Understanding them is necessary to know why they are difficult to break and what can be done about them.

The Psychology

Habits get engraved into our memories depending on the way we think, feel and act over a particular period of time. The procedural part of memory deals with habit formation and studies have observed that various types of conditioning of behavior could affect your habit formations.

Classical conditioning or pavlovian conditioning is when you start associating a memory with reality.[3] A dog that associates ringing bell to food will start salivating. The same external stimuli such as the sound of church bells can make a person want to pray.

Operant conditioning is when experience and the feelings associated with it form a habit.[4] By encouraging or discouraging an act, individuals could either make it a habit or stop doing it.

Observational learning is another way habits could take form. A child may start walking the same way their parent does.

What Can You Do To Change a Habit?

Sure, habits are hard to control but it is not impossible. With a few tips and hard-driven dedication, you can surely get over your nasty habits.

Here are some ways that make use of psychological findings to help you:

1. Identify Your Habits

As mentioned earlier, habits can be quite subtle and hidden from your view. You have to bring your subconscious habits to an aware state of mind. You could do it by self-observation or by asking your friends or family to point out the habit for your sake.

Advertising

2. Find out the Impact of Your Habit

Every habit produces an effect – either physical or mental. Find out what exactly it is doing to you. Does it help you relieve stress or does it give you some pain relief?

It could be anything simple. Sometimes biting your nails could be calming your nerves. Understanding the effect of a habit is necessary to control it.

3. Apply Logic

You don’t need to be force-fed with wisdom and advice to know what an unhealthy habit could do to you.

Late-night binge-watching just before an important presentation is not going to help you. Take a moment and apply your own wisdom and logic to control your seemingly nastily habits.

4. Choose an Alternative

As I said, every habit induces some feeling. So, it could be quite difficult to get over it unless you find something else that can replace it. It can be a simple non-harming new habit that you can cultivate to get over a bad habit.

Say you have the habit of banging your head hard when you are angry. That’s going to be bad for you. Instead, the next time you are angry, just take a deep breath and count to 10. Or maybe start imagining yourself on a luxury yacht. Just think of something that will work for you.

5. Remove Triggers

Get rid of items and situations that can trigger your bad habit.

Stay away from smoke breaks if you are trying to quit it. Remove all those candy bars from the fridge if you want to control your sweet cravings.

Advertising

6. Visualize Change

Our brains can be trained to forget a habit if we start visualizing the change. Serious visualization is retained and helps as a motivator in breaking the habit loop.

For instance, to replace your habit of waking up late, visualize yourself waking up early and enjoying the early morning jog every day. By continuing this, you would naturally feel better to wake up early and do your new hobby.

7. Avoid Negative Talks and Thinking

Just as how our brain is trained to accept a change in habit, continuous negative talk and thinking could hamper your efforts put into breaking a habit.

Believe you can get out of it and assert yourself the same.

Final Thoughts

Changing habits isn’t easy, so do not expect an overnight change!

Habits took a long time to form. It could take a while to completely break out of it. You will have to accept that sometimes you may falter in your efforts. Don’t let negativity seep in when it seems hard. Keep going at it slowly and steadily.

More About Changing Habits

Featured photo credit: Mel via unsplash.com

Reference

Read Next