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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Featured photo credit: Avi Richards via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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Last Updated on November 12, 2020

15 Reasons Why You Can’t Achieve Your Goals

15 Reasons Why You Can’t Achieve Your Goals

The truth about many of our failed goals is that we haven’t achieved them because we didn’t know how to set and accomplish goals effectively, rather than having not had enough willpower, determination, or fortitude. There are strings of mistakes standing in our way of accomplished goals. Fortunately for us, we don’t have to fall victim to these mistakes for 2015. There are many common mistakes we make with setting goals, but there are also surefire ways to fix them too.

Goal Setting

1. You make your goals too vague.

Instead of having a vague goal of “going to the gym,” make your goals specific—something like, “run a mile around the indoor track each morning.”

2. You have no way of knowing where you are with your goals.

It’s hard to recognize where you are at reaching your goal if you have no way of measuring where you are with it. Instead, make your goal measurable with questions such as, “how much?” or “how many?” This way, you always know where you stand with your goals.

3. You make your goals impossible to reach.

If it’s impossible of reaching, you’re simply not going to reach for it. Sometimes, our past behavior can predict our future behavior, which means if you have no sign of changing a behavior within a week, don’t set a goal that wants to accomplish that. While you can do many things you set your mind to, it’ll be much easier if you realize your capabilities, and judge your goals from there.

4. You only list your long-term goals.

Long-term goals tend to fizzle out because we’re stuck on the larger view rather than what we need to accomplish in the here and now to get there. Instead, list out all the short-term goals involved with your long-term goal. For instance, if you want to seek a publisher for a book you’ve written, your short-term goals might involve your marketing your writing and writing for more magazines in order to accomplished your goal of publishing. By listing out the short-term goals involved with your long-term goal, you’ll focus more on doing what’s in front of you.

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5. You write your goals as negative statements.

It’s hard to reach a goal that’s worded as, “don’t fall into this stupid trap.” That’s not inspiring, and when you’re first starting out, you need inspiration to stay committed to your goal. Instead, make your goals positive statements, such as, “Be a friend who says yes more” rather than, “Stop being an idiot to your friends.”

6. You leave your goals in your head.

Don’t keep your goals stuck in your head. Write them down somewhere and keep them visible. It’s a way making your goals real and holding yourself accountable for achieving them.

Achieving Goals

7. You only focus on achieving one goal at a time, and you struggle each time.

In order to keep achieving your goals, one right after the others, you need to build the healthy habits to do so. For instance, if you want to write a book, developing a habit of writing each morning. If you want to lose weight and eventually run a marathon, develop a habit of running each morning. Focus on buildign habits, and your other goals in the future will come easier.

Studies show that it takes about 66 days on average to change or develop a habit.[1] If you focus on forming one habit every 66 days, that’ll get you closer to accomplishing your goals, and you’ll also build the capability to achieve more and more goals later on with the help of your newly formed habits.

8. You live in an environment that doesn’t support your goals.

Gary Keller and Jay Papasan in their book, The One Thing, state that environments are made up of people and places. They state that these two factors must line up to support your goals. Otherwise, they would cause friction to your goals. So make sure the people who surround you and your location both add something to your goals rather than take away from them.

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9. You get stuck on the end result with your goals.

James Clear brilliantly suggests that our focus should be on the systems we implement to reach our goals rather than the actual end result. For instance, if you’re trying to be healthier with your diet, focus more on sticking to your diet plan rather than on your desired end result. It’ll keep you more concentrated on what’s right in front of you rather than what’s up in the sky.

Keeping Motivated

10. You get discouraged with your mess-ups.

When I wake up each morning, I focus all my effort in building a small-win for myself. Why? Because we need confidence and momentum if we want to keep plowing through the obstacles of accomplishing our goals. Starting my day with small wins helps me forget what mess-ups I had yesterday, and be able to reset.

Your win can be as small as getting out of bed to writing a paragraph in your book. Whatever the case may be, highlight the victories when they come along, and don’t pay much attention to whatever mess-ups happened yesterday.

11. You downplay your wins.

When a win comes along, don’t downplay it or be too humble about it. Instead, make it a big deal. Celebrate each time you get closer to your goal with either a party or quality time doing what you love.

12. You get discouraged by all the work you have to do for your goals.

What happens when you focus on everything that’s in front of you is that you can lose sight of the big picture—what you’re actually doing this for and why you want to achieve it. By learning how to filter the big picture through your every day small goals, you’ll be able to keep your motivation for the long haul. Never let go of the big picture.

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13. You waste your downtime.

When I take a break, I usually fill my downtime with activities that further me toward my goals. For instance, I listen to podcasts about writing or entrepreneurship during my lunch times. This keeps my mind focused on the goal, and also utilizes my downtime with motivation to keep trying for my goals.

Wondering what you can do during your downtime? Here’re 20 Productive Ways to Use the Time.

14. You have no system of accountability.

If you announce your goal publicly, or promise to offer something to people, those people suddenly depend on your accomplishment. They are suddenly concerned for your goals, and help make sure you achieve them. Don’t see this as a burden. Instead, use it to fuel your hard work. Have people depend on you and you’ll be motivated to not let them down.

15. You fall victim to all your negative behaviors you’re trying to avoid with your goals.

Instead of making a “to-do” list, make a list of all the behaviors, patterns, and thinking you need to avoid if you ever want to reach your goal. For instance, you might want to chart down, “avoid Netflix” or “don’t think negatively about my capability.” By doing this, you’ll have a visible reminder of all the behavior you need to avoid in order to accomplish your goals. But make sure you balance this list out with your goals listed as positive statements.

How To Stop Failing Your Goal?

If you want to stop failing your goal and finally reach it, don’t miss these actionable tips explained by Jade in this episode of The Lifehack Show:

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Bottom Line

Overcoming our mistakes is the first step to building healthy systems for our goals. If you find one of these cogs jamming the gears to your goal-setting system, I hope you follow these solutions to keep your system healthy and able to churn out more goals.

Make this year where you finally achieve what you’ve only dreamed of.

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Featured photo credit: NORTHFOLK via unsplash.com

Reference

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