Do you know that you have probably subconsciously entered a flow state at least once?
Have you ever been so engaged in a TV show or movie that you couldn’t hear your name being called? Or have you ever been so preoccupied with something that you lost track of time? Perhaps you were playing a musical instrument, playing video games, or painting a picture.
You naturally enter a state of flow when you are fully immersed in an enjoyable and challenging activity.
Consider how much better your focus and performance will be if you are in that state of mind while working on important tasks!
Getting into a flow state, however, is not always easy because we are prone to distractions such as technology, phone calls, emails, and stressful thoughts. Inadequate energy can also disrupt concentration and make it difficult to enter a state of flow.
To be able to enter a flow state whenever you want, you must first understand what it is.
Table of Contents
- What Is a State of Flow?
- Benefits of Achieving Flow State
- How to Get into a Flow State
What Is a State of Flow?
In psychology, ‘flow’ is a term that describes a mental state in which a person is completely absorbed and engaged in an activity, resulting in a sense of enjoyment and satisfaction. ‘Flow’ is also known as “being in the zone.”
According to positive psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi who first coined the term, ‘flow’ is:
“a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience is so enjoyable that people will continue to do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.”
Cskszentmihályi defines ‘flow’ as the following key elements:
- Complete focus on the task – You are completely focused on the task at hand and are not easily distracted.
- Clarity of goals – You know exactly what you want to accomplish.
- Immediate feedback – You receive immediate feedback on your performance, allowing you to make real-time adjustments.
- A balance of challenges and skills – You are challenged, but the task is not overly difficult, resulting in a sense of control.
- Actions and awareness are merged, losing self-conscious – You become so absorbed in the task that you lose your sense of self and time.
Benefits of Achieving Flow State
By now, you should be aware that some of the flow characteristics can lead to improved focus and performance. Let’s look at some more advantages of achieving flow state.
Increased Clarity of the Mind
Flow states are linked to increased brain activity and performance.
During a flow state, the brain is fully engaged in the task at hand, causing increased activity in the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for executive functions such as attention and decision-making.
Furthermore, reduced activity in the default mode network, which is associated with mind-wandering, can contribute to better cognitive functioning. When the mind is not distracted by irrelevant thoughts and worries, it is able to function more efficiently, resulting in better problem-solving and creativity.
Besides that, because flow states involve tasks that are difficult but still achievable, they improve working memory and attentional control. This can help people process and recall information more efficiently.
Getting into a flow state increases focus by fostering a high level of engagement and immersion in an activity.
Distractions are minimized and a person is fully absorbed in the task at hand when in a state of flow. This results in increased concentration and a single-minded focus on the activity. The combination of immersion and concentration creates an ideal environment for focusing and leads to improved performance in a variety of activities.
Positive Emotions and Happiness
When someone is in a flow state, they are completely immersed in the task at hand, which leads to increased engagement and enjoyment of the activity. Flow’s immersive nature can help people forget about their stressors and concerns, resulting in a reduction in stress levels.
Flow states also involve performing difficult but achievable tasks and receiving immediate feedback on one’s performance. While the former fosters a sense of accomplishment, the latter can generate a positive feedback loop of increased satisfaction.
These feelings of engagement and satisfaction boost the levels of neurochemicals associated with positive emotions and happiness. For instance, the release of endorphin, dopamine, and norepinephrine helps people feel happier and more content.
People in a state of flow have been shown to perform better in various activities, including sports, music, and games, due to the increased focus and concentration they experience.
For example, legendary basketball players Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant were known for their ability to get into a flow state on the court. They performed at their best when they were able to maintain their focus and engagement even under pressure.
Another example is Stephen King. As a bestselling author, Stephen King has a reputation for being able to enter a state of complete immersion when writing, allowing him to produce a large amount of work in a short amount of time.
The highly focused and immersive nature of a flow state can lead to increased creative problem-solving and idea generation. This is why flow states often take place during creative tasks, which can help inspire greater creative and artistic pursuits.
In fact, studies have shown that not only are people more creative in flow, but they also report being more creative the next day, implying that flow not only increases creativity in the moment, but it also increases it over time. To put it another way, being in flow trains us to be more creative.
How to Get into a Flow State
Getting into a flow state can take some effort and practice. Here are 7 steps to help you achieve it:
1. Figure Out What You Enjoy Doing
Only when you enjoy doing something will you easily immerse yourself in it. So, try to find your passion and what you love doing.
Here are a few ways to help you discover your passion:
- Reflect on your interests: Think about what you enjoy doing in your spare time, what topics you enjoy discussing, and which activities make you lose track of time. These interests can reveal what you’re passionate about.
- Try new things: Don’t be afraid to try new activities and hobbies to see what you like. You might discover a new hobby you had no idea existed.
- Examine your values: Your values, such as creativity, helping others, or problem solving, can serve as a guide to your interests. Find activities that are in line with your values and see if they bring you joy and fulfillment.
2. Set Clear Goals
Your mind will struggle to achieve optimum concentration and focus if you lack clarity about what you want to accomplish.
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.
I’m sure you’ve noticed in your life that when you know exactly what you want — you’ll tend to find a way to get it. And conversely, if you lack clear goals and dreams, I’m sure you’ve found yourself drifting aimlessly in life.
Of course, goals don’t always have to be big ones.
For example, a daily goal might be something as simple as completing a chapter of a book, painting a canva, or practicing the piano for an hour.
From my experience of coaching people in success techniques, once you start to build a habit of using goals, you won’t want to go back. That’s because goals are an incredibly powerful way of giving you an abundance of focus and motivation. Just think of when you’ve wanted that dream house or car. You did research; you sacrificed your time and money; and you kept yourself in a flow state until you achieved your goal.
3. Eliminate Distractions
Imagine that you must focus while making a proposal in the office. You have no distractions for the first 30 minutes, and you quickly find yourself in a hyper-focused state where ideas come to you instantly. Unfortunately, a colleague interrupts you to ask you a trivial question. Your flow state is immediately disrupted. Even if the interruption was only a few seconds long, it could take you several minutes to get back into the flow.
You can only get into the flow if you can maintain your focus and concentration for at least 10-15 minutes. Every time you are distracted from your focus, you will be further away from flow.
Because of the risks of losing your flow state, if you’re working on a high-priority or creative task, make sure you’re not distracted by outside factors. Turn off your phone, television, and any other devices in your workplace that could distract you from your work.
Set aside time and move to a quiet environment conducive to “deep work,” where you will not be interrupted or distracted.
Eliminating all or most distractions will keep you from being interrupted and will allow you to enter a state of deep focus and concentration, which is one of the most important components of flow.
To learn more about how to stay focused, read How to Focus & Stay Sharp (Comprehensive Guide).
4. Use Challenges
A challenge is necessary for entering a flow state, but it must be one that is appropriate for the person’s skill level and won’t overwhelm or frustrate them.
Here’s how you can use challenges to get into a flow state:
- Set ambitious and achievable goals: Goals should be challenging, but not impossible to achieve. This gives you a sense of accomplishment and helps you stay motivated.
- Focus on the process: Rather than focusing solely on the end result, focus on the task’s process. This will help you to stay present and avoid negative thoughts or worries.
- Adjust the level of difficulty: As you gain proficiency in a specific task, adjust the level of difficulty. This ensures that the challenge remains appropriate for your skill level.
Finding the right balance of difficulty and skill is the key to using challenges to enter a flow state. When this balance is achieved, you can feel more in control and are more likely to enter a flow state.
5. Identify Your Peak Productive and Creative Times
Working when your energy levels are at their peak is another technique for getting into the flow. This can be as simple as understanding whether you’re an early bird or a night owl.
If you like to get up early, do your most important tasks first thing in the morning when you’ll have the most energy and drive; if you sleep late, you’ll probably find that your energy levels are at their peak in the afternoon or evening. Select these times to complete your important tasks.
Determine the times when your mind naturally performs at its best. The morning after a good night’s sleep is often the most productive for many people. During these times, focusing on the main task of the day will help.
6. Create a Ritual
Creating a ritual can be an effective way to achieve flow because it adds structure and predictability to your daily life. When you have a ritual, you know what to expect before and after each activity or task, which reduces stress and improves focus, thereby creating the ideal conditions for entering a state of flow.
For instance, an artist might devise a ritual in which they set up their workspace and gather all of the necessary materials. Then they warm up by sketching rough ideas or doodles to get their creative juices flowing. Once warmed up, the artist begins working on their main project, fully immersing themselves in the creative process.
Try to create a series of steps that you do every time you are about to begin a task that requires you to focus. Whatever activity you choose, it will prime your brain to prepare for what is about to happen.
7. Practice Mindfulness
Mindfulness practice can be a powerful tool for preparing yourself to enter a state of flow.
Mindfulness involves paying attention to the present moment while remaining nonjudgmental and accepting. When practicing mindfulness, you must focus on your body’s sensations and the environment around you rather than your thoughts and emotions. By focusing on the present moment, you can clear your mind of distractions and negative thoughts that may be impeding your ability to enter a state of flow.
Furthermore, mindfulness can facilitate you to become more aware of your thought patterns and habits. This increased self-awareness can help you recognize any mental blocks or distractions that are keeping you from entering a state of flow. You can then get into the state of flow more easily and effectively by learning to manage these distractions.
Don't have time for the full article? Read this.
‘Flow’ is a term that describes a mental state in which a person is completely absorbed and engaged in an activity, resulting in a sense of enjoyment and satisfaction.
The key components of the state of flow are: (1) Clarity of goals (2) Complete focus on the task (3) Immediate feedback (4) A balance of challenges and skills (5) Actions and awareness are merged, losing self-conscious.
Benefits of achieving flow state include increasing the clarity of the mind, improved focus and performance, inducing positive emotions, and enhanced creativity.
To get into the state of flow, you need to find out what you enjoy doing first. You can reflect on your interests, try new things often and examine your values.
Then, set clear goals so you can focus your mind on them.
Next, eliminate distractions and create an environment that is ideal for staying focused.
Use challenges to help you get into the flow state. You can do so by setting ambitious and achievable goals, adjusting the difficulty level of the task continuously and focus on the process instead of the end goal.
Identify your peak productive and creative times to finish the task.
Create a ritual that you do every time you are about to begin a task that requires you to focus. Whatever activity you choose, it will prime your brain to prepare for what is about to happen.
Lastly, start to practice mindfulness. This can help you to prepare yourself mentally to get into the flow.
Getting into the flow is a powerful practice that can help you focus, which is critical for achieving life goals.
Mastering the flow has been shown to improve performance and provide a sense of fulfillment. However, mastering it will require focus and practice, just like any other skill. You can harness the power of flow and peak your performance by following the steps outlined above.
Featured photo credit: ConvertKit via unsplash.com