Rule of thumb; what gets you in the zone, gets you in a flow state
Have you ever felt your mind, body, and soul 100% focused on what you were doing? Whether it was working out, painting, or equations? It feels like time and all the problems of the world fall away and all you have is the task in front of you and nothing else. This is what it means to be in a state of flow. Being in this state creates a sense of oneness, where there is no barrier between the mind, body, and the activity.
The term was popularized by psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi in his 1990 book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. It is defined as an “optimal state of consciousness where we feel our best and perform our best.” It involves “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”
Csikszentmihalyi defines 8 characteristics of flow:
Complete concentration on the task
Clarity of goals and reward in mind and immediate feedback
Transformation of time (speeding up/slowing down)
The experience is intrinsically rewarding
Effortlessness and ease
There is a balance between challenge and skills
Actions and awareness are merged, losing self-conscious rumination
There is a feeling of control over the task
Now that you know that, have you experienced flow? What can you do to experience it again? Read on!
How To Achieve Flow In Your Work
So the big question is how can you tap into this state of flow on demand? Read on to learn about steps that can help you achieve flow.
1. Remove External Distractions
You need to focus on your task for at least 10-15 minutes to get into a flow state, you can't do that if you have multiple distractions. Create a space that limits distractions. Put your phone away and clear your desk. Keep only what's necessary for the task in front of you. Do not check your email, twitter, or Instagram accounts. Make sure to turn all notifications on silent so that the noise doesn't break your flow.
If you do become distracted it takes an average of 25 minutes to achieve a hyper-focused state of being. You can blame 'attention residue' which means that some of your attention is still lingering on the previous distraction. That being said, it is very important to protect yourself from this happening.
2. Remove Internal Distractions
Learn to quiet your mind. If you are stressed and feeling overwhelmed it will be challenging to reach flow. Try journaling and meditation for clarity and stress relief. It will help you retrain your mind and that will help you reach a state of flow.
3. Find Your Peak Time
Make sure you have lots of energy and can concentrate. It will be challenging to get into a flow state if you have low energy levels. When you're exhausted it is twice as hard to focus, and channel all your energy to the task at hand.
You need to be well-rested and fresh in order to tap into your state of flow. For this reason, I prefer and would recommend pursuing a state of flow in the early mornings.
4. Listen To Music That Gets You Into Game Mode
This is a huge flow trigger for me. Listening to music not only blocks off all sorts of distractions but helps achieve and stay in a state of flow. Some people find it helpful to listen to the same track over and over again to stay hyperfocused. I usually do this when I'm pounding it out on my treadmill. Other types of music that can help you get in the zone are classical, trance, or techno.
Additionally, it not only blocks of external distractions but also internal distractions. You are definitely less likely to pay attention to nagging or conflicting thoughts that prevent you from being productive.
One more tip: make sure to play songs that make you feel like levitating. Songs that you are already familiar with. Playing new songs can be distracting and it won't have the same effect on you.
Put away all thoughts of multitasking and discipline yourself to be hyperfocused on one task only. It will be difficult to reach a flow state if you keep switching tasks. When you switch tasks you break the rhythm you have achieved and you become less productive and more distracted. Try to be specific.
Right now, I am writing a blog post and I have made sure to keep all distractions at bay. That means, no emails, no tabs, no phones, no communications, no distracting music, I only have my blog post in front of me. Moreover, I have allocated exactly one hour to do this. Keeping that in mind, keeps me hyperfocused.
6. Do not make the task too easy or too challenging
Make sure that the activity in front of you is not so challenging that it will cause anger and frustration. It must match your skill level. If you cannot achieve harmony while working it will be challenging to reach a flow state. On the other hand, make sure the task is not too easy. Otherwise, you risk landing into a state of boredom and will not want to continue your task.
Flow can only be achieved when your task is challenging and interesting enough to keep you engaged.
7. Have A Goal
Understand exactly what needs to be done and what you need to do to get there. As with anything in life you need to have a goal to keep you on track and propel you towards success. Make sure to keep your goal clearly in front of you. Write it on a piece of paper, add a date and time, and stick on your desk or work wall.
When you lack clarity, procrastination seeps in and you'll be pushed to quit or change tracks.
8. Smart Caffeinatation
Take some coffee, tea, caffeine pills, before you want to enter a state of flow. Taking caffeine can give you productivity and focus boost and get you in the zone. The rule of thumb is to consume about 200 milligrams of caffeine (roughly 2 cups) to propel you focus longer and more intensely on the task at hand.
However, make sure you do not go above this amount as there is a high probability of it leading to a decrease in focus and heightened anxiety levels. At the end of the day we all react to caffeine in different ways, so it is important you are aware of how much it affects you, and when you take it.
9. Hydrate Regularly
You can't have all that caffeine without water! It is super important for you to drink water so that you can stay hyperfocused. Your brain is 75% water so when you don't have enough of it you begin to quickly feel fatigued and unmotivated. You might even begin to feel brain fog. And by the way, caffeine dehydrates you, so the more of it you take, the more water you need to consume as well. Staying hydrated will help you stay energized and able to reach and maintain a flow state better.
10. Find Images To Boost Confidence, Vision, And Flow
Find images that inspire you, it can be image quotes, a person you look up to, a place you want to reach, a level of success you aspire to be at. Looking at these images will be a constant reminder for you in your creative space to stay hyperfocused. It will boost your confidence and help you strengthen that vision, and eventually have it come into fruition. Having a constant visual reminder is very powerful and can induce a state of flow.
11. Create A Mental Cue
Find a mental cue that can help you enter a state of flow. That cue will differ from person to person. It could be a meditation that mentally prepares you to be in flow, it could be a certain song, or maybe an affirmation you need to read to reinforce belief in yourself. When you have figured out your mental cue, make sure to perform each time before you want to get into the zone. In time this ritual will create a mental cue for your brain, and your brain will act accordingly. In time, you will be able to reach flow more easily and efficiently.
12. Practice, practice, practice
With most things in life you need practice, it will take discipline and it will be challenging at times to find the right situation that works for you. However, each time you feel is a teachable moment for yourself. What did you learn from this failure? How can you prevent it from occurring again? What can you do to be better? And do not forget that when you achieve flow, learn from it as well. What conditions helped you get there? How can you recreate those conditions? Don't rush the learning process, you will get better in time.
13. Enjoy Yourself
Let go and truly enjoy yourself while you are in a flow state. Appreciate this feeling of being in the zone. Enjoying yourself while you are doing something you are passionate about will make you want to look forward to challenging yourself and reaching a state of flow again.
Flow = Happy = Self-Care
Everyone tends to believe that when you are relaxing and doing noting you are truly happy. Research has shown that this is not the case. In actuality, most people are happiest when they are in a state of flow. According to Mihaly,“the best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times… The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”
When you reach this flow state, it also facilitates self-care as it reduces stress and anxiety. Being 100% hyperfocused on one task prevents your mind from dwelling on problems of the past and future. Instead, you are 100% focused on the present task at hand and challenging yourself to do it to the best of your ability.
Achieving flow is one of the greatest experiences ever, not only are you benefiting your mental health and productivity, but you are also setting yourself up for success in the long run. Now that you know all the above, go do it!
How often do you experience flow, and what type of activities lead to this experience?
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