“The happiest people spend much of their time in a state of flow – the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.” — Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.
The idea of being ‘in the zone’, where tasks are effortless, and you feel energised by a sense of achievement may feel rather tricky to reach right now.
Happiness, satisfaction, fulfilment… are perhaps feelings that have been in short supply of late.
With constant distractions, uncertainties and tougher lockdown measures, how can we create more meaningful enjoyment in our day-to-day work and even make some space for moments of creativity?
Achieving a state of ‘flow’ can help
According to Wikipedia, in positive psychology, a flow state, also known as ‘being in the zone’, is the mental state in which a person performing some activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energised focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.
In essence, flow is characterised by the complete absorption in what one does, and a resulting transformation in one’s sense of time.
The term ‘flow’ was originally coined by psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in 1975. He believes that being ‘in the zone’ releases us from our self-consciousness, worries and anxieties and allows us to lose track of time. Csikszentmihalyi claimed that a state of flow combines action and awareness which provides a feeling of control. Ah, Control… That’s certainly something we could all do with feeling right now!
How to find your flow
According to this article, flow is associated with subjective wellbeing, satisfaction with life and general happiness. At work, it’s linked to productivity, motivation and company loyalty.
But reaching flow is not always easy and won’t happen automatically. It’s a delicate process requiring just the right conditions.
Follow these ten steps to help you achieve your flow state:
Timing is everything
If you try to get into a flow state when you are tired and drained, it’ll feel like an uphill struggle. You’ll get distracted easily and have less willpower to stay in the zone. So decide when you are at your best and most energised or enter your flow state directly after a break.
Eliminate external distractions
Only when you can focus with undivided attention for at least 15 minutes can you get into flow. In fact, it’s said that whenever we get distracted it takes on average 25 minutes to gain back our full attention. So it’s critical that you put your phone away and disable all alerts and notifications.
Remove internal distractions
Wandering minds are the enemy of flow. When we’re experiencing stress or have too much to think about, it’s incredibly hard to stay focused on your task at hand. Try a ten minute meditation to clear your mind and daily journaling to get thoughts out of your head.
Listen to the right kind of music
Listening to music with your headphones helps to block external distractions and keep internal distractions to a minimum, preventing your mind from wandering. Choose repetitive or familiar music with limited vocals that could compete with your thoughts or put one song on repeat.
Work on one specific task
Flow is the opposite of multitasking and switching between multiple tasks will stop you getting in the zone. Be very clear about what you’re going to work on and stick to it.
Match your skills to the job at hand
Flow can only be achieved when the task is challenging enough to keep your brain interested, while at the same time you’re skilled enough to tackle the task without it being too difficult, stressful or frustrating.
Have a clear objective
You need to have a specific purpose for focusing on the task, such as finishing a project, completing a piece of content or finalising a strategy or plan, whilst also being mindful of the next point…
Focus on the process and not just the end state
While having a goal is important, flow also allows you to enjoy the journey by not fixating on the end result. Allow yourself to appreciate the moment without worrying too much about the ultimate outcome.
Define a mental cue
Do something special each time you prepare to go into flow state. Whether that’s repeating a sentence or taking a few deep breaths, do that same exact thing every time. In doing so, you’re triggering your brain to understand it’s time to flow.
Stay hydrated and consume caffeine cautiously
Drinking water is incredibly important for concentration and focus. Staying hydrated keeps your brain functioning well, while not drinking enough can sap your energy. And keep an eye on your caffeine intake.
One or two cups can provide a proper productivity boost but any more than that can induce anxiety and reduce your focus.
Go for it!
Now, realistically speaking, finding your flow, even for an hour or two, may be difficult to achieve over the coming months, with additional responsibilities and home-schooling on the cards for many of us.
But getting in the zone to finally complete a task or project that you may have been dodging could actually help to save some time, get that job across the finish line and leave you with a feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment.
So… book the time and set the task, prepare your brain and go for it!