Flow State: Benefits of Flow and How to Achieve it
What is Flow?
Flow is a term coined by positive psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi that describes the state of complete immersion in an activity 1. You most likely have experienced this doing something you enjoy or feel challenged by, where time seems to either fly by or stand still. An example is a grand master chess player in a tournament during a game, an artist working on a painting, or a surgeon performing surgery. However, you can experience flow state at a desk job as well! Think about the last time you were deeply focused on your work and realized you forgot to eat lunch, or take a break to stretch. You likely felt extremely productive and energized and wondered how the past few hours flew by so quickly.
How do you know if you’ve achieved a flow state? Per Csíkszentmihályi there are ten elements that may exist when you are in flow state1:
The activity is intrinsically rewarding.
There are clear goals that, though challenging, are attainable.
Complete focus on the activity itself.
Feelings of total control over the situation and outcome.
Feelings of tranquility and loss of self-consciousness.
The task appears doable though it may be challenging.
Lack of awareness of physical needs (i.e. forget to drink water, eat lunch, use the bathroom).
Strong concentration and attention.
Sense of distorted time, that feels either like hours flew by or minutes moved slowly.
With the rise in popularity of positive psychology, flow has become a more buzzworthy concept, and many are looking to reap the benefits. There are countless benefits of achieving a flow state, some of which are:
Your attention is focused on important and positive items. Your self-consciousness shuts down, taking with it your negative mind-wandering. This allows you to feel intrinsically rewarded by the task at hand rather than focusing on other items you could be doing, or feeling you like your task is something to be rushed through.
Improved performance can occur in any domain you may be working in.
Increase ability to learn and develop new skills. You become more confident in your abilities and continue to seek out new challenges.
Productivity can double when you are in a flow state as you are continuously working on the task with no distractions and experience an increase in intrinsic motivation.
Experiencing flow state not only increases creativity in the moment but trains your mind to be more open to innovation and ideas in the future. Your mind is less critical and better able to make connections.
Since flow and stress are mutually exclusive, being in flow helps to reduce stress as you are fully present, feel fulfilled, and complete a challenging task. This results in an overall increase in happiness, fulfillment, and satisfaction in life.
Regulates emotions: you may experience a better emotional intelligence and ability to regulate your emotions more easily.
Per Headspace.com, “the flow mental state is generally less common during periods of relaxation and makes itself present during challenging and engaging activities.”3 Like any other skill, the best way to become better at achieving a flow state is practice, practice, practice. The more you do it, the more easily you’ll fall into flow. Here are some ways you could give it a try next time you need to get some challenging work done:
Set yourself up for success by setting clear goals that require specific motions to complete.
Eliminate all distractions in your working environment to reach the state of full immersion in the task at hand.
Ensure there is an element of challenge in the task, which will help you to increase focus. If it is too easy, it will be more likely you will get distracted.
Try to choose a task that you enjoy or are interested in to achieve flow state in.
Create a ritual to prepare for your state of flow. Whatever it may be, if you do it each time it will become a signal to your brain that you are preparing to concentrate deeply.
Identify what times of day you are most focused and productive and set these times aside to perform your most challenging tasks.
Books about Flow and Deep Work:
The Art of Impossible by Steven Kotler
Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport
The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance by Steven Kotler