Have you ever experienced a time where you are completing a task (working out, working on an assignment, listening to an audio, conversating, essentially anything that requires “work”), and you noticed that time essentially flew by?
What if I told you this state of mind is not only when you are at your creative peak, but also at your happiest?
By state of mind, I am referring to being in the state of “flow”. Flow, by definition, is a cognitive state where you are fully immersed into an activity. This state can be experienced by anybody, but it is directly driven by interest & motivation (both intrinsic & extrinsic)
In simple terms, if the challenge is too difficult, you are more likely to give up or move on relatively soon. If the challenge is too easy, you will be less willing to continue the task over time.
Flow is the balanced level of challenge & skill to optimally complete said activity. In other words, to be “in the zone”.
Explaining/showing examples of flow can be a bit difficult as what stimulates my flow state will not always be what stimulates your flow, but it is important to understand how to recognize that you are in flow.
The two main notions I experience during a flow state are clarity & peace.
Clarity- Complete awareness of what you are doing and how well you are doing it.
Peace- A calm & content mind frame.
Something to note before continuing:
Due to the fact that flow is driven by components such as level of difficulty, skill, & interest, how to enter the state of “flow” is extremely subjective to the individual.
Now that we understand what flow is, there are two specific questions I want to tackle. How can we activate flow, and how can we maintain flow?
How do we activate the state of flow?
We can characterize distractions into two categories: External & Internal.
One of the biggest distractions we are exposed to on a regular basis is an item we carry with us for the majority of our day, our cellphone. Although our phone can be an asset, it can also be a liability. Our cellphone exposes us too many distractions such as social media, notifications, news, and many other types of noise.
Another source of distraction, and arguably the biggest, is the mind. A byproduct of being a human is that we are always thinking. This is not necessarily a good or bad thing because our thoughts can either lead us to massive breakthroughs or massive distractions. Therefore, it is ideal to clear your mind regularly. Some meditate, others cultivate mindfulness, it is all personal preference.
You may think flow and focus are relatively the same thing, however, there is a key difference. Going back to a question I asked in paragraph two, to be in a state of flow means you are currently happy while simultaneously fully engaged in the task you are wanting to complete. Just because you are focused does not mean you are focused on the correct thing. For example, you could be working out or finishing an assignment, but your focus can easily transition toward your phone (text message, social media notification, etc.) You then notice 30 minutes flying by. This shows you achieved flow during your distraction, and not during your original task. Maintain your focus on the task you are wishing to complete.
How do we maintain the state of flow?
Personally, after doing my research on flow, you will find tons of information on how to activate the state, but I have not seen much information on how to maintain flow over time from one task to the other. In other words, to try and be in a state of flow consistently and not only for certain tasks. Here are my personal findings:
Move with purpose:
It is very common to “go through the motions” while doing things we are not fully interested in (Hence not being in the state of flow). Therefore, a way to maintain flow is to only participate in activities that are backed by purpose. Meaning the task I wish to accomplish is for a reason. This allows me to eliminate any extra activities that will not bring me any positive return. For example, although I find video games to be exciting, they bring me no true value. If anything, it brings stress & lost time. That is a negative risk: reward (In this case, energy: reward). So, it is rational to discard the activity. On the other hand, taking the time out of my morning every day to keep a clean/organized room/office space brings me inner peace & a clear mind to tackle the day. This is a positive risk: reward, so it makes sense as to why it is a part of my routine. Risk: reward ties to value, which is subjective, but the return is the incentive to complete your task (purpose).
Now that we have acknowledged which tasks provide us value, we now have to organize them. Why? If we try to do too much at once there is a possibility we will not get anything done, and if we don’t list our tasks, we can easily forget a couple. A potential route to take your organization is time blocking.
Time blocking is the practice of planning out every activity of your day in advance and dedicating specific time “blocks” for each task/responsibility. Many do this through a physical planner or to-do list application, your choice. I do not recommend only using your mind to schedule your day because odds are you will forget something.
Time blocking not only forces you to get started (which at times is the hardest thing to do), but because you have specific times set for specific activities, you now have the opportunity to fully immerse yourself into your task (flow). This directly correlates to maintaining a clear mind & eliminating internal distractions.
Try new things:
Growing up, I always let the fear of the unknown prevent me from trying certain new things out. As soon as I forced fear to take a backseat, my sense of adventure grew immensely. That increase in interest allows me to fully immerse myself into the activity I am trying out. Thus, creating flow.
There are endless ways to stimulate & maintain the state of flow, the goal is to find our trigger(s).
We now understand the what (flow) and the how, but we are missing the why?
Flow is an active state of peace.
Flow helps us improve our attention span, level of focus, productivity, enjoyment & creativity. As a result, we live much more rational lives. Which leads to overall progression.
Every action needs a reason why. Find your why.
Ultimately, go with the flow.
Robb, Alice. “The 'Flow State': Where Creative Work Thrives.” BBC Worklife, BBC, 5 Feb. 2019, www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20190204-how-to-find-your-flow-state-to-be-peak-creative
Oppland, Mike. “8 Ways To Create Flow According to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi [+TED Talk].” PositivePsychology.com, 15 Feb. 2021, positivepsychology.com/mihaly-csikszentmihalyi-father-of-flow/
Roomer, Jari. “How To Protect Your Focus And Reach 'Flow State'.” Medium, Personal Growth Lab, 13 Jan. 2020, medium.com/personal-growth-lab/how-to-protect-your-focus-and-reach-flow-state-5da1b58bf7fc
MacKay, Jory. “Time Blocking 101: A Step-by-Step Guide to Mastering Your Daily Schedule.” RescueTime Blog, 20 Feb. 2020, blog.rescuetime.com/time-blocking-101/.
When acknowledging how significant coherent communication is & the decrease in average attention span, is it not logical to consider getting to the point?
Have you ever experienced a time where you are completing a task (working out, listening to an audio, etc) and you noticed that time essentially "flew" by?