What is flow state? And how can it help me excel?

What is flow state? And how can it help me excel?

In 1975,Positive psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi coined the term flow state. He described flow as "A state of complete immersion in an activity."

There are other names for flow state that you may have heard before; Peak performance zone, Tunnel vision, Being in the zone, to name but a few.

It is a mental state of mind where everything seems to be going right, were every action you take seems to be the right one, or were your time blind because you're so immersed in the activity.

It is an illusive and often unpredictable place that we have all visited before at one time or another.

The energy, power, passion and capability you feel in the peak performance zone is unrivalled. If we could spend more time in this condition imagine how much more productive and efficient we would become!

The best experience of flow state is when we allow ourselves to be without distraction, without the constant buzzing of our phone, without being pestered. Take time and care to control your environment. This could even be having a clean desk, organised papers ect. This allows your brain to not have to waste time or effort on searching through folders potentially ruining the flow. Anything we do to increase our odds of getting, and staying in a flow state will aid in our continued success and productivity whilst in the zone!

Purposfully limiting distractions produces product far greater than an environment that is polluted with meaningless attention grabbing things.

While Flow can be a solitary activity, and those around you could be considered a distraction, you can also experience social flow.

Social flow is when a group, community, or body of people together, share a flow state.

For example, when a band of musicians combine their collective skills to make great music and reach their goal of fame or notoriety. Or when football players combine their skills to reach their goal as a team, instinctually knowing where to pass the ball.

This has happened many times and is not only limited to bands, or sports personalities. While flow state was coined in 1975, the experience is as old as humans are. For instance, Native people performing ritual ceremonies have become entranced by flow state, all harmonising in thier co-flow.

There is something fascinating about the collective energy of a group, look out for a future blog on this topic!

Whilst in the zone you may experience a sensation of ultra present-ness, or being aware of every action and option. Some people call this "Mindfulness", there is a certain meditative aspect to entering The Zone that comes with Hyperfocus.

The definition of Immersion is "deep mental involvement in something."

There are circumstances where entering the flow state is not possible, like we said before, control your environment. This also means your challenge or task to the best of your ability.

If the task you're trying to do is too hard, it will cause anxiety of failure, this diminishes your ability to enter the flow. If the task at hand is too easy it will induce boredom, again blocking the ability to enter the peak performance zone.

Csíkszentmihályi has said, "If challenges are too low, one gets back to flow by increasing them. If challenges are too great, one can return to the flow state by learning new skills."

Imagine an axiom with boredom at the bottom, anxiety at the top and the zone being in the middle.

Our challenges we set must then be challenging enough that it doesn't give us instant gratification, like TV or social media, without meaningful pay off, as this results in boredom for the part of the brain that induces the zone. And not too impossible that it creates anguish and anxiety thus resulting in the liklihood of failure or giving up.

I personally have been in a flow many times, one that immediately comes to mind is one day I wanted to clean the house all day, yet YouTube captured me. When my housemate Shaun had gone to bed I put my earphones in, listed to a piano playlist and got started. The cleaning I was supposed to do was just a small house clean, mainly dishes. Instead, because I was in the zone I ended up doing a full deep house clean. Hours had flew by without me even noticing it.

This is the joy of being in a flow state, your so involved and invested in the task at hand, as they say "Time flies when your having fun!

Psychology writer Kendra Cherry describes it as "Feeling so engrossed in the experience, that other needs become negligible." Meaning that your focus is so on point that you may forget to eat or drink, amongst other important tasks, even sleep.

These bouts of extreme concentration have been described by some as "optimal experiences", they can arise doing any activity, but are more likely whilst doing a task that we assign value to, that challenge our capability in some way.

"Passive activities like taking a bath or even watching TV usually do not elicit flow experiences, as individuals have to actively do something to enter a flow state." - Wikipedia

How can I apply this?

Now you know what flow is and how it feels, here is how you can apply it to your everyday routine.

You can condition yourself to find this nirvana on command!

Three must have conditions to enter a flow state;

  1. A task with clear goals and route of progress
  2. Immediate feedback, allowing to keep you in the flow and adjust accordingly
  3. Confidence in your ability to complete the task

Set your goals and tasks accordingly, seek long term gratification, and align yourself with a cause that pushes you out of your comfort zone. Not so much so that it is unattainable, but there does need to be a certain level of arousal. A higher-than-average challenge is required.

Some people are more prone to experience flow than others, this is not to say that you shouldn't try to enter.

There are different ways to enter a flow, one of which is having a routine, also known as a "Trigger".

What is a trigger?

We are habitual creatures, normally one act is directly followed by another, meaning we have patterns that can be recognised if we pay attention. Here is an example of a morning routine. Everyday Bob brushes his teeth, next he washes his face, without even noticing it he will have put his clothes on, but always starts with his right sock.

I know this is a silly example, but it is a relatable one, getting into the zone is no different, having a routine, or having something to directly trigger you into a flow.

You see this in many athletes, take weight lifters for example, each person is unique and has their own triggers, or routine to get into the zone. Here is one you see frequently, slapping of the muscles, yelling and clapping. These are simply there to get the person into the right frame of mind.

Other athletes, say fighters, may sit in silence alone and think about the up coming battle, others may dance and listen to music. Find your trigger or routine to give yourself the best odds of entering a flow.

Having a perceived skill level and an interest in the activity is paramount to success of a flow! Keep your goals clear and path of succession in mind, follow the feedback you get, go forwards with confidence, adapt accordingly and most importantly off all have fun and go with the flow!

Now you know more about the flow state, next time you experience one it will be a good idea to ponder on it a while, think of what got you into the state, how you felt during this experience. Think on!

Thank you for reading, if you found this entering and interesting share with your friends.

Strength and honor until the next time we meet my friends!