“Flow is an optimal state of consciousness, when you feel and perform your best. It’s the moment of total absorption. Time speeds up or slows down like a freeze-frame effect. Mental and physical ability go through roof, and the brain takes in more information per second, processing it more deeply.”
- Steven Kotler
Flow is when you are completely immersed in a challenging activity. You feel one with this and nothing else seems to exist. During flow, you are at your happiest. Steven Kotler, author of The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance explains that “The amount of time someone spends in flow has a massive and powerful correlation to life satisfaction”.
Many people mindlessly go through the motions of existence. You may find this within yourself to some extent. Do not allow yourself to one day realize that you have become trapped within yourself or your job.
Below is a full guide to help you pull yourself out of the boring, everyday tasks and get into a flow state. Use it to assist you in finding passion and challenges within your life.
If you are completing an activity that is too easy, you will soon fall into a state of boredom. Conversely, if the activity is too difficult you may begin to feel anxious. To experience flow, we must be in between these two states so that we are completely attentive and involved in the activity but not overwhelmed by it.
To achieve flow you must know what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. This provides the certainty you need to prevent worrying about the past or future. Understanding what needs to be accomplished will allow you to focus on what you are doing at the moment.
Unambiguous feedback leaves no room for worrying or wondering if you are doing “good” or “bad”. It tells you how you are doing in real time so that you can immediately adjust your response in order to meet the goal.
When in flow, you are totally immersed in the activity you are completing. Distractions do not exist. You are fully absorbed by the present moment and you feel unstoppable. Your mind and body team together to complete the activity; it feels as if it is second nature.
When in flow, you feel as if you can achieve anything. You are free from worry while feeling safe, secure, and relaxed. Although you are not actively trying to “be controlling”, you have self-discipline and can direct the contents of your consciousness.
When feelings of self-consciousness flood your mind, you may find that you are comparing yourself to others or wondering what they may think in regards to you. You are unable to feel this way during flow because you become one with the activity. You are too absorbed in the here and now to care about protecting your ego. It is just you, the activity and your intuition.
Have you ever lost track of time because you were just too focused on something? When you are in flow this is exactly what happens. It may feel as if time either slows down or speeds up.
While you are in a state of flow, you may find that you are engaging in an activity just for the sake of doing it! Performing the task itself is enough motivation for you to continue. You enjoy the process as a whole and are not just trying to reach an outcome.
Flow is fragile. It is critical to eliminate anything that may distract you so that you are not pulled out of this state. It takes about 10-15 minutes of undivided attention to achieve a flow state.
You may think that checking your phone only takes a second, but it can actually take your brain 25 minutes to finally regain full attention on the current activity.
Ways to give yourself the best chance to flow:
Ever find it extremely hard to focus when you are stressed out? If you’ve got “too much on your mind” you may struggle to concentrate, let alone reach a flow state. When you find yourself in this situation try to practice mindfulness. Try journaling, meditation, yoga or any activity you find enjoyable. Once you can control your thoughts you will find that flow comes a lot easier.
Flow relies on pursuing a single activity with extreme focus.
Multitasking is the villain!
In order to reach a flow state, you must know exactly what you are working on so that there is no room in your brain for hesitation. Decide on one specific activity with one specific goal and go all in, no questions asked.
Time moves differently when you are in a flow state. You can use the Pomodoro Timer to ensure that you do not flow for too long or to help you achieve your flow state in general.
The Pomodoro Technique is using a timer to break down your work into intervals. Realistically speaking, your brain cannot sustain a flow state indefinitely. By using this method you will be setting a beginning and end to your task. After the timer is over you can take a short break and allow your mind to rest.
If you struggle to get into a flow state this can be a very useful technique. By setting a beginning time, you defeat procrastination by making yourself get started. You can set it for about 25 minutes and spend that time working only on the task. Challenge yourself to get as much done or get the best quality work in that time and tell yourself that you can stop after the alarm goes off. You may discover that you are actually enjoying the work and the challenge when the timer goes off.
When you are tired it becomes more difficult to pay attention. You are more alert and ready for action after a good night’s sleep. Ensuring that you are well rested is a crucial step to reaching a flow state.
This does not mean that you should spend 12 hours in bed. Trying to sleep for half a day will not be beneficial if you are not getting quality sleep during this time. Learn what works best for you and aim to get enough high quality sleep each night so that you may perform your best.
Listen to your body. Learn from it. At what points in the day do you find that you are the most energetic and creative? At what times of the day are you more tired?
Achieving a flow state can be difficult if you do not have much energy. You need to have the desire to focus and accomplish your goals. Often people get tired after lunch. If you identify that in yourself, recognize that it would not be a good time to flow. Instead, choose a time of day when you have the most energy and try to schedule your flow times during this.
As mentioned above, to achieve flow you must be working on a task that is challenging enough to keep you engaged while being skilled enough to tackle the challenge without it being too difficult.
You can turn almost anything into flow. If you find an everyday activity to be “boring”, you need to change it up. Make a game out of it and create rules for yourself. For example, if you are completing a writing assignment, see how many words you can write within a timeframe. If you are sweeping the floor, see how clean you can get it in a certain amount of time and try to beat your score when you complete the activity again. You truly can find flow in almost any activity!
Feeling slow and fatigued? Have you had enough water?
Dehydration will make you feel foggy and sluggish, preventing you from reaching a flow state. To increase your productivity and chances of entering a flow state you should make sure that you are fully hydrated. When you have had enough water you will be able to stay focused and feel more energized.
Choose a task to perform before each of your attempts to enter a flow state. Doing this repeatedly will signal to your brain that you are about to enter a flow state and your body will prepare accordingly.
Examples of a flow ritual include:
Texts, emails, and social media make it more and more difficult for us to enter a flow state. If you find that you are always switching between tasks it may be best to start with attempting to flow for brief periods and work your way up. Practice for about 20 minutes or shorter if needed.
This is something that will take patience. You will definitely feel tempted to check your phone or email… but don’t give in! You can do it!
Common Goals: Everyone in the group must be working to reach a collective solution.
Familiarity: Everyone should be familiar with each other so that they are on the same page and can understand one another with ease.
Deep Listening: Each person needs to be paying close attention to what is being said. This will allow the conversation to naturally progress and prevent people from talking over one another.
Undivided Attention: For a group to achieve flow, there should be no distractions. Each person must be completely focused on the present moment.
Blending Egos: Each person must set aside their ego for the good of the group. Rather than being concerned with his/her own thoughts, each participant should listen and react to each other’s ideas.
Equal Participation: Teamwork is one of the most important factors in achieving group flow. Each person should have an equal role and a similar skill level.
Positive Input: Each member’s ideas should be built upon rather than torn apart. The participants will have to be optimistic and willing to try something new.
Sense of Control: Each member should have a task to complete that they enjoy or want to do and feel competent enough to complete it. This provides a feeling of being in control for all the members involved.
Shared Risk: The higher the risk, the more focused and motivated you are. All members should feel as if they have something to lose if they do not accomplish the goal.
We would love to hear from you! How do you induce a flow state? What activities drive you into flow? Let us know in the comments below!
Written by: Maureen Dubczuk
Frequently Asked Questions on Flow. Retrieved from https://www.stevenkotler.com/rabbithole/ea-ullam-copy
Sobel, D. (1995). Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Omni, 17(4), 73. Retrieved from Link.
Tishma, M. (2019, August 14). Conquering Attention Residue. Retrieved from https://www.chieflearningofficer.com/2018/03/02/conquering-attention-residue/