Have you ever been so fully and completely into an activity that you lost track of time? Have you ever experienced being so absorbed in what you are doing that all worries, thoughts and memories melt away? Everything seems to be working together in complete harmony. Whatever you are doing is completely for your own sake, rather than as a means to an end. There is no separation between you and the moment. It is simply a pure sense of vibrant aliveness and connectedness. If you have experienced this state then you have been in what we refer to as the flow state of mind.
The world’s greatest thinkers have described the flow state as the most productive and creative state of mind. In addition, many positive psychologists have claimed that achieving the flow state on a regular basis can drastically improve your happiness. They figured that by learning how to enter the flow state you get happier, while also increasing your productivity and level of creativity.
Many athletes, creatives and artists experience a state of flow on a common basis. Usually a flow state is most likely to occur when your skill level is aligned with the challenge of the activity. A soccer player may experience this during a game, while a singer may reach this state when performing on stage. Others can experience this state during activities such as work, listening to music, exercising or pursuing hobbies. The graph below shows the relationship between skill and challenge level in the flow state of mind.
The positive psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is well known for his research on the flow state of mind. He conducted extensive research on what makes people truly happy and found that humans are their happiest when they are in flow. The flow state was described as a state when a person gives his fullest attention to a task for intrinsic reasons. Csikszentmihalyi found that the brain can only process 110 bits per second. This means that if our brain uses all the resources to focus on a task, we will lack awareness of the things that are happening around us and even loose track of our own body signals. Such high concentration levels bring performance to a whole other level. In addition, this level of awareness and focus is claimed to increase our levels of happiness.
By studying the impacts that the flow state can have on your well being it quickly becomes something you want to experience more of. We will now go through some steps that can help you bring more flow into your daily life.
- 1. Your skills need to be matched well with the challenge
Csikszentmihalyi found that the flow state is attainable when your skill level is aligned with the challenge of the activity you are performing. If it is too easy you reach a state of control and if it is too difficult you get anxious. Somewhere in between you find the perfect alignment in order to reach flow. This may for example be when a runner competes in a marathon or when a public speaker goes up on stage.
- 2. Strive for something that challenges your existing skills
You may also reach the flow state by trying something a bit more advanced than your current abilities. For example if you are a dancer, this can mean trying out a challenging move that you never dared to try before. Stepping out of your comfort zone and pushing your own limits may help you reach a flow state of mind.
- 3. Have clear goals
It is important to have a goal for your specific task, such as finishing a work project, completing a particular maneuver or winning a competition. This is the key to meeting the challenge levels and getting the focus you need.
- 4. Focus
You want to attain maximum level of concentration, so it is crucial to eliminate all distractions. If you try to do more than one task, you cannot reach the state of flow. You need to fully emerge yourself into one, single task and give it your full focus.
- 5. Enjoy the process
Choose an activity that you love so that you will enjoy the process. Remember that the flow state is only reached if you are performing your task for some intrinsic reason. If you are passionate about what you are doing, it is more likely that you will reach flow. Even though the goal is essential, the most important thing is that you enjoy the journey and not only focus on the end product.
Reaching the flow state is a profound experience and in addition it has a lot of benefits – So get out there and practice!
Good luck getting your flow on
Flow – The secret to happiness. Ted Talk with Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi