Updated: Oct 18, 2022
“Deep Work,” “Total Focus,” “In the Zone”— all describe an optimal state of consciousness where we perform and feel our best. Psychology professor and author Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls this state of being Flow State.
My experience of Flow State is quite magical: it transports me into a mind space where I am so engaged in the work or activity that I completely lose track of time. I almost feel one with the activity itself—enjoying the process and often producing more creative and faster results than I ever thought possible. And even more gratifying—it leaves me more energized than when I started.
Flow State is quite magical: it transports me into a mind space where I am so engaged in the work or activity that I completely lose track of time.
For years, I fell into this state of mind by accident. But as I got older, I recognized the profound value of this natural human power. Apart from putting me in a hyper-productive, creative, and energized state; I noticed I was able to learn things much faster as well (I have learned that people who regularly experience Flow State can cut their learning time in half). Naturally, I became more curious about this state of consciousness. Does it only happen by accident or are there things I can do to experience this magic more often?
The Flow State is not an uncommon experience for most people.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of numerous books, including the National Bestseller Flow - The Consciousness of Optimal Experience,
has spent much of his career studying, teaching, and popularizing this concept and has made the subject much more accessible. Now that we understand better what puts us in a Flow State and what happens when we are in that state, we have the knowledge we need to be more intentional about tapping into this experience more directly and more often.
Tapping into Flow State requires striking the right balance between the challenge at hand and the skill level to meet that challenge. When the challenge stretches our capability just the right amount, we can tap into the flow channel. Tipping the challenge-skill balance too far in either direction strands us in a low-performing state of anxiety on one side or boredom on the other.
In that ideal Goldilocks state where challenge and skill are nicely balanced, the Flow State catalyzes deep focus and uninterrupted concentration. Finding quality time for the task at hand, eliminating distractions, avoiding context switching, and having one clear goal at a time (with short feedback loops on whether we are succeeding or not) are some of the key ingredients that help us tap into and sustain this flow. Adrenaline also plays a role: activities that carry some risk (like a looming deadline or a high-stakes outcome) also facilitate flow. (Image above is adapted from totalimmersion.net)
The beautiful thing about flow is that it is also one of the golden keys to happiness at work. The state of consciousness itself reduces stress (and who doesn’t appreciate less stress?).
If you want to practice flow more often, here are some suggestions:
Try working on that challenging or daunting task in a novel environment like at a cafe or a bookstore or by the pool (my favorite flow space). Why do these places tend to help achieve flow? Because the unpredictability or risk introduced by the environment helps create the adrenaline needed for flow and allows you to focus on the details.
Create a musical ‘flow playlist’ of instrumental tracks and use it when you want to get into that state. The repetition in music helps you get in the zone without getting distracted.
Condition your brain and body for lower levels of stress and increase the acuteness of your senses through the practice of mindfulness and meditation and by spending more time in nature.
Improve your focus and concentration and reduce brain fog and fatigue by exercising regularly and staying hydrated.
In today’s hyper-connected, highly collaborative, fast-paced world of always-on work, crowded calendars and competing demands; stolen moments of individual flow may feel out of reach for many of us. But if we wish to draw on the incredible power of ‘flow consciousness’ to tap into greater creativity, performance, and happiness (as many conscious leaders do easily and often), it is time to get much more intentional about Creating FLOW!
If we wish to draw on the incredible power of ‘flow consciousness’, it is time to get much more intentional about Creating FLOW!