Flow State: What is it?
Have you ever engaged in an activity and wondered at the end of it how the time flew? Or ever being engaged in an activity that you lost consciousness of time? I’m sure you have had these kinds of experience even if once in a while. At that time, you were thoroughly enjoying yourself so that time stood at attention for your sake- or so it seems. During those times you are in mental state termed by psychologists as the flow state.
According to positive psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi who coined the term in 1975, he defined flow state as an “optimal state of consciousness where we feel our best and perform our best.” Flow state is also described as ‘being in the zone’.
When you are in the flow state, you lose consciousness of time, environment and all else except the work you are on. You are fully immersed, totally absorbed, paying attention fully- nothing else matters. You could have performed that activity for the whole day except that your mom or dad or someone else interrupted you. Don’t you wish every task was like that? You wish your coursework in school will engage your attention like that.
Typically, people enter flow state when they are pursuing an activity that is meaningful to them; when they are intrinsically motivated and not coerced by some external force. And often these activities that put people in flow state are usually low-priority activities, the ones that do not contribute to personal development or future prospects. Take for example, the teenager who plays video game all day to the neglect of his schoolwork. Or the employee who gets distracted from his work and finds himself chatting on Facebook.
How can one transfer this misplaced flow state to really important things? What if one could enter flow state in what really matters? Is this possible? Sure. Though flow state is desirable, we seem to enter it in rare moments. By learning the principles undergirding it, we can hack our brains to get into the flow state.
Motivation and Purpose
Psychologists have conducted extensive research and found out that humans are more intrinsically motivated in doing what what they do than by extrinsic means. Psychologist Edward Deci (quoted in Daniel Pink’s book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us) says, human beings have an “inherent tendency to seek out novelty and challenges, to extend and exercise their capacities, to explore and to learn.”
That is, the employee who enjoys his job and gives his best at it is not doing so primarily because of the large paycheck or job security but because his job satisfies a deeper inner need like: the enjoyment of the job itself, a sense of making a contribution to the good of the society or growing personally.
Internal drives or desires are really the motive for giving one’s best to a task and ultimately being a flow state. Thus, being intrinsically motivated about a task or activity is key achieving and maintaining flow state.
To become intrinsically motivated, one must discover the reason for being. Call it vocation or life’s work or purpose. You must discover what you are going to spend the rest of your life doing or living for. This is what you must discover for yourself–not something to be externally imposed. The student forced by his parents to read law finds he has no interest in his coursework. He reads to get by and to please his parent. He hopes for the day when he will be released from his prison to do what his heart is really after.
Your purpose can be found in what your heart craves to do- the longing that will not go long after everything crowding your heart goes. What is that thing you want to do with and for the rest of your life? What is that will wake you in the morning and keep you late at night? What do you dream of? In 1962, Clare Boothe Luce, one of the first women to serve in the U.S. Congress offered some advice to President John F. Kennedy. “A great man,” she told him, “is one sentence.” Abraham Lincoln’s sentence was: “He preserved the union and freed the slaves.” Daniel Pink recommends asking yourself the big question: “What’s your sentence?” Let me put it for you: “What is the one sentence that will be said of you? What do you want to be remembered for?”
Discovering your sentence- your purpose is one thing. And pursuing purpose is another. Pursuing purpose is a daily thing. You set goals daily and seek to achieve them. And this where ‘flow’ come in. Entering the flow state requires that you are constantly challenging yourself. You desire to improve and do better than yesterday.
The brain seeks novelty , unpredictably and complexity. The yearning to grow, to be better is innate. And we must pay attention and do something about it. When we lapse into routine, when work is no longer providing stimulus for growth, we enter into a state of tedium. Our minds flitter from one thing to the other, we are enter into a self-reflection and our work and productivity suffers. We are distracted because we are bored.
The key thing here is to constantly raise the bar on your performance; to keep getting better and better at what you do- in the thing that is in line with your purpose. Strive to improve a little each day. In other words, seek mastery. Read my blog post: Go For Goals and Grow for further understanding on goal-setting.
Daniel Pink recommends five steps in becoming better and achieving mastery which I digest here for you:
1.Remember that deliberate practice has one objective: to improve performance. Anders Ericsson has said: “Deliberate practice is about changing your performance, setting new goals and straining yourself to reach a bit higher each time.”
2.Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repetition matters. Great athlete repeat to perfection.
3.Seek constant, critical feedback.
4.Focus ruthlessly on where you need help. That is, work on your weaknesses rather than on your strength only.
5.Prepare for the process to be mentally and physically exhausting. This might sound contradictory to the idea of flow state but on closer look, it is not. An activity that is mentally and physically demanding becomes more easier and enjoying as you persist it. Ask how great players like Serena Williams keep on with hard practice to stay on top of their game. They enjoy hard practice!
Finding Your Flow Times
And, there are certain times of the day when we are more easily able to enter the flow state. All times of the day are not alike for everyone. Some do better in the mornings, others in the afternoons or evenings. Monitor yourselves and find out what times of the day you perform optimally. Schedule high priority activities during those times. For me, my best times are very early in the morning. Find out yours.
In summary, flow state or ‘being in the zone’ guarantees optimal performance. So this year 2018, make it a business to enter your flow state.
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1.Flow State: What it is https://www.huffingtonpost.com/alayna-kennedy/flow-state-what-it-is-and_b_9607084.html
2.Hack Into Your Flow State And Quintuple Your Productivity. https://www.fastcompany.com/3031052/how-to-hack-into-your-flow-state-and-quintuple-your-productivity