Tag Archives: success


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?”

Getting Better

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.

Please post your comments below and let me know what you think. Please subscribe to have my posts emailed directly to you.  Have a great day.

Further Reading:

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


Somebody out there is about to give up. But don’t. You can get up and try one more time.

Failure is a situation, never a person. (I took that line from John Mason’s book, Know Your Limits Then Ignore Them this morning). We tend to unconsciously link failure with our self-esteem. Our self-talk goes something like: “If I failed, then I must be a failure.” But such conclusion is all wrong. All wrong! Such belief will only hamper your ability to succeed in life. We must disconnect failure from our  self-worth. It might not be that easy but we can do it. Many a great man made many attempts before finally succeeding. While it is great to expect success, it is realistic to expect some failures along the way. In fact, great men are those who have gone through failure after failure without giving up. The famous story of Thomas Edison comes to mind. When asked about his failure at inventing a light bulb 1,000 times, he replied, “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.” Every mistake you have made so far, every failure you have experience so far, can be a step forward-if you learn from them and refuse to quit.

It is said that Albert Einstein failed math as a student (I am not encouraging you to be a math-hater though), but he never gave up. And today, his name is synonymous with physics. There are many such stories of success after repeated failures that could be told to fill a tome.

I had the privilege of having an elderly man speak to me some heartfelt words yesterday. The words still linger in my mind. He said something that I will want to keep with me for the rest of my life. Here is what he said: “Defeat never comes to a man until he admits it.” That is, a man is not a failure, until he admits that he is one. A man may fail at a venture many times but that does not make him a failure.

The theme of this blog is about balance- balance in every sphere of life. Nature creates balance. Life creates balance. When balance is upset, problems result. For example, in high school biology, where there is an imbalance between the producers and consumers in a ecosystem, problems arise. Same thing too in life. You need a balance of successes and failures. Every successful person will have a fair share of failures or mistakes. After all, we are only imperfect humans in an imperfect world. In fact, the Bible says it so in Ecclesiastes 7:14:

“In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other…”

Here are some facts and lessons about failure that I have gleaned from my reading and experiences so far:

  1. It is better to fail than not try at all. Making mistakes or failing is proof that you are taking a step forward.
  2. Failure is feedback. Failure is an opportunity to learn and continue. Many successes were built from previous failures.
  3. Failure is a situation, never a person. Stop linking your failures without your self-worth. It keeps you down. Yes, failure can be emotionally devastating but you can get over those emotions by proper self-talk.
  4. It is not over until you give up. Get up and try again and again until you get it right.
  5. You can learn from the mistakes of others. You will not have the whole time in life to make all the mistakes you can make. Learn from the mistakes of others and minimize yours. A fool refuses to learn from the mistakes and failures of others. In fact, I keep my ears and eyes open to learn from the mistakes of others. Sometimes, I put myself in the shoes of another who has failed to see what I could have done differently. The great thing is that I learn not only for myself in so doing but for others as well.

Find a way to keep yourself motivated despite the failures you experience. In my own way, I read something motivational each day very early in the morning (say, 4 am) when my mind is still fresh and not yet filled with the clutter of the day’s activities. This year start a habit of encouraging yourself in the midst of life’s challenges. You might want to have a favorite motivational quote hung somewhere on the wall of your room where you can see it. Such small actions can make a very big difference in your motivation level.

In closing, I would like to quote Winston Churchill on this matter.

Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.

Try again. I believe you will succeed. It is your right to succeed.

Have a happy day.

Please post your comments below. Let me know what you think.