Short on time? For the key points on how to induce flow state, stick to the bold text and the conclusion.
Three tips on how to induce flow state:
But first, what is flow?
I’m sure you’ve heard people talk about the flow psychology before, but do you know what it is exactly? Flow is a powerful state of mind that can significantly enhance your productivity, creativity and learning. It is technically defined as ‘an optimal state of consciousness’, where we perform our best and we feel our best.
Flow has many benefits. It can:
- Increase productivity by 500% (Study by McKinsey and Co.)
- Amplify creativity between 400% & 700% (Study by Flow Genome Project)
- Improve learning rates by 490% (Study by the US Military – Steven Kotler)
How do you know you’re in the flow state?
When the challenge is just right, you become completely immersed in the activity at hand. You lose your sense of time and become unaware of your surroundings. People often refer to it as ‘being in the zone’.
“The Godfather of Flow”, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi defined 8 flow characteristics:
- Complete concentration on the activity
- A vanishing of self, a letting go of ego
- Dilation of time (speeding up/slowing down)
- Clarity of goals, reward in mind and immediate feedback
- Intrinsic reward & satisfaction from the process
- A merging of actions and awareness
- A balance between challenge and skills
- A feeling of control, acting with both effortlessness and ease
Tip 1: Prevent distractions to optimise your flow state
One of the key triggers or preconditions for flow is complete concentration. For this, you must block out all distractions.
Choose a quiet environment, put your phone away and clear your desk of unnecessary objects.
Know yourself and what distracts you. Controlling your environment to prevent interruptions is key. Take the necessary precautions.
Schedule enough time. Inducing flow state might take up to 30 minutes. And if some distraction kicks you out of flow, it might take up to 15 minutes to recover that optimal level of performance. So you don’t want to be interrupted once you’ve reached your desired level of concentration.
Steven Kotler describes preventing distractions as his most important flow hack. He refuses to work with clients unless they can commit to hanging a sign that says ‘F*ck off I’m learning’ on their door. Interruptions are to flow what kryptonite is to Superman.
Actively prevent distractions from interrupting your flow by controlling your work environment.
Tip 2: Focus on the present, with all your attention on the task at hand
Being able to focus on the present is key to facilitating your flow. Meditation and mindfulness are useful techniques to develop this skill. Learn to understand when your subconscious thoughts cloud your connection to the present moment. Get used to appreciating every moment and pay attention to the small details of life.
Practise this by doing one activity at a time. Eat without watching Netflix. Don’t watch Netflix and Facebook at the same time. Listen to music with your eyes closed. These are just some examples. You can definitely come up with more. Be present to sustain concentration – this is essential for flow.
Being present also means focussing on the process of an activity. However, when doing a task, we often focus on getting it off our to-do list, particularly if it is boring. This mentality focuses our attention on the outcome, something that will happen in the future.
The outcome cannot come before the process. Bring your attention back to the present to facilitate your flow, and allow yourself to tackle tasks efficiently and to high standards.
Focus on the process to find a state of flow. The outcome will take care of itself.
Tip 3: Push yourself outside of your comfort zone to find flow
By pushing ourselves outside of our comfort zones, we are able to trigger dopamine production, one of the neurological changes during flow. Dopamine itself is a focus drug (among other things) and is one of the six neurochemicals released by the brain when in a flow state.
Simply producing a small amount of dopamine can help you access a flow state. For example, write in a new cafe to tap into novelty. Explore a new running route for unpredictability. Try reading a textbook on a completely new topic to increase complexity and pattern recognition. Set yourself a tighter deadline to increase the risk that you may not meet it.
However, a tight deadline is not the only way to increase risk. Setting a clear and challenging, yet achievable goal creates a balance between difficulty and skills.
If you struggle with accountability, use an external commitment as a deadline. Anything from a work meeting to a coffee break with a friend will do. Setting deadlines has other benefits as well.
Challenge yourself. Set high but achievable goals to encourage the state of flow.
TL;DR: How to induce flow?
To conclude, the flow has the capacity to dramatically improve your life.
It can be practised by anyone but will take time to get good at. Like most things, it is easier if you enjoy the task at hand. However, if you minimise distractions, focus on the present and push yourself just outside of your comfort zone, inducing flow state will feel a lot more achievable.
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Original photo by Fabrizio Chiagano on Unsplash.
Sources and further reading/watching about how to induce flow state:
- Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly, TED –https://www.ted.com/talks/mihaly_csikszentmihalyi_flow_the_secret_to_happiness
- Kotler, Steven, How to enter a flow state –https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XG_hNZ5T4nY&t=462s
- McKinsey and Co. – https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/increasing-the-meaning-quotient-of-work#
- Meloncelli, Wilson – https://www.cwilsonmeloncelli.com/490-improvement-learning-speed-darpa
- Oppland, Mike, Positive Psychology – https://positivepsychology.com/mihaly-csikszentmihalyi-father-of-flow/