FLOW is used in two ways in our psychological lexicon. As go with the flow – relax, allow life/the universe to flow through you and as in the zone, a state of flow – a mental state of high energy and focused productivity and enjoyment in the process.
As I think of flow, I think of rivers, which illustrate both usages. My experience is of these rivers – the Yahara that flows lazily through my hometown in Wisconsin, the majestic Mississippi as it flows through Minneapolis, my home for 40 years, and the Cumberland that flows through Nashville where I lived for ten years. Each of these rivers flow freely in some parts of their length and are controlled by dams at points. Where there are dams, the water that is harnessed for a purpose before returning to a more placid flow again. The state of flow is rather like that.
How often do you feel “in the zone” or in a state of flow? For many of us, it is less frequent than we would like. The exciting thing is that we can in fact create it on demand by following some guidelines and practicing them!
This concept of flow was recognized and named in 1975 by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyl. This is how he described it in an interview with Wired Magazine: “The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”
When you are in a state of flow, work becomes effortless. And it doesn’t just happen at work. You may get into the “flow” while you’re working on projects around the house or working on a writing or artistic project. No matter what you’re working on, “flow” can make you feel amazing… almost like you have a super power.
Flow is a State Of Mind
“Being in the flow” is a state of mind. That means you control getting into it. Pay attention to what happens to your thinking, your feelings, and your surroundings when you get into the flow naturally. This will help you when it’s time to get in the flow on demand.
The next thing you’ll notice when you get into the flow state is that your energy is really high. You’ll be able to focus and make progress on whatever project you’re working on for a long time – until you’re either disrupted or exhausted.
The next big sign of being in the flow is that you are very focused. Tasks that usually take you hours, get done in half an hour. Email, social media, the phone, Netflix, or the pile of dishes in the sink suddenly aren’t the big distractions they usually present. You’re hunkered down, focusing on the task at hand with your blinders on.
Last but not least you’re having a lot of fun when you’re in flow. It’s exhilarating and time is flying. Being focused and getting a ton done in a short amount of time makes you feel incredibly accomplished and proud. Endorphins start to kick in and you do feel a bit like a super hero.
How to Intentionally Get Into Flow
Flow does happen to us occasionally without our intention. It’s a wonderful gift. Even better, we actually can generate it on demand. Getting into a state of flow is a bit of a personal thing. It works a little differently for each of us because we are all motivated by different things and various factors help us get into the flow.
As noted at the beginning, your state of mind or MINDSET is key to this whole process. Getting into a state of flow is mostly about getting out of your own way and allowing it to happen.
It’s important to not let yourself get distracted and to build your confidence that you can indeed become adept at getting yourself into the flow on demand. It will take practice – like any new skill.
Being motivated, inspired and excited about a project is perhaps the largest factor in getting into a state of flow. Spend a couple of minutes thinking about why you are doing this particular project. It may be a passion project of your own, an assigned work project, or even something you don’t necessarily want to do (filing taxes, perhaps?). Whatever it is, there is a reason why you are doing it. For things in the must-do category, find a stronger, more emotional reason to help you get motivated, stay focused and on task. What deeper benefits will you have from completing any of these items? As you proceed, keep reminding yourself of this inspiration.
Having a deadline can help you get into the flow because it forces you to cut out all distractions and gives your mind no choice but to focus on the task at hand. It may not be the most pleasant way to get into the flow, but it is frankly one of the most effective ways.
Give it a try. Pick a task. It can be something small and easy for practice. Then set yourself a deadline. If you can make it a real deadline all the better. For example, tell your friend that you can’t meet her for lunch until all the filing is done, or promise your kids to take them to the park in 30 minutes, but tell yourself that you have to finish writing the blog post you’ve been working on first.
In a future post I will address more about using this tool to enrich our life experiences. In the meantime, you may be interested in the most recent edition of the book that elevated this concept into popular culture:
I’m Carol Brusegar, author, photographer and curator of information. My focus is on gathering and writing on topics that enhance all our lives – regardless of our age. Topics include health and wellness, personal development, innovation and creativity, and a variety of helpful, practical tools and practices. I have a special interest in helping people over 50 years of age to create their 3rd Age – the next stage of their lives – to be the best it can be.