Entering a state of flow helps you to solve difficult problems and come up with creative solutions. It is a wonderful state to strive for and a great asset if you can achieve this for longer periods of time. It also increases your sense of wellbeing.
But what exactly is a flow state? And how can we cultivate and create the right conditions to get into a flow experience?
This is the last post in the “Essentialism” series, where I focus how work can be well executed by achieving a state of flow. The book actually mentions more suggestions for flawless execution of priorities, but in this post I focus on flow alone.
Definition of a flow state
The definition of flow, according to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is:
“…being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. 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 “
We’re only able to process about 110 pieces of information per second, according to Csikszentmihalyi. He provides the example that when one person is speaking to you, already we’re already absorbing 60 pieces of information per second. Therefore, we cannot listen to more than one person at the same time.
This is also what happens when you get into a state of flow. You’re doing a task that is difficult and in which you are using up close to the 110 pieces of information your brains can process. However, you’re not doing a task that is more difficult than that when experiencing flow, because otherwise you would get overwhelmed. Because your brain is so fully engaged, you lose your sense of time and you don’t feel your body anymore.
An important side effect of the flow experience is that you have an increased sense of wellbeing and you’re in a creativity sweat spot. You’re completely immersed in the activity that you’re doing and have great inner clarity of what is required to achieve the creative climax. Worries go to the background.
Power of routines to get into a state of flow
Another condition which needs to be met is that you are highly trained in a certain activity. When you’re learning new activities, new synapses will form in your brain. These junctions between nerve cells form a new road. If you repeat a certain activity, those neural pathways get stronger. Therefore, existing behaviors are easier to repeat.
To get into a state of flow therefore, you need to create a routine and behaviors that will help you to achieve this. If you want to become good at something, you need to practice. But you also need to think about the conditions in which you are working.
How have you set up your environment? And what are your routines? For example, I’ve been writing on this blog (and other sites like Medium) since May of this year now. Although this is relatively short, I already do experience short bursts of flow. In these bursts, I notice that my productivity soars and that I can write a new blog post in an hour or so. However, when I constantly get disturbed, this is never going to happen.
Routines that I’ve developed to help to reach a state of flow are:
- Going to a quiet place where I can work in peace
- First doing some background reading and research for my article
- Shut down social media
- Only open my word processor, so I can focus on purely writing
- Start writing, without interruptions
When I do this, I already achieve bursts of flow.
At my work I pick my moments to do the same. I find a quiet spot and turn off my email and IM application. Then I focus on the more difficult tasks or projects for longer stretches of time. When I don’t get disturbed, I can build-up my reasoning, instead of starting from scratch each time I get disturbed.
Funny thing is that video games also use the principle of flow. For instance, in Starwars Battlefront 2 (a game I’m playing), you get reassigned to a tougher opponent once the program notices you’re winning too easily. Although the algorithm is not perfect, chances are that eventually I’ll have an opponent that is my equal or a little better. There is enough challenge in the game, but they don’t make it so challenging I can’t win. This is what makes video games so addicting.
Say again, how do I achieve a state of flow?
Summarizing, if you want to maximize the time in a day that you are in a flow state, make sure your environment and routines are aligned with this.
This can be different from person to person. I like quiet work places for instance, but other people may like a busier workplace with lot of background noise.
So, think of the following items when you want to achieve a flow state:
- Pick an activity you like or change the task in such a way it is enjoyable for you.
- Make sure your environment is one you feel comfortable in (quiet or noisy, that’s up to you).
- Minimize the distractions. I believe this is valid for everyone. Distractions will pull you out of your flow state.
- Create a routine that maximizes the possibility that you get into a flow state/
Thanks for reading this blog. Don’t forget to hit the like / share button and see you back next week for another article!
Sources and further reads.
- The “Essentialism” series
- Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown
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