Flow State – What is it and How to Achieve it

Flow State – What is it and How to Achieve it

Have you ever heard about the Flow State?

Then stay, because it is going to be worth finding out.

What is the Flow State?

You have probably enjoyed doing an activity so much that you lost all sense of time.

Hours became minutes, your focus on the activity was on point and you enjoyed what you were doing despite the result.

It may have happened to you while playing ping-pong, surfing, writing a novel or listening to music.

Surf

Actually, it is a frequent and much desired activity.

It is known as Flow State and today, we are going to understand what is it all about, what are its features and how can we reach that marvelous state of productivity and enjoyment.

The author of “Flow”

Mihaly Csikszentmihaly (do not try to pronounce it) is the conceptual father of the flow state.

Thanks to its book “Flow”, this psychological state became quite interesting for the general public. Although the flow state is a universal psychological experience that we have been experiencing our whole life:

  • Some by chance.
  • Others with complete awareness.
  • Or using drugs or other less reliable methods…

Mihaly said that:

“We can feel happy or sad, regardless of what is happening outside, simply by changing the content of our conscience”.

Therefore, we could say that the flow state is an “altered state of mind” because it moves away from the state of consciousness that we tend to live in.

The author defines the flow state as:

“The feeling of control and absolute enjoyment while doing an activity in which we are completely involved”.

The concept is deep and it has the influence of stoic classic authors such as Epictetus or Marcus Aurelius. Although we can also see the influence of more modern authors such as Viktor Frankl.

Features of the Flow State

Like we mentioned previously, the concept gained a lot of interest from the general public and scientific community alike.

It could not be any other way…

After all, we are talking about an experience that will make us more productive and happy. In fact, it will help us forget about our worries and troubles, temporarily at least.

We are going to analyze the features of this flow state:

Intense focus on the activity

The Flow State (FS) produces an intense but subtle focus.

It is almost as if “the activity” and “the one who does the activity” disappeared and became just one. Naturally, said focus will help us forget about everything else.

  • What you are going to eat today.
  • If you did your homework or not.
  • Your economical problems.
  • Everything.
That is why if you are doing something and your mind jumps from one thought to another that has nothing to do with the activity, you will NOT be in the Flow State.

Flow State

In the FS, the mind is focused on the activity, to the point that it becomes the activity…

Nothing else matters

Like we said, the FS occupies ALL the space of your consciousness, so that there is no place for worries or obligations.

  • You will probably not listen if someone talks to you.
  • You are NOT in the flow state if the neighbour’s dog is bothering you.
  • If you listen people doing repair work on the street, you are NOT in flow state.
If people around you tell you that you usually look absent-minded or like in a trance when you are doing something, you ARE in FS.

The action and consciousness blend together

This is another defining feature of the FS.

Your consciousness about the activity and the activity itself seem to intertwine until they become a single thing. It is hard to describe and easier to feel.

  • If you play football or basketball, you would feel as if the ball, your team and you are the same.
  • If you like writing, it is as if the “the writer” and “what is written” faded and there was only one single element.

It is the better if you try it for yourself.

Feeling of control

Another defining factor of the flow state is the subjective feeling, real or not, that we absolutely control everything that is happening.

The feeling of control produces pleasure and adherence to the activity and motivation to keep on doing it.

What is the result? We spend a lot of time focusing on an activity, this makes us master it and we create a virtuous circle of practice-improvement-practice.

The experience is intrinsically gratifying

Also known as “autotelic activity”.

From the Greek words “auto” same and “thelos” end. In other words, it is an activity whose end is the activity itself, which is extremely important.

It is important because it helps us forget about the external factors that tend to distract us, hindering the quality of what we are doing.

When you are in a FS, you do the activity for the activity’s sake and the satisfaction you feel, not to get paid at the end of the month, for recognition or fame…

Self-consciousness disappears

We have already mentioned this: when we enter the FS, our self-consciousness disappears and blends with the activity.

There is no “me”… only the activity.

In Eastern cultures, this could be regarded as a state of meditation and togetherness with everything that exists.

We lose all sense of time

When we are so captivated by an activity we lose our ability to perceive time accurately.

In general, we will feel that time runs faster.

Full focus

You feel like you have been doing something for 30 minutes when you have actually spent 2 hours.

Specific brain activity pattern

It is something that science has discovered recently, but the FS can be seen in an electroencephalogram.

Above all, it has more theta waves in the frontal area while there is a moderate activity of alpha waves in the frontal and central regions of the brain cortex.

And now, let’s answer the most important question:

How can we reach the Flow State?

First of all, it is not easy: sometimes it will happen involuntarily, other times it will be impossible.

Some days, it will be easier and other times it will be harder.

In general: do not obsess over it, but always keep it in mind.

Here you have some factors that will help you reach the flow state, as long as you focus on the activity:

Immediate Feedback

Those activities that provide instant feedback will tell you if you are doing it right or not and they will make much easier to reach the FS.

That is why physical exercise is one of the activities that will easily help us reach the FS. Mainly, because its objectives tend to be quite clear and it provides feedback almost instantly (points, goals, marks, etc).

Clear objectives

In addition, having clear rules is a factor that encourages the flow state.

To enter the flow state, the activity needs to have a purpose, an objective, even if we do not do it to reach said objective.

For instance: playing a song with the flute, playing a tennis match, writing an article or doing origami.

Camera objective

All of them share clear objectives.

Creativity

Those activities that involve creativity tend to be better to reach the FS.

That is why you will frequently hear many painters, writers or musicians about this experience.

Challenge VS Ability

Both must be balanced in order to avoid anxiety or boredom.

This is the most important point: we need to find the balance between ability (what I can do) and challenge (the difficulty of the activity).

  • If the activity is too challenging, we will become frustrated and anxious.
  • On the contrary, if it is too simple, we will become bored.
As your abilities grow, the challenge needs to be harder. There, between this virtuous balance is where magic and improvements take place.

Well, that is all folks. See you in the next article!

Related Entries

  • You have probably heard about Resilience. If not, we invite you to check out this link.
  • There is a concept known as “Voluntary Discomfort” that is directly related with a physical and mental improvement. If you want to find out everything about it, keep reading....
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