Have you ever heard someone say that they felt like they were “in the zone” or completely absorbed in a task or activity that they had no idea what was even happening around them. This is actually a term used in psychology called Flow, and it’s the key to optimal performance & overwhelming internal fulfillment.
Flow: In positive psychology, a flow state, also known colloquially as being in the zone, is the mental state in which a person performing some activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by the complete absorption in what one does, and a resulting transformation in one’s sense of time.
The first person in psychology to identify flow was Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. He wrote the book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, which goes in depth about Flow.
“The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times – although such experiences can also be enjoyable, if we have worked hard to attain them. The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”― Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Who can achieve Flow?
Anyone! Regardless of gender, age, and cultures. It can be experienced universally.
How do you achieve Flow?
- The best way to achieve Flow is to do something that you like to do and remove any and all distractions. This means turn off your phone and create a calm environment to perform your activity.
- Perform your Flow activity when you feel energized. Ask yourself: Is my mind more energized in the morning or in the afternoon?
- Pick one specific task to work on for your Flow state. If you are trying to work on 5 different things at once it can get confusing, frustrating, and you will most likely not achieve Flow.
- The task that you choose must be challenging, but not too challenging where you end up frustrated. The chart below shows that the sweet spot for Flow is in the upper right corner. If an activity is too easy you will get bored easily and not reach flow. If a task is too challenging you may get frustrated, stressed, or anxious and not reach Flow. The Flow experience is a balance in the middle of those.
- Have a clear goal that you are looking to reach and an intrinsic motivation behind it. Do something you love.
- What kind of environment do you work best in? Do you work well alone in a quiet place or in a populated place like a coffee shop. Do you work better alone or in a group? Create an environment that works for you and make it a ritual.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes eight characteristics of flow:
- Complete concentration on the task;
- Clarity of goals and reward in mind and immediate feedback;
- Transformation of time (speeding up/slowing down);
- The experience is intrinsically rewarding;
- Effortlessness and ease;
- There is a balance between challenge and skills;
- Actions and awareness are merged, losing self-conscious rumination
- There is a feeling of control over the task.
Benefits of achieving a Flow state
Sense of clarity.
Better, faster results because of the high level of concentration.
Flow state feels good.
Creates feelings of intrinsic joy.
Less self-criticalness & more self acceptance.
Flow is always evolving as your skills advance. Research has shown that there are changes in brain activity while one is in a flow state and there may be a release of dopamine. You can achieve Flow in the workspace, an education setting, and while playing sports or other hobbies. When you engage in Flow you naturally feel more accomplished and successful. You can carry your Flow state to daily activities such as watering flowers, washing dishes, and having conversations with people.
How do you feel while you are in a Flow state? What activities take you there? Was this article helpful? Tag us on Instagram and let us know or comment below and we look forward to hearing about how you maintain Flow to achieve optimal performance and internal fulfillment!
Want more Flow? Check out Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Ted Talk titled, “Flow, the secret to happiness”.