How to Experience the Flow State more frequently!
In the last year of High School, I and my friends decided to participate in a contest, where we had to create something related to the 2nd World War. We wanted to create a video but we had no ideas.
A few weeks before the deadline, I was in my bed, trying to get to sleep. And I started to see, clearly in my mind, flashes of some of the scenes that I thought might look great on the video.
A lot of images came to my head, so I got up and started writing, writing, writing, while I was <visualizing images, scenes, and camera shots. I just wrote for 2 hours… I wrote 6 pages, front and back, without really feeling the time passing by.
We recorded the video a few days after and we felt really proud of the final result. Now, when I watch the video, I see a bunch of things that are wrong and could be improved. Regardless, me and my friends, feel proud of the final result. Because that was exactly how we wanted it to look like. We didn’t win the contest. But I did win an amazing Flow experience!
Since then, I’ve experienced Flow, almost on a daily basis. Especially when I’m writing a blog post. Sometimes, when I’m studying for college. Or when I get excited about a new project that I’m working on. It’s funny because every time I say I’m studying Management people say: “oh, so you like numbers.” I nod and reply “yeah, but I also love letters.”
What is Flow?
I read Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi who is a psychologist who studied the state of Flow. He explains that by experiencing Flow, we can also experience life in the most optimal way!
When you’re in Flow, time flies by without you really noticing it, because you’re so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter. You’re so concentrated that you can’t think or worry about anything! All of us had experienced this feeling in the past. But it’s important to understand the principles behind this concept, in order to feel it every day! Because Flow makes us happier!
“The flow experience, like everything else, is not “good” in an absolute sense. It is good only in that it has the potential to make life more rich, intense, and meaningful; it is good because it increases the strength and complexity of the self.”-Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
The psychologist interviewed different people, with different jobs and incomes. And all of them were able to experience Flow. Because of the way you approach a certain activity might be more important than the activity itself. Two factory workers we doing the same job. One, experienced Flow on a daily basis because he brought challenge and made the activity more fun. The other one simply executed his task. You can guess the happier one…
How to be in the State of Flow
Brian Johnson suggests this question: What is the thing that if you started doing, would make your life better? Think about it. And then, move from knowing to doing it! That might be the activity that will put you in Flow.
There are a few requisites to reach the state of Flow:
1# Set Clear Goals
Before starting practicing or working, make sure you know exactly what you want to accomplish! Don’t leave space for randomness and boredom. This is easy for some, and more difficult for others. I’m obsessed with planning and goal setting so this is an easy task. Anyway, challenge yourself to do it before starting a meaningful activity!
2# Get Immediate Feedback
Receiving immediate feedback while executing a task is also important to experience Flow. If you are playing guitar, the feedback comes from what you hear. If you’re programming you can execute the code and see if it runs or not. Or if you’re writing the feedback might come from the words counter.
There’s no right or wrong on this one. Seek the feedback you need!
“...the concentration is usually possible because the task undertaken has clear goals and provides immediate feedback.”-Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
3# Balance between challenge and skill
This chart is essential for understanding the concept of reaching the flow state. It made me understand that challenge doesn’t always bring anxiety and nerves. When you are ready for it, you actually seek it and enjoy it!
Boredom happens when the level of challenge is lower than your skills. If you usually feel bored in your work or when doing a task, challenge yourself! Had one more element that will make the task more difficult for you!
If you’ve been practicing guitar for 3 months now and you are starting to feel bored, try to play a more difficult song. If you are bored while washing the dishes, try to wash them with just one hand. There are no limits! Be creative with the challenges you give yourself!
The feeling of being overwhelmed happens when the challenge of the task is higher than your skill level. You either make an effort to increase your skill level by practicing more, or you lower the challenge. If you just started learning how to program and you immediately expose yourself to advanced concepts it might be better to lower the challenge and start from the basics.
You reach the state of Flow when your skills match the challenge!
“The optimal state of inner experience is one in which there is order in consciousness. This happens when psychic energy—or attention—is invested in realistic goals, and when skills match the opportunities for action. The pursuit of a goal brings order in awareness because a person must concentrate attention on the task at hand and momentarily forget everything else.” Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
In the book, there’s this story of an Indian Tribe that was living in a rich place in Canada, full of food, resources, land, etc. They become very comfortable living there.So, the elders, every 25 years, would decide to move the entire population to a new place, in order to find a new challenge. They had new areas to explore and new things to figure out. And that made all the tribe feel rejuvenated and healthy!
When we actively seek challenge, we bring novelty to our lives, which is one of the key factors to sustained happiness!
#4 Focus on the present moment
It might be useful to breathe deeply before starting any task in order to feel relaxed and in the peace of mind. When you experience Flow, your thoughts and your actions are the same, which means that your mind is only focusing on the task you’re executing. Meditation practitioners have an advantage on this one ;)
“A person can make himself happy, or miserable, regardless of what is actually happening 'outside,' just by changing the contents of consciousness.” Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
There’s no problem and worry that can excuse you from experiencing Flow! You’re the one deciding the importance of an event in your own life!
In order to be in the Flow state, you must be able to focus your mind on the present moment… So eliminating distractions is essential for it. You must be able to “ignore” what’s happening outside, in order to experience flow. But because we’re not very good at ignoring stimulus, it’s better to eliminate them!
- Put your phone away… away… very far away!
- Work in a peaceful place. If you can’t, put your headphones on with Focus music playing - use Focus@Will if you really want to optimize your Flow experience
- No TV!
- Use the Pomodoro Technique to stay focused for a certain period of time
- Playing an Instrument
- Practicing a language
- Playing games
- Having deep and interesting conversations
There’s no “watching television” on this list because that actually reduces the number of flow experiences you might have!
“It was found that the more often people report reading books,the more flow experiences they claim to have,while the opposite trend was found for watching television.”-Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
I really hope you feel compelled on trying to experience Flow in your next activity. The more you practice it, the better you will become on getting into that state. Try it. It’s worth it!