When you give yourself to a task, there is a productive period when you achieve total concentration and greater fulfillment. This period(s) was referred to as the peak experience by Abraham Maslow, the famous psychologist. That period of intense performance was later named the flow state.
The flow state suggests fluidity. Or effortless motion, where there are no obstacles. Before we go into the actual definition of a flow state, it is essential to understand the origin of this concept.
Whenever more than one person carries out a specific task, there will likely be differences in output. This may be due to differences in expertise, experience, and competence.
However, the best results will always be achieved by the one who puts his (or her) all into the task. When a task is carried out with total concentration, the energy level channeled into it cannot be accessed otherwise.
When a person gets into a state of total focus, the first thing that becomes immediately available is excellent clarity and a sharpened sense of judgment.
The results are always outstanding. Such a person would do anything to get into that state, without which results are always limited. This is called the Flow State and is attainable to anyone who wishes to achieve more.
The concept of the flow state was popularized by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Jeanne Nakamura, two positive psychologists.
What is a flow state?
Some call it being in the zone.
We all aim for the flow state when pursuing any given task. The greatest challenge we have in pursuit of any noble task is distractions. The mind finds it incredibly difficult to focus and squeeze as much energy as needed into the bowl of achievement because the body can’t just help but hold it back.
Getting the body and the mind to agree in harmony, thereby allowing for a total focus and deep absorption into the task, to the point that distractions are shut out entirely, is the flow state.
You can think of nothing else but what you are engrossed with when you are there. Time would mean nothing, as it passes without you knowing. You are only aware of the time when you are done.
Everyone who has ever achieved something worthwhile has had to attain this state. Interestingly, it is not just for specific tasks, as everyone can reach this state if desired.
Some tasks can only be achieved with utmost concentration and extreme discipline because the obstacles surrounding such accomplishments always require total focus and drive to achieve them.
Such tasks as brain surgery, space engineering, mountain climbing, long-distance racing, ballet dancing, and even chess playing require added concentration. Succeeding in these tasks requires not just skills but total concentration, incredible passion, and commitment.
Those who accomplish much in these tasks, and any task for that matter, must bring themselves to the point where they are not only engrossed with the duty but must find enough passion for it from within to see nothing but the goal.
You can’t be in that state and think of something else. Your total energy, intellect, emotion, and will is directed at it. Even time, at that point, means nothing. And also hunger, pain, stress, thirst, etc, do not matter: only one thing matters, the task.
Some of the benefits of achieving the flow state include greater clarity, greater accomplishments, and a greater sense of satisfaction. The person in the flow state cheaply overcomes things that would naturally be obstacles to others.
However, there are apparent misconceptions about the flow state. Let’s look at some of them.
Misconceptions about the Flow State
We’ve talked about the benefits of the flow state and how achievable it is for everyone that desires it. However, the flow state is not easy to achieve. In the desire to get performers at their optimum state, some people have developed a lot of misconceptions about the flow state.
It is essential to know about the misconceptions because so many people have unrealistic expectations about achieving the flow state, often to the detriment of their physical and mental health.
Some people believe the flow state is unpredictable, and you can’t possibly get into it willfully. Wrong. By designing your environment in a way that aids your concentration, you can find yourself achieving more in little time.
Another misconception is that you can remain in the flow state till infinity. That is not possible. Sooner or later, you’ll exit the state, and you shouldn’t feel bad if you’re unable to retain your concentration for too long at the beginning.
Some others assume the flow state is not for them because they have too many distractions around them. No. The fact that you have a lot of noise around you does not exclude you from experiencing this state.
While you may not be able to stay in the flow for long, you can learn how to cut off noise and achieve much more.
This leads to another popular misconception that the flow state is only achievable for those who have already reached a peak in their professional pursuits.
This misconception suggests that the flow state is not for everyday people who only want to lead better lives and achieve more but for people who are already exceptional at one notable thing.
You do not need to be a star at anything. You could just be a student who wishes to excel. You can experience the flow state.
Flow can also occur within a team, contrary to what people assume. A common misconception is to think that only individuals experience the flow state. When a team is working on a project, they can achieve more by aiming for a singular focus. If they accomplish this, they can surmount many challenges.
Another common misconception is that you’re either in the flow or out of it. This is also not true. Rather than being a black or white issue, the flow state can be attained gradually.
While there is that state that learned psychologists describe as the zone, you can also achieve levels of concentration gradually, with varying degrees of results. With training, you can increase the level of the flow.
If you need to achieve a task faster than others, maybe you’re in a competition, you want to know how to get into the flow as quickly as possible.
Regardless of your task, you need to get into the flow state to get the job done sooner. You will feel more fulfilled, and the task will be achieved with a greater sense of accomplishment. Also, any task done in the flow state would yield better results than those done with kits of distractions.
Remember, you should be able to train yourself on achieving the flow state. Here’s how.
Cut off the distractions
When you want to achieve anything worthwhile, you need to find how to cut off distractions faster. When you have to keep attending to messages and gossip, you may never understand the flow state.
The phones can be switched to a mode that cuts off notifications and calls, and you can find a location that makes it easier to concentrate.
As you sink deeper into the flow state, the other distractions will naturally dissolve, including time itself. But before that is done, you can hasten it by cutting off the common ones yourself.
Understand what the goals are
Nothing sharpens the mind like undivided focus. When you understand the task at hand, you can easily achieve it.
Before you can get into the flow state with any task, you must know what it is precisely because falling passionately in love with your job is one of the ways to quicken the flow. So, how do you get into the flow when you don’t even understand the task?
Spend as much time as necessary understanding what the details of a task are. The task would be easier to accomplish, but it would also be easier to get into the flow with it.
Balance the challenge
Balancing the challenge is simply getting to know more about the task and evaluating how challenging it is. As a rule, you would find it difficult to accomplish much if the task is too easy, not challenging at all, or too complex; that is, extremely challenging.
Instead, the job should be challenging enough to arouse curiosity but must be one that your skills can match with some effort. If you’re able to develop a method to solve the challenge, you can get into the flow faster once you cut off distractions. If it doesn’t interest you, you won’t enjoy it.
If you can’t get it, take a break
Never force yourself into the flow. Mental stress is dangerous. If you find concentration difficult at that time despite your best efforts, take a break. Perhaps if you come back later, you’ll be able to achieve the flow state.
Beware of multitasking
To achieve the flow state faster, never multitask. Multitasking is in itself an enemy of concentration. If you’re not able to concentrate fully, you won’t get into the flow state.
One of the misconceptions of the flow state is that you should be able to do many things simultaneously. It is not true. If you are going to get into the flow state, do one thing at a time.
You can stay in the flow state when you develop an interest in the task. The benefits of the flow state are enough to encourage you to stay in it. One of the flow state misconceptions is to assume you can permanently remain in one.
But the more you train yourself to enjoy a task, welcome challenges, and cut off distractions; you can switch into and stay in a flow state for more extended periods.
In conclusion, Flow is the state of mind where a person’s focus is dedicated to a task. When that happens, the mind shuts out all distractions, and the person can achieve much more. No one ever gets into a flow doing something of little interest. So the task must have been embraced fully.
With the flow state comes excellent benefits, including greater fulfillment, greater happiness, greater motivation, improved creativity, and greater learning.