We’ve all experienced those random moments where a burst of inspiration and creativity has you fully immersed in a state of complete focus and concentration. Virtually nothing can distract you, and you almost feel a sense of euphoria as you delve further and further “in the zone.” But what if this feeling wasn’t actually all that random? In fact, what if it could be replicated whenever you needed it?
The phenomenon we’re experiencing here is called “flow state,” and according to psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, who coined the term, our brains can tap into it at will. Where expert training is involved, a flow state can be sure to follow. Think about athletes preparing for a big game or a musician practicing for a concerto. As long as you can be intentional about creating the conditions that lead to a flow state, you can get there whenever you want. And the result will enhance your productivity immensely.
In this article, we’ll explain precisely what flow state is, how it can boost your productivity and methods for achieving it.
What Is Flow State?
Csíkszentmihályi defines a flow state as an “optimal state of consciousness where we feel our best and perform our best.” The idea is that in a flow state, we become so engulfed in our task that everything else manages to fade into the distance. Action and awareness integrate while our sense of self and consciousness dissipates. Hours pass in what feels like minutes as we experience heightened levels of creativity and performance.
Flow state is typically an enjoyable, creative, and productive experience and is often considered to be synonymous with mindfulness. You devote your full attention to the moment without much effort or worry about the outcome. Flow state allows you to challenge yourself by mastering a difficult task, and is charged by intrinsic motivation without much external influence. You’re not being this productive because you have to, but rather because it brings you joy.
While the experience of flow state can feel like a natural state of consciousness, getting there doesn’t happen passively and does require strategic effort.
Achieving Flow State
Csíkszentmihályi’s method for achieving flow state is simple, though not necessarily easy. The primary hindrance of flow state is the pull between anxiety and apathy. The anxiety associated with the outcome or the level of difficulty and the apathy that follows a lack of challenge or intrinsic value need to find common ground for flow state to present itself.
In order to achieve flow state, your task must:
- Be intrinsically valuable and rewarding
- Include clear goals
- Be continuously challenging (even as you improve your skills) yet within reach
- Provide measurable progress
- Develop your skills
Once your task meets the above requirements, you then need to:
- Give yourself a time limit that’s long enough to build momentum and focus
- Remove distractions and avoid interruptions
- Allow yourself to become fully immersed in the work
- Stop only when the task is finished or when you are at peak excitement (this will make it easier to come back to).
Easier said than done, we know. But once you get into the swing of things, flow state will become more accessible and easier to tap into. You won’t only be looking for it in work tasks, but as it relates to your downtime and relationships as well. As we said earlier, flow state is akin to mindfulness. The goal here is not just to be productive but to enjoy every minute of it.