January 9th, 2021
What's a Flow State?
You may have experienced a flow state at some point — that sense of fluidity between your body and mind, where you are totally absorbed by and deeply focused on something, beyond the point of distraction. Time feels like it has slowed down. Your senses are heightened. You are at one with the task at hand, as action and awareness sync to create an effortless momentum. Some people describe this feeling as being “in the zone.” This is the flow state and it’s accessible to everyone, whether you’re engaged in a physical activity, a creative pursuit, or even a simple day-to-day task.
What it means to be in a Flow State?
Popularized by positive psychologists Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Jeanne Nakamura, flow state describes a feeling where, under the right conditions, you become fully immersed in whatever you are doing.
“There’s this focus that, once it becomes intense, leads to a sense of ecstasy, a sense of clarity: you know exactly what you want to do from one moment to the other; you get immediate feedback,” Csikszentmihalyi said in a 2004 TED Talk. Csikszentmihalyi and Nakamura reached this conclusion by interviewing a variety of self-actualized, high-performing people: including mountain climbers, chess players, surgeons, and ballet dancers.
When you’re giving your fullest attention to an activity or task that you are incredibly passionate about, singularly focused on, and totally immersed in, you may find yourself creating the conditions necessary to experience a flow state of mind. The mind’s usual chatter begins to fade away, placing us in a non-distracted zone. The feelings that would consume you under normal circumstances (inhibition, hunger, fatigue, or aches and pains) melt away, and all that matters is your dedication to your craft.
The flow mental state is generally less common during periods of relaxation and makes itself present during challenging and engaging activities. According to Csikszentmihalyi, “The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times… the best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.” To that end, engagement and concentration are key in achieving flow state.
According to Csikszentmihalyi, the human mind can process up to 120 bits of information per second. When we’re challenging ourselves with a task, our mind reaches full capacity. If the activity at hand happens to be something we enjoy and we’re good at, we achieve a flow mental state — and it can leave us feeling ecstatic, motivated and fulfilled.
What are the benefits of achieving flow state?
The people who were interviewed in Csikszentmihalyi’s research on flow each excel in a variety of different areas — from dancing to chess, mountain climbing, and surgery. The common thread? They’re all high-performing individuals who took on career paths that were challenging and rewarding to them.
Here are the benefits that motivate these individuals (and could also motivate you) to go forth and reach the flow state as often as possible:
Heavy sense of concentration. Being able to focus on the work without getting distracted leads to a higher output of higher quality work.
Sense of clarity. In a state of flow, your body and mind will know what needs to be done without having to think about it.
Lack of obstacles. The thoughts and feelings that generally cloud our minds, such as stress, worry, and self-doubt, take a back seat when we achieve a flow state.
Good feelings. Being in a deep flow state is often described as an intrinsically positive experience. There is no superficiality driving this force, it’s just the pleasure that comes with being in the moment and doing something that you are passionate about.
Happiness. The type of happiness one can gain from being in a flow state goes beyond a temporary high — it is a general sense of well-being and a lasting sense of happiness and fulfillment.
Being able to focus on the work without getting distracted leads to a higher output of higher quality work.
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