From a productivity standpoint, flow is the most powerful state of mind you’ll ever achieve. But what is it, exactly? How can you tell you’ve entered a flow state, and how can you create an environment that makes it easier? Here’s how.
Most of us have experienced it at least once. You’re hard at work on something, and your surroundings gradually begin to melt away. Your attention is laser-focused on what you’re doing, and you begin to revel in your work.
That’s flow. First defined by Hungarian-American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in 1975, it has existed as a concept for thousands of years. We’ll go with Csikszentmihalyi’s definition for the purposes of this piece.
“[Flow],” said Csikszentmihalyi in a 1996 interview with Wired, “[Is] being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you're using your skills to the utmost.”
Sounds incredible, doesn’t it? It’s the sort of creative focus most artists and professionals constantly seek to attain. Few ever do.
What if I told you that anyone can enter a flow state, given the right circumstances?
The first thing to remember, as noted by the Very Well Mind Blog, which discusses mental health, psychology, and self-improvement, is that flow occurs in different ways for different people. It requires a great deal of passion and an equal amount of skill. In other words, if you enjoy something you’re good at, entering a flow state can be as simple as flipping a switch.
That might seem a bit discouraging. After all, even if you enjoy your job, it’s difficult to be passionate about work all the time. Here’s how to address that:
- First, look at your workplace, and clear out any distractions that might be present. Listen to music that makes you feel creatively inspired if possible. Rearrange, tidy, and reorganize to minimize clutter. Turn off your devices and notifications when you’re working.
- Next, spend a bit of time each day setting specific goals for yourself. These goals should be both challenging and achievable, requiring you to put your skills to the test. That way, you’ll have a sense of fulfillment when you achieve those goals.
Passion is a bit more difficult. Depending on the nature of your work, it may not always be possible to be inspired. That said, you won’t know if it’s possible unless you try.
An article composed by educational consultant Gina Belli gives the following advice:
- Understand your impact. How are your efforts changing things for the better? How important are you to your colleagues?
- Take risks. Make your voice heard. Enroll in that evening class you’re thinking of taking. Pursue that entrepreneurial venture you’ve been thinking about.
- Never stop learning. No matter how much you think you know, avoid labeling yourself as an expert. Foster in yourself a thirst for knowledge.
- Retain your integrity. Hold yourself accountable for your mistakes, and never stop putting in your best effort.
- Don’t be a perfectionist. No one is perfect, and the pursuit of perfection will cause nothing but stress. Instead, aim for excellence - aim for being the best you can be, rather than being better than everyone else.
- Mix things up. Reach out to your colleagues and superiors to see if there are any new projects in which you might participate. Ask if there’s anything they can do to help you change your environment, and explain you’re feeling too comfortable in your current surroundings.
In our culture of distraction, total engagement might seem like a pipe dream. However, with just a bit of effort, anyone can be more passionate, more productive, and more fulfilled.
About the Author:
Brad Wayland is the Chief Strategy Officer at BlueCotton, a site with high-quality, easy-to-design custom t-shirts.