Have you ever gone through a state when you work on a task or a project and you get so excited and fully immersed in it, that in a matter of hours you perform just enormous amount of work, and do not notice how the time flows by? I’m sure you have.
In fact, most of us every now and then experience such state of mind when we are super productive and stay completely focused, and, what is more important, do not get tired from that huge and sometimes difficult work that we are doing.
This is called the state of FLOW. You just plunge into specific work and it’s like a strong current of a river that drives you along all the issues connected with the corresponding subject. Interestingly enough, in some cases during this condition you don’t usually make a lot of efforts to do something, it just comes along your way. For instance, writers are particularly fond of the flow because during this state they can write an engaging content for hours. Ideas just keep flushing into their minds. Athletes and sportsmen may experience similar feelings when everything just goes brilliantly and they can feel that they are “in the zone”. Footballers can score hat tricks and one teams humiliatingly defeat others.
It seems to most of us that it’s impossible to control how this state is generated and how to maintain it for as long as possible. However, there are some techniques that can enable us to easier enter the state of flow almost at any time at our own will at a flick of the switch. Here are a few tips how to do it, including those based on my own experience and practice.
First of all, we should understand that these positive emotions of flow derive when we realize that we are succeeding in doing something which seemed to be difficult or challenging. For example, we needed to write an article of 10,000 words which seemed quite difficult to us, but we managed to pull ourselves together and now keep writing and it seems that the words just flow by. Or, we are trying to solve a truly difficult mathematical equation or economic problem and here we are sitting for hours and ideas of how to solve it keep coming to our mind and we understand that we are making a real progress. Or, imagine we are playing table tennis with a strong opponent or playing a difficult musical play, and we can see that we are making it really cool.
So, the flow only happens when we perform a challenging task which requires concentration of our efforts and skills and when we see that we are making progress in it.
That’s why the first thing of how to enter the state of flow is to actually enter it.
Hehe. Yes, that’s exactly what my first advice is. Usually, a challenging task is quite difficult and we keep putting it off. However, we should make a start and stop procrastinating because: a) we will have to start doing it anyway, and b) the nice feeling of flow lies exactly there in the midst of difficulty and challenge and you have to stop being afraid or lazy) and just go and start doing it.
Next step is to fully concentrate on the task you are doing.
Scientists have measured that our brain can process not more than 110 bits of information in a second. To understand the meaning of the words another person is saying takes us approximately 60 bits per second, that’s why we can not understand when two people are talking to us simultaneously. So, if you want to hack into the state of flow, you have to concentrate on the task completely down to every detail. In this case, there won’t be any mental capacity of yours to process anything else. That is, you won’t be able to think about hunger, fatigue, or any other stuff, you will even lose your control of time.
To be able to better concentrate on your work, make sure that there is nothing to distract you. Put away your phone, turn off all messaging apps and log out of all social networks on your computer and smartphone. Sometimes it’s better to set yourself the certain time period during which you are going to concentrate on doing exactly what you are planning to do. Not thinking about time constraints enables you not to be distracted from unleashing your full potential.
The next thing you should do to enter the state of flow actually differs depending on what you are trying to do. It would be strange to hear that one size fits all for all people to be able to dive “into the zone” using the same principles. In my opinion, we can differentiate between those tasks that require the use of creative thinking (e.g. artists, writers, designers), and those where the successful outcome depends on being able to avoid mistakes (athletes, speed racers, scrupulous workers, etc).
So, for the first group of people, i.e. where creativity is important, you should be able to stop being afraid of making a mistake. Try to leave your comfort zone and experience unknown, think out of the box, take risks. When you start experimenting, more and more strange and uncommon ideas will come into you mind and you will actually find yourself in the flow.
For the second group of people, where the successful outcome depends on your ability to fulfill something according to the ideal scenario without making a single mistake, it is important that you keep repeating the same task again and again. In this case, the flow will come during this process of constant repetition and you will start seeing the very small details of how you can improve your performance every now and again. For example, athletes, professional swimmers or speed racers keep repeating the same task again and again, each time improving their results for very tiny values or miliseconds. They start feeling how each of their muscles moves and what impulse and impact they give to the overall performance. They start actually feeling and living every second of their work, every detail to the fullest possible, time just slows down for them, while their mental and physical abilities go into overdrive.
Basically, that’s all the tips of how to consciously enter the state of flow. I personally use these ideas when I want to achieve better results and stay more productive.
For example, when I need to write an article, and it doesn’t come to me to start writing it, I a) actually pull myself together and sit in front of my computer with the commitment to start doing the task; b) I put away all possible distractions and tell myself that at least the following one hour I am going to do only writing; and c) I open up my mind and just start writing what comes to my mind. After a couple of minutes more and more ideas come to me, I start researching them and pondering about them in more detail, and add some of them into my writing, until, voila, my article is finished and it’s even longer that I was originally planning it to be.
On the other hand, when there is a scrupulous work lying in front of me, such as mastering a trick in aikido, for instance, or learning a melody on the guitar, I just commit myself to repeating it as many times as necessary to get to the best possible result.
Unlike the previous example with writing an article, in this case, I know exactly how the final outcome (the trick or a melody) should look like, so I just keep repeating it until it’s a success. If my mind slips away, I drive it back to the task, I fully immerse in the process of doing the task exactly as it should be done. During these reps, I find myself in a state of flow, where I can feel every single muscle of my body concentrate in order to deliver that desirable outcome. I also find some hidden connections or hints, which I wasn’t aware of before I started working on the task, which help me to achieve the necessary results.
Okay, let’s recap what is a flow and how can we hack into it. The flow is a state of mind where you are most productive, fully concentrated in one thing you are doing, and experience positive emotions from doing this thing.
To get into this state, we need to actually start doing the task, put away all possible distractions and concentrate completely on doing the task. If it’s a creative challenge, then think out of the box and start experimenting and embrace all uncommon ideas that come to your mind. If it’s a task which doesn’t require creativity but rather scrupulous following of the rules and procedures, then keep repeating it as much as necessary until you succeed in it.
These are my ideas behind the state of flow. If you have your own hints of how to get into it and how it works for you, leave your comments below. So long and thank you for following my blog!