1. What Is a Flow State
A flow state refers to when you're fully immersed in a task; when you've entered your flow state, you're able to minimise distractions and utilise your skills to the best of your ability.
When we reach our flow state, often we find that hours fly by due to how engaged we are in our task. Furthermore, the task tends to feel easier due to how focused we are upon it. You may also experience the following when you enter your flow state:
- The tasks start to feel incredibly rewarding
- Confidence in your ability to complete the task
- Ignore physical needs such as hunger
World-renowned psychologist - Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, is one of the leading researchers on the topic of flow state. He concludes that when you enter your flow state "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."
Csikszentmihalyi states that the majority of us enter our flow state when we are engaged in an activity which we enjoy and are quite skilled at. Therefore the activities in which we enter our flow state can differ from person to person. Some may enter their flow state when playing sports whilst some may be more suited to creative endeavours such as painting.
2. The Benefits of Entering a Flow State
Entering a flow state can make the task you're engaged in much more enjoyable. Studies have found that those who often enter their flow state, benefited from being more cheerful, focused, creative and satisfied; not to mention the biggest benefit - their higher self esteem.
Csikszentmihalyi states that entering our flow state provides us with a sense of enjoyment due to the confidence we gain from accomplishing and working towards our goals
Furthermore, Csikszentmihalyi states that an activity which allows us to enter a flow state "is so gratifying that people are willing to do it for its own sake, with little concern for what they will get out of it, even when it is difficult, or dangerous". Therefore, tasks that you often enter your flow state in tend to become addictive after a certain period of time.
One of the main reasons why you should strive to enter a flow state when completing important tasks is because it can significantly improve your performance.
A study conducted by Harvard Business School found that students who studied in an environment which encouraged a flow state performed significantly better than those who did not work in an environment.
The reason why we often perform better once we're in a flow state is because being in a flow state results in the release of serotonin and dopamine - chemicals in the brain that are responsible for pleasure and satisfaction - and those who are happier tend to work more productively according to research conducted by D.G Myers.
Furthermore, the more chemicals you're brain releases whilst you're in a flow state, the more you're able to focus upon the activity. A study conducted by the US Military best proved this through finding that snipers who entered a flow state were able to concentrate and learn up to 5 times as fast as those who did not enter a flow state.
3. The Dangers of Entering a Flow State
After all the previous talk about the benefits of being in a flow state, you may be surprised to see a section discussing the dangers of certain flow states.
As easy as it is, entering a flow state when completing an activity which will lead to personal progress, it is equally as easy to enter a flow state when partaking in activities which have negative consequences.
For example, gamblers often experience timelessness and increased concentration when gambling due to them being in a flow state; this can easily lead to them losing money than they can afford and can have devastating consequences.
Furthermore, as previously mentioned entering a flow state can quickly become addictive due to the dopamine releases from your brain. Therefore, if you're consistently entering a flow state when completing activities which are harmful to your health, it can become incredibly difficult to break out of that pattern.
Therefore whilst entering a flow state can be incredibly beneficial when undertaking tasks that will lead to personal development; it is incredibly important that you regulate which activities you enter flow in. This can then help you to avoid being sucked into dangerous activities such as gambling or wasting time on social media.
4. How to Enter a Flow State
Csikszentmihalyi states that the following factors must be met for one to enter a flow state:
- There must be measurable progress for the task you're completing - This means you must be able to track exactly what you've achieved, how much you have left to complete and how well you are doing, to enter a flow state. The reason for this is it increases concentration due to you having a set goal and knowing exactly what needs to be done.
- You need to eliminate all external distractions - Research conducted by Oxford University has found that one of the most essential factors in reaching a flow state is the avoidance of external distractions. And for every distraction there is, it pulls you further out of the flow state. However, the opposite is true too. The longer you avoid distractions, the more engaged you become in your tasks.
- You need to also eliminate as many internal distractions too - If there's more pressing matters on your mind, it can be incredibly hard to enter a flow state. Therefore, it's recommended that you do your best to solve these internal distractions or at the very minimum try to release them from the forefront of your mind through stuff like journaling or meditating. It's up to you how you choose to eliminate these distractions but it's essential that you do eliminate them to reach your flow state.
- The Activity must be deeply rewarding - It's incredibly hard to reach a flow state when undertaking activities that you do not find enjoyable; when we're completing a task in which we do not find enjoyable, we often find ourselves always looking for shortcuts and looking to finish it by any means necessary. This makes it incredibly hard to enter a flow state.
Hopefully, you now have a greater understanding of a flow state and know exactly what is needed to enter a flow state. Once you've mastered the art of entering a flow state, work will no longer feel like work and hours should just fly by; don't be surprised to see your productivity rise to a new level!