What is a Flow State and How Do I Achieve It?

brain graphic flow state

Imagine the last time you were so focused on something you lost all track of time. Maybe it happened during a group project, or maybe while you were writing, or drawing, or drafting out the plan for a new business idea. All other thoughts faded from your head as you applied yourself to the task at hand. You felt challenged and stimulated, but confident you could accomplish your goal. In short, you felt fully alive.

This is what’s known as a flow state. Psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi defines a flow state as an “optimal state of consciousness where we feel our best and perform our best.” He writes that this state involves “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.”

Harvard professor Teresa Amabile found in her research that people who experience this state of mind report higher levels of productivity, creativity, and happiness for up to three days after experiencing flow state. Yes, you read that correctly: not only does it help you accomplish more, achieving a flow state makes you happier.

At FlowStations we believe everyone deserves to find their flow state, because happiness is contagious and the world could always use more of it. We believe every time you look up from your work with a giddy smile because you just flowed through the entire afternoon in what felt like the blink of an eye, you will spread that joy to other people in your life, and the world will become a little bit better because of it.

With this in mind, we’ve made it our mission to provide the resources necessary for people to work with passion and self-expression to find their flow state. To this end, we want to offer you not just the supplies you need to optimize your work station, but the knowledge and insight to help you maximize your productivity and creativity. On that note:

How Do I Achieve a Flow State?

While there’s no exact formula for reaching the flow state, you can do a number of things to make it easier:

  1. Have clear goals – know what you want to achieve, and have clear, explicit steps to get there. Large goals like “write a book” should be broken down into something easier to accomplish in a day, such as “outline the plot” or “write 3000 words.” And don’t just think it – write it down! Studies show writing down goals increases likelihood of achieving them.
  2. Concentration and focus – to enter into a flow state with creative tasks, it can often take up to an hour of work. Focus is a skill, and you can learn to focus faster by practicing mindfulness throughout the day. Regular meditation practice can help with this too.
  3. Participate in an intrinsically rewarding activity – ideally, you pursue something because you love it, not because of the money or other external (extrinsic) rewards. If not, you can still learn to focus on the aspects of a task that offer their own reward, like the challenge of solving certain types of problems.
  4. Lose feelings of self-consciousness – learn to focus entirely on the work itself, rather than the emotions you feel or the errands you have to run later. To help clear your mind, it helps to use a planner to write down upcoming tasks, or a notebook to write out things that are distracting you. This way, you can put these distractions out of your head and concentrate.
  5. Instant feedback on your progress – it helps to have a visible measurement your output, so you can easily see the progress you’ve made and feel motivated to keep moving. For visual and literary arts this is easy, but for other activities, consider a checklist or a running tally to keep track of your work.
  6. Know whether your skills align with the goals of the task – you should feel confident that your skills are up to the task at hand, while still feeling challenged enough so as not to feel bored.
  7. Lack of awareness of physical needs – from the temperature of the room to the comfort of your chair to the lighting of your workspace, you want everything but the task at hand to disappear into the background.
  8. An optimized work environment – aside from basic physical comfort, you should work in an environment that lets you be your most productive. Excessive noise causes distraction and unnecessary stress, so find somewhere reasonably quiet, without too much movement (a cafe might not be a good idea if you’re prone to look up every time someone walks by). Your workspace should have not just the materials you need to work, but the resources to keep you organized, relaxed, and inspired.

A key indication you’ve entered a flow state occurs when your actions and awareness merge. For instance, a writer becoming so engrossed in his or her work that the activity becomes almost automatic, the words pouring onto the page without hesitation as the process begins to feel almost effortless. They set aside their sense of self, and work becomes play.

Csíkszentmihályi says flow states happen when a person’s skills are “fully involved in overcoming a challenge that is just about manageable, so it acts as a magnet for learning new skills and increasing challenges. If challenges are too low, one gets back to flow by increasing them. If challenges are too great, one can return to the flow state by learning new skills.”

In other words, when we push ourselves slightly past our comfort zone each time we work (that is, when we seek out the creative challenges that are still within our skillset to overcome), we can put ourselves in a state of concentration, productivity, and creativity that helps us grow and leaves us feeling happier and more fulfilled. What’s not to love about that?

How do you achieve your flow state? Tell us a little about what you do to find reach it, or how you make your workspace work for you, and earn the chance for you and your website to be featured in one of our blog posts!

Comments (2)
January 14, 2019

thanks for this post

    February 21, 2019

    We appreciate the feedback!

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