What does it mean to lead a productive life? Is it choosing to work on whatever task that allows us to earn the most money and recognition, or could it be something more? Perhaps the secret to a truly productive life is learning how to find satisfaction in challenging ourselves at the edges of our competency by entering the flow state.
In this piece, we’ll define what a flow state is and how achieving it can help bring you deep satisfaction in your work. We’ll also dive into how to enter the flow state and how it can be a powerful tool for quickly improving your level or skill so you can rapidly advance in your career.
What Is a Flow State?
Pioneered by the Hungarian-American psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi in 1975, the flow state is an emotional experience from being fully engaged in a challenging yet enjoyable task. Being in a flow state promotes a deep sense of satisfaction, creativity, and total absorption where you naturally lose your sense of time, self-consciousness, and awareness of the outside world.
Csíkszentmihályi summarized his flow research with his 1990 bestseller, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, which reveals how we can achieve optimal performance and experience genuine satisfaction by entering the flow state.
Csíkszentmihályi and co-author Jeanne Nakamura followed up his bestseller with a paper in 2012 titled Flow Theory and Research, which describes the concept of flow as the experience of complete absorption in the present moment and how it promotes positive psychology.
What It’s Like to Be in a Flow State
How we feel about ourselves and the joy we derive from our hobbies and work depend on how the mind interprets our experiences. And while our experiences may differ from others’ or even depending on the tasks we choose, there are clear signs of what it means to “be in flow.”
In his popular Ted Talk, Csíkszentmihályi identifies seven characteristics of what it’s like to be in the flow state:
- Deep focus: Entering a state of flow requires a deep focus on the task where only a narrow range of information is accessed. Your mind becomes so immersed in the task that you genuinely become lost in thought. Experiencing this deep focus can be considered the height of productivity since your body and mind are in harmony to achieve maximum effort.
- A sense of being outside reality: In a flow state, you become so absorbed by your work that you momentarily forget everything else. Your state of mind shifts as the worries and responsibilities of everyday life fall to the wayside as you fully give yourself to a singular task.
- Greater inner clarity: Maintaining flow requires working on a task that provides immediate feedback so that you can rapidly react without breaking your concentration. Knowing what needs to be done and exactly how to do it is what makes the feeling of flow seem effortless and clarifying.
- Knowing the activity is doable: To successfully enter the flow state, you need to pick a challenging task that slightly exceeds your level of skill so that it requires your full attention. If the activity is too easy or too difficult relative to your skill level, you will quickly lose interest or grow too frustrated to continue.
- A loss of self: Being in flow is more than just being deeply engaged with your work, it’s also a calming and peaceful experience as you experience a loss of self-consciousness. Any worries you have related to the outside world simply disappear as your ego melts away.
- Timelessness: When experiencing flow, your sense of time naturally fades into the background as your attention is directed toward the task at hand. It’s not uncommon when you exit a flow state to forget where you are while also experiencing a fast-forwarding effect due to a lost sense of time.
- Intrinsic motivation: Improving a valuable skill, mastering a hobby, or learning something new are all rewarding experiences that help with achieving flow. But flow, in of itself, is a rewarding experience that’s intrinsically motivating. Being in flow also increases your dopamine levels, giving you a sense of joy both during and after the work is done.
Tips for How to Enter the Flow State
Knowing how flow works can assist you in setting up an environment that makes it easier to enter a flow state quickly. These three tips will help you establish a flow state on a regular basis:
- Set clear goals: Entering the flow state requires clear, well-defined goals with a predetermined outcome. If a task is too ambiguous, you can quickly lose focus once you’re unsure what to work on next. Knowing what you have to accomplish from the outset can also provide motivation and a sense of control.
- Make it challenging (but not too challenging): You want to choose the most important task just outside your comfort zone to provide the right level of motivation. Pick a goal that’s too easy, and you’ll quickly get bored; choose something too difficult, and you may become frustrated and give up. Finding that sweet spot of picking goals that challenge your current abilities while still being within your grasp will help you reach the next level.
- Have control over your actions: Being in a flow state means you’re unconsciously in control of your actions without realizing the effort exerted. The activity should become almost automatic while you slowly lose awareness of yourself. It often requires strenuous physical exertion or highly disciplined mental activity to enter a continuous flow.
How to Make the Most Out of Your Time in a Flow State
Getting into a flow state is the most difficult step. But once you’re there, the next challenge is maintaining it for as long as your mind and body allow.
Being in flow is mentally and physically taxing, so you want to ensure you get the most out of it while fully present. These three tips will help you make the most of your time in a flow state:
- The Pomodoro method: Your mind likely can’t sustain peak performance for more than two hours, so it’s helpful to utilize a time management technique like the Pomodoro method to balance your work and rest periods. The Pomodoro method will help define your starting and ending points for your flow state sessions and ensures that you give yourself enough time to recover after a period of deep work.
- Determine peak performance hours: No matter how hard you may try to push your mind, you can only fight your biology so much. It can be too much to overcome a lack of focus and creativity when you're exhausted. Instead, determine when your mind and body are at their peak performance. For most people, this will likely be first thing in the morning before you’re overwhelmed with the responsibilities and decisions of the day.
- Eliminate distractions: Entering a flow state can easily take up to 30 minutes or longer. And every time you choose to check social media or email, you’re essentially resetting your internal clock for reaching peak focus. Instead of trying to rely on willpower to focus, it’s better to not even allow your mind to get distracted by using techniques like turning off notifications, blocking distracting websites, and using tools designed to help you focus.
Maximize Your Flow State With Rize
Entering a flow state is a powerful tool for learning things quickly and upgrading your skill set. Whether you’re focused on becoming a better musician, artist, athlete, or programmer, entering a flow state is an intrinsically rewarding experience that can help you reach your full potential and get great satisfaction out of your work.
The ultimate competitive advantage is knowing what triggers your flow state and how to maintain it for as long as possible. Thankfully, tools already exist to help you fight procrastination and distraction so that you can quickly establish a flow state routine. See how Rize’s two-week free trial can guide you on how to enter the flow state so that you can unlock your personal growth and productivity potential.