Have you ever wondered how high performers seem to always function at their best? They get the important stuff done while a warm glow surrounds their presence. Boredom, fatigue, and procrastination are foreign words to them. When you watch the best athletes, musicians, and artists perform, it seems like the world disappears around them, and they become one with the action they are doing. Can we mundane people access this hidden potential? Can we banish the busy tasks we distract ourselves with and excel in our most passionate endeavors? Yes, we can. Science has perfected a distinct formula for achieving the mental space of high achievers. Let me tell you more about it.
What is Flow
The state, world-class athletes, famous artists, and skilled workers enter when they perform their best is called flow. I am sure you have experienced some form of it before. It’s when you are focused and attentive at only one task at hand. Your sense of time becomes hazy, the external environments fall away, and you become one with the action. Your mind is working at triple its speed as it outputs creative ideas in a matter of seconds and boosts your productivity to unimaginable levels. You lose yourself in the moment while achieving the things you once thought impossible. In scientific terms, flow is when a person directs all of his attention on one task and performs his best. Boredom and fatigue do not interfere because he is so fazed by the experience, that he does it for the sake of doing it.
What Flow Requires
Flow requires an equilibrium between the difficulty of the task and your skill to complete it. If an activity is too challenging, you lose motivation to complete it and become disheartened. When an exercise is too easy, you are not engaged with it and become bored. This high-performance state also requires you to be completely involved and immersed in the moment so that you don’t distract yourself with what others think. Flow in a work environment focuses on completing only a few tasks or projects well. It’s not about checking off 20 items on your to-do list or switching between tasks to be busy. Flow is like a laser that cuts through all the noise and focuses on only the most important.
Now that you know what flow is, you need to know how to trigger it. Flow doesn’t happen by accident. It operates by a set of rules and parameters that create a perfect breeding ground for being in the zone. Here is how you can enter a flow state of heightened awareness and productivity.
Pick the right tasks
Have you ever seen someone immersed in the process of filing their taxes? I certainly haven’t. To trigger a flow state, you must choose an activity that excites you and is meaningful to you. Choose something that you love doing. The best projects require a healthy dose of difficulty. You don’t want to zone out because of how easy the task is or find something easy to do because it’s so hard. The activity has to be challenging enough that your brain is interested, but you have the necessary skills to complete the challenge.
Choose an appropriate time and place
Your environment plays a large role in your ability to concentrate. Find a quiet and inspiring space where you are free from distractions. I know this is not that easy in a time where most of us work from home. Invest in a pair of noise-canceling headphones or develop a system to let others around you know when you are working and when you are available. Alternatively, the cheapest way you can preserve your focus is by getting up early. When everyone is sleeping, you can enjoy the silence both in the physical world and the digital universe. The time at which you complete the task should be when you have the most energy. Usually, it isn’t the best idea to block out a 90-minute session of work after a hearty meal, but do whatever works for you. I am most alert in the early morning and late afternoons.
Set up your space for success
I know it’s getting old now, but distraction rules our limited attention spans. If you are committed to getting in the zone, you have to remove all possible distractions. Multitasking kills flow. It takes your brain 25 minutes to switch from one task to another. Disable alerts, notifications, and other distracting pop-ups. Remove the clutter from your work station and digital desktop. Close the door, power off your phone, and make your space comfortable. A clean working environment without any disturbances will help you work in a flow state.
Mentally prepare yourself.
There are external distractions and internal ones. Emotions of stress, worry, anxiety cloud your thinking. Try daily journaling or meditation. Develop a ritual before each flow session. If you watch any popular sports event, you will see athletes listen to music, go through specific movements, and perform a set of habits. They have created a series of tasks before each flow state so their brain links the activity with an altered state of mind. Before each session, you should also set an intention of what you want as an outcome. Flow state requires clear goals of what is you expect of yourself to meet the demand.
Like any skill, concentration, and flow need practice. If you were accustomed to switching between projects every few minutes, an hour of undivided attention towards one task may seem daunting. Try to focus for only 25 minutes and then take a 5-minute break. It won’t be easy at first, but through practice, you will increase your focus on the assignment.
Flow is a beautiful state that we can all access and make use of in our own lives. The outer chatter quiets, time slows down, and you become one with the action. With the five steps above, you can engineer flow into your workday and reap the benefits. Flow is not an effortless state. It’s in the middle between pleasure and challenge, and it requires hard work. But the beauty of flow emerges when hard work meets joy and purpose.
- Houston, E., & Houston, B. S. (2020, May 29). 11 Activities and Exercises to Induce a Flow State (+ 6 Examples). PositivePsychology.com. Retrieved from positivepsychology.com/flow-activities/
- Babauta, L. (n.d.). 9 Steps to Achieving Flow (and Happiness) in Your Work : zen habits. Retrieved from zenhabits.net/guide-to-achieving-flow-and-happiness-in-your-work/
- Metcalf, M. (2018, September 19). In The Flow: How To Master Your Brain’s Peak Productivity. Retrieved from blog.trello.com/brain-flow-state