Hitting a flow state isn’t just a concept to describe feeling productive in your work. It’s a mental state that has been researched
extensively, and today we are going to learn more about what flow states are and how we can attain them.
The Godfather of The Flow State: Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.
His name is a mouthful, so let’s start with this: “Chick-sen-me-high.”
Glad we got that out of the way.
So Csikszentmihalyi has led the field on the theory and study of flow. His work has shown how we can apply the concept of flow to be more productive, more happy, more creativity, and live a more meaningful life. Pretty powerful stuff, right?
So what is flow?
Flow is a state of mind where we feel completely immersed in a task. When you are in flow, you may feel some of the following things:
- Time dissolving – hours go by in a flash
- Increased productivity and efficiency
- A deep and consistent sense of presence
- A physical and mental sensation of ecstasy
- Very few thoughts that are not related to the task at hand
- A sense of the mind and body moving in unison
- A feeling of energy and joy when you come out of the state
We’ve all experienced flow at some point, but some of us have experienced it more often than others.
For example, if you have ever been involved in a sport, or had a hobby or craft you loved to do, you likely sometimes experience flow during this activity. Though I don’t run long distances much anymore, I know some of the most intense flow state experiences for me have been on 18-20 mile runs. Around mile 10, this beautiful feeling takes over of being fully alive in my body, and I am completely immersed in the act of running, so much so that all other thoughts, worries, even physical discomfort of the run itself, melts away. It’s bliss.
So how do we get more of that, not only in our hobbies, but in our creative work?
It is very possible to experience flow on a consistent basis when engaging in creative tasks. People who code, paint, write, or any other number of creative pursuits – talk about moments of being absorbed in the work, so deeply that the rest of the world disappears. Sounds nice, right? So how do we get there?
The Goal Is To Find The Place Between Boredom and Overwhelm
Flow is a hard thing to experience when a task is one of two things: too easy, or too hard.
If a task is too easy, we aren’t engaged in it. And being engaged is essential to experiencing flow. We want to minimize the amount of time we do super easy, mundane tasks. It does not nourish us and keeps us feeling stagnant. On the other hand, if the task is too challenging, we become frustrated and anxious. Now, sometimes we need to and should do very challenging things, like learn how to use a new program on our computer, or further develop our skills in our field with continuing education. We can’t expect to experience flow when we are learning something brand new.
Tasks that encourage flow the most are moderately difficult.
They aren’t brand new to us, but they aren’t easy and routine either. Perfecting a graphic, solving a coding problem, working with angles and lighting to find the best shot – these tasks involve novelty, challenge, skill, and innovation. So it is at the outer limit of our abilities, when our minds must be fully online and engaged in our work, that we experience the sweet, sweet ecstasy of flow.
Or in Csikszentmihalyi’s own words in his well known book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience: “Contrary to what we usually believe, moments like these, the best moments in our lives, are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times — although such experiences can also be enjoyable, if we have worked hard to attain them. The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”
If you want a quick overview of this book, watch this fun animated short video.
Where do you find flow? What can you prioritize this week to stay in that state more often?
If you are wanting to find more flow in your workday, don’t forget to sign up for the ultimate productivity workshop for creatives: How To 10x Your Creative Output. Get instant access to the workshop when you register.