It’s a feeling that’s almost impossible to describe (but scientifically proven). But if you’ve ever played golf, painted, or another performance-based activity, you might have experienced it before.
It’s when you are so wrapped up in the moment and your performance that everything else just falls away. Your anxieties and fears disappear, you lose track of time, and for those brief moments — perhaps even just for seconds at a time — you feel completely in the zone. It’s called “flow state,” and it can help anyone improve their performance in any area of life.
Flow state is a very powerful state of mind where you are extremely productive and also feel great. You don’t have to force yourself to work hard. It seems to go automatically - it seems as if you are ‘flowing’ through your work
So what is flow state and how do you achieve it? Keep reading to find out!
What is flow state?
Flow state is the psychological state in which a person is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, creativity and potential. It’s a mental state that happens when someone is at the top of their game.
It’s often associated with elite athletes, artists and musicians, or other people who are following their passions.
But flow state isn’t just for the exceptional few. It can happen to anyone, at any moment, at any place. It can happen at work when you’re given a challenging assignment and you’re able to immerse yourself fully in the job. It can happen when you’re in a creative environment and feeling completely uninhibited by your thoughts. It can happen when you’re experiencing something so new and exciting that you lose track of time. It can happen when you’re in a social situation that allows you to let loose and be yourself — and anything else is just not important.
But while flow state has been studied by researchers and psychologists for decades, there’s still a lot we don’t know about it. And some researchers are even questioning whether it’s a real thing. That said, there are plenty of signs that flow state is real.
The Flow Model was first introduced by positive psychologist Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi. He wrote about the process of flow in his book "Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience."
When you’re in flow state you are in the moment. You lose track of time, your anxieties disappear, and everything seems easy. You’re so focused on the task at hand that you don’t have any room to think about other things — your worries, your fears, your stresses. It’s a completely positive, creative state of mind that can help you achieve more and be more.
That’s because flow state isn’t just important because it’s “a good feeling.” It’s important because it allows you to perform better. When you’re in flow state, your brain releases dopamine. This neurotransmitter has been linked with a sense of satisfaction and achievement. When you’re in flow state, you’re likely to experience a huge dopamine rush. And that high can help you perform better. It can help you achieve more, learn more, and be more.
You can actually put yourself in flow state proactively. You just need to know what triggers you to get there.
11 Conditions to trigger flow
It’s been proven by research that in order to reach flow state, you must eliminate all external distractions. Every time you get pulled out of your focus, you’ll be taken further away from flow state. Only when you can focus with undivided attention for at least 10–15 minutes you can get into flow state.
Find a work environment that allows you to be at ease
If you’re stuck in a stuffy office all day long, it can be tough to find a workflow state. You want to find an environment that allows you to let loose. Maybe that’s an office with beanbag chairs or a coffee shop that doesn’t have wireless internet. The environment you choose can help you achieve flow state.
If you’re always completing tasks that are too easy for you, you don’t have a high enough level of challenge to enter flow state. What’s more, you’re probably also not achieving very much.
To achieve flow state, you need to challenge yourself. That doesn’t mean you need to be climbing Mount Everest every week! It just means you need to be pushing your own limits and taking on tasks that challenge you just enough.
Take regular breaks
You don’t want to be so hyper-focused on work that you forget to take regular breaks. So regularly step away from your work and do something completely unrelated to help you achieve flow state. Maybe that’s going for a walk, maybe that’s taking a nap, maybe that’s even playing a game. The important thing is that it’s something that doesn’t involve work.
Have an “easy” day every week
Most people work best when they have some variety in their routine. Too many “hard” days of work and it can be hard to recover. So every week, have at least one day where the work is easy. That can help you achieve flow state, too.
Focus on the now
If you’re always thinking about what’s coming up next, you’ll find it harder to stay in flow state. Focus on the task at hand, and let everything else fall away.
Choose the right time
Work At Your BPT (Biological Peak Time). Getting into flow state is hard if you are low on energy. You need to have the willpower to focus on just one thing and not get distracted. Tapping into your willpower and attention is energy draining, so you absolutely need to do it when your mind is sharp and energised.
If you try to get into flow state when you are tired and energy drained, it’ll feel like an uphill battle where you get distracted much easier and have less willpower to stay with your tasks for long enough to get into a state of flow.
Listen To (The Right Kind Of) Music
Music can actually help you become highly focused and, therefore, highly productive. Especially when you listen to music on repeat (or repetitive type music such as techno, classical or trance) it’ll be easier to reach a state of flow. Listening to music with your earbuds in helps you to block external distractions such as chat from co-workers. Furthermore, it helps to keep internal distractions at a minimum.
It’s important that the song you put on is familiar to you (no new songs) and that you put it on repeat. When new songs come up, or when you listen to a variety of different songs that include vocals, the music starts to compete for attentional space in your brain. As your brain now needs to spend energy to fight off these distractions, you’ll be less likely to reach flow state. Put one song on repeat for 1–2 hours or listen to repetitive type music like techno, classical music or trance music. This will help you reach a state of flow with more ease.
Work On One Very Specific Task
When it isn’t fully clear about what exactly you’re going to work on, it’ll be highly unlikely that you reach flow state. You’ll either switch between multiple different tasks too quickly or get distracted much easier. Both will prevent you from getting into flow state. Pick one specific task that you’re going to work on. Be very clear about what exactly you’re going to work on.
Declutter Your Workspace
In a study done by Harvard University, it was shown that a decluttered working environment leads to a significant increase in your ability to focus. Furthermore, it turns out that the participants who worked in a decluttered environment were able to work for longer periods of time compared to those who worked in a messy environment.
The reason why is that all objects in your vision (without consciously seeing them or not) fight for your attention, which costs your brain a lot of energy to resist or filter out. After a while, your brain will be too tired to continue this process and you’ll feel more sluggish, unfocused and unwilling to work hard.
Create a mental cue
The last flow state trigger is to create a mental cue for yourself to enter flow state. In other words, do something special each time before you sit down to go into flow state. Whether it’s repeating a special sentence or affirmation, taking a few deep breaths or anything else — do that same exact thing each time you want to get into flow state. Over time, this will help you create a mental cue for your brain. In other words, each time you follow your cue, you tell your brain that it’s time to get into flow state — and your brain acts accordingly.
Maybe it sounds strange, but it truly works.
Flow state is important because it helps you perform better. It allows you to achieve more, learn more, and be more. It helps you achieve mental clarity, and it allows you to focus on the task at hand. It also helps you achieve a feeling of satisfaction and achievement.
I can recommend this article from Positive Psychology: https://positivepsychology.com/flow-at-work/
And this video: