Have you ever felt really in the zone? Where work feels effortless, distractions disappear, and you lose track of time? “Being in the zone” has another name – “flow state.” When you’re in a flow state, your productivity and creativity levels increase, and the effort required to complete tasks can seem minimal. An added bonus? Finding your flow state can also support your overall well-being and help you feel happier, more motivated, and fulfilled.
Getting into the zone isn’t always easy, though. Many of us may struggle to maintain focus, especially when distractions are all around us. Read on to learn more about the flow states, the benefits of being in the zone, and tips to help you achieve your flow state.
Related: Balancing Social Media & Emotional Wellbeing
Understanding the Flow State: What It Is & Why It Matters
The “flow state” is a concept developed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in the early 1970s. Dr. Csikszentmihalyi was a pioneering psychologist and professor, commonly known as the “father of flow.” Csikszentmihalyi noted that when people got so immersed in the task at hand, they would ignore their need for water, food, sleep, and more.1 Fascinated by this phenomenon, he dedicated much of his life’s work to discovering what flow state was and how to achieve it.
The Characteristics of Flow State
Flow state isn’t just sitting back and relaxing. Instead, true flow state is a state of consciousness that involves being completely involved in an activity for its own sake, like a highly trained athlete or jazz pianist in the “zone.” Flow state requires a careful balance of challenge and an individual’s unique level of skill. The enjoyment that results often stems from the interplay between the individual and the challenge at hand.
According to Dr. Csikszentmihalyi’s findings, honing your skill to match a task’s challenge is one of the secrets to finding your flow:
- Low challenge/low skill: When the challenge and skill are both low, you might experience apathy
- Low challenge/high skill: When the task is easy, and you’re highly skilled, you might experience boredom or relaxation
- High challenge/low skill: When you feel really challenged by a task and don’t have the same level of skill, you might feel worried or experience anxiety
- High challenge/high skill: When your skills rise to meet a challenge, and you can lose yourself in the activity, you’ll move closer to finding your flow state.
Benefits of Flow State
It’s not realistic for us to be in a flow state for every task because that’s not how the human brain is wired. And, our challenge and skills are rarely perfectly balanced. However, seeking out activities that you enjoy – whether taking a nature walk or doing a crossword puzzle, can help you get into your flow. With time, consistency and practice, reaching your flow state can have multiple benefits:
- Increased productivity: In a flow state, people report being more productive and that they perform better, whether in sports, the arts or workplace.2
- Improved concentration: A flow state is characterized by a high level of concentration along with reduced self-consciousness. This is why you may not notice feelings of fatigue, boredom, or even hunger while “in the zone.”3
- More creativity: Although more research needs to be conducted to measure creativity during flow state, interviews show that people in flow states often create something new and original. Ideas often “pop up” without effort.4
- Condensed perception of time: Since the world around you “disappears” in a flow state, it’s common to lose a sense of time. This can make your day go by faster and make a long day more enjoyable.5
Mental Health Benefits of Getting Into A Flow State
In addition to the benefits above, a flow state can provide other benefits for emotional well-being and mental health.
Flow state happens when challenge and skill match up. In this state, you naturally begin to enjoy your activity more. This can bring greater satisfaction to what you’re doing and make the task more rewarding and enjoyable.
A common phenomenon of the flow state is losing yourself in the task. In this state, not only is there less awareness of everyday distractions, but flow state can offer a reprieve from everyday problems and stressors.5 Challenging your mind and becoming fully absorbed in an activity can also help you feel more in control – something we can all benefit from in stressful times!
Related: Sneaky Ways to Relieve Stressful Feelings
Positive Mood & Happiness
There’s a scientific reason why people feel refreshed and energized after a flow state: during flow, the brain’s dopamine reward system is more active.6,7 More dopamine tends to coincide with increased feelings of optimism, hope, and improved energy and motivation. Dopamine can also minimize fatigue and discomfort, leading to a better overall feeling state.4
6 Tips For Achieving Flow State
Finding your flow state can make you feel happier, more fulfilled, and more productive. But how do you get into the groove, especially when you feel like you’re fighting an uphill battle? While you shouldn’t expect to live in a flow state all day, every day, there are a few things you can do that may help you find your flow more often:
1) Set Clear Goals
An important part of flow state is having clear goals. When you know what you need to get done, it’s much easier to relax so you can accomplish the task at hand. Before you sit down to start a task, take time to establish a clear goal for your work.
2) Eliminate distractions
Once in a flow state, the brain has already filtered out distractions – but getting there can be challenging! Ease your mind into a flow state by eliminating distractions around you. Turn your cell phone on silent, turn off the TV, and ask your family members for some uninterrupted time. It can take between 10-25 minutes to get into flow state, so give yourself plenty of time to find your flow.
3) Stop Multitasking
Flow happens when you fully engage in what you’re doing so you can lose yourself in the activity. Multitasking forces your brain to jump from one activity to another, which makes it very difficult, if not impossible, to find and keep your flow. This can also waste valuable time and energy that could have been better spent on the task at hand.
4) Take Breaks
Our brains can only concentrate for so long. If you’ve been trying to reach a flow state and just can’t get there, try taking a short break. Instead of reaching for your phone, try stepping outside to breathe fresh air or take a short walk to relax your mind and let your brain recharge.
5) Schedule Your Flow Time
Some people work best early in the morning, while some work best late into the night. When you have an activity that you want to immerse yourself in, schedule your focus time when you know you work best and are not likely to be interrupted.
6) Practice With Your Passion
Finding your flow is easier when you love the activity you’re doing. When in doubt, focus on something you love. Not only can this help you experience the positive benefits of getting into the zone, but you’ll likely learn more about how to achieve a flow state in other tasks.
Related: The Importance of Hobbies
Get Started With Your Flow State Journey
No matter how often you’re able to get into a flow state, it’s important to keep practicing and reflecting on your habits. Reflecting on what kinds of activities helped you achieve flow, what distractions stopped you from getting there, and what you’re truly passionate about can help you get into the groove more often. Flow state stems from where challenge, skill, and enjoyment all come together, and purposely building flow state into your life can help you live a more fulfilling life.