Finding The Flow

The elusive mental state known as being “in the zone”

Scott Mayer
Aug 4, 2020 · 4 min read
Credit: Matt Bero on Unsplash

e’ve all experienced what it’s like to be completely consumed by an activity. Firing on all cylinders. Hyper focused, free from distraction and interference. Every action, every decision, leading seamlessly to the next. What matters is what we’re doing right now, and right now is all that matters. These are peak moments of total absorption where self vanishes, time flies, and performance skyrockets.

Consider the last time you were creating a piece of art, playing your favorite game, coding a piece of software, or having an intimate conversation. Remember how harmonious everything felt?

This is known as Flow.

What exactly is Flow? How does it work? Until recently, the science has been rather nebulous. Not taken very seriously. However, as new data is collected, as new analysis is performed, we’ve been able to not only describe what Flow is, but understand the mechanisms that govern its behavior.

Most importantly, we’ve identified how to conjure this elevated state of consciousness at will.

Let’s take a look.

How does it work?

Historically, Flow has been considered a black box. Coined by University of Chicago psychologist Mihaly Csiksgentmihalyi in the 1970s, Flow has long been considered pseudoscience. An intriguing phenomena yes, but much more anecdotal than empirical — accessible only through subjective recall. While Csiksgentmihalyi and others were able to determine that Flow states were a commonality among successful people, they were unable to concretely identify the underlying causes.

In the past decade, however, significant progress has been made. Advancements in brain imaging technologies have allowed us to apply scientific metrics where once only subjective experience existed. Turns out, Csiksgentmihalyi was spot on: “flow” is the perfect term for this phenomenon.

Flow states emerge from radical alterations in normal brain function. As attention heightens, the slower, more energy-expensive extrinsic system (conscious thought) is swapped out for the far faster and more efficient processing of the subconscious, our intrinsic system. “It’s an efficiency exchange,” says American University in Beirut neuroscientist Arne Dietrich. “We’re trading energy usually used for higher cognitive functions for heightened attention and awareness.”

In other words, Flow feels “flowy” because rapid-fire decision making is significantly heightened, resulting in a sense of gliding from one thought or action to the next without conscious thought. Combined with slight changes in brain chemistry, this heightening of our subconscious yields what we perceive as a Flow state.

We act without hesitation. Problem solving becomes automatic. Creativity becomes more accessible. Risk taking becomes less frightening. Comprehension and competency soar.

We’ve found the Flow.

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Tips for tapping into Flow

Achieving a purposeful Flow state is not always easy. Using Flow to finish a mundane yet important household chore is different than falling into it naturally during a pickup basketball game.

How does one enter Flow?

Engage in activities you like. It’s much easier to fall into Flow naturally if you enjoy what you’re doing.

Train yourself to sustain focus for extended periods of time. This will require as much patience as practice. You probably won’t get it right the first few times. Take adequate measures to ensure your environment is properly setup for you to focus. Close the door, close social media, turn phone notifications off and turn off the TV.

Find the right time of day. Some people are more productive in the mornings, others in the evenings. Carve out some time free from distraction whenever you are alert, energized and ready to concentrate.

Have a goal. Maintaining interest to complete a boring work assignment is a tall order. Focus instead on the goal beyond the task. Maybe that’s a promotion. Perhaps a raise. Acknowledgement from your peers. Use this as motivation to succeed, not the assignment itself.

Revel in the process. Flow opens up creative and productive pathways unlike any you’ve ever seen. Enjoy this! Lose yourself in the process. Embrace your creativity. Reward yourself for productivity. Remember it’s about finding happiness and fulfillment along the way.

“To be able to concentrate for a considerable time is essential to difficult achievement.” — Bertrand Russell

Flow is the key to productivity. Not simply crossing-items-off-your-endless-to-do-list productivity, but true productivity, where meaningful steps are made towards a goal. Productivity that progresses something of significance. That makes you feel accomplished. That gives you hope for the future.

Learn to embrace flow and you’ll soon embrace success.

Be strong, be safe, be well.

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Inspiring stories related to health, fitness and the pursuit of well-being.

Scott Mayer

Written by

Runner, thinker, curious observer. Owner of In Fitness And In Health. Chicago, IL. https://scottmayer.substack.com/

In Fitness And In Health

A fast-growing health and fitness community dedicated to sharing knowledge, lessons, and suggestions to living happier, healthier lives.

Scott Mayer

Written by

Runner, thinker, curious observer. Owner of In Fitness And In Health. Chicago, IL. https://scottmayer.substack.com/

In Fitness And In Health

A fast-growing health and fitness community dedicated to sharing knowledge, lessons, and suggestions to living happier, healthier lives.

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