Tips on achieving the flow
Flow is an amazing state that you enter when you’re completely immersed into some activity. It is a state of high consciousness and full engagement. It is the reason people are doing complicated and creative things like art and science.
Flow is one of the best experiences in life. This is what makes you passionate about what you do, you get the core happiness in your life out of doing the thing you love. It gives you full immersion, extreme productivity, nonstop energy.
When you’re in the flow you’re completely focused, present, on top of your performance. You’re working at the edge of your abilities, all of your faculties are focused on one activity, your sense of time and of self dissolves, because your brain has no resources left to sustain it.
As a result you are extremely driven, and you get good at what you do fast just by naturally doing what you love.
So how do you achieve it? Here are the elements you need to make it work well:
Set clear and valuable goals
The first thing that you need is a simple, unambiguous goal that you value and know how to achieve, a challenge that you know how to solve.
If what you want to do is a big and complicated task — break it down into multiple smaller ones, then breakdown the first of them into several parts again, and that until you have an easy first step that takes 20 minutes or less to accomplish. By the way this goal setting, breaking down, and planning often IS the first easy step to focus on.
Also notice that the goal should be at the right level for you, it should be simple enough for you to feel confident and competent, yet challenging enough to be interesting. Ideally, your task should be a little bit more challenging than you’re used to.
And make sure that what you do really matters to you. Your brain won’t engage into taking steps towards goals you don’t care about, so make it clear how valuable goals you are, and how the steps you’re taking bring you closer to them.
Take your time. Don’t resist being out of state. Build momentum.
In a sense, getting into flow is like falling asleep — it takes time, it is a result of particular actions, but you can not force yourself into it.
You’re not a computer, and you most likely won’t enter the state in the first 30 seconds. Usually it takes around 20 minutes, sometimes less(if task is very clear, interesting and engaging). Sometimes it can take longer, and you need to realize — it is perfectly normal.
Being lazy and uninterested(‘out of state’) at the beginning is perfectly fine, nobody can switch into a focused mode in seconds. Just trust the process and keep going through the right steps.
You can set up a timer(pomodoro technique can be very helpful) for 20–30 minutes, and decide to completely focus on the task for this time.
Focus and Presence.
Plug off. Remove distractions, both external and internal.
When you start, your mind usually tends to wander away and get distracted from the task. Realize that it’s normal, don’t beat yourself up, just gently get your attention back to the question you’re thinking about.
This kind of focus is similar to meditation, by learning to meditate you learn to you “turn off” all of the unrelated thoughts, and get into the present moment, focus on the process.
Also — think ‘inside’ the process, don’t be ‘meta’. If you’re writing — write, if you’re painting — paint. Don’t get distracted on organizing your workspace or trying to figure out the best tools and techniques to do it. It feels productive, but it often isn’t. Don’t confuse being focused on the process itself with being focused on figuring out how it’s done.
Intent + freedom from outcome
In creative work, you often can not control the outcome of what you’re doing. When you’re just learning to write, code, or paint, you can not directly control how good the end result will be.
That is why it’s best not to worry about the final outcome, and focus on taking the right steps, optimizing your process, learning your skills, and deliberate practice. These are the things you can directly control.
Measure the results you can directly control, and gain satisfaction and rewards from that. Outcome that you get is a side effect of your actions, and you can not directly control it. Judge how well you’re doing based on your actions, not the results.
Manage your expectations to make your emotional state go up.
Enjoy every little step forward that you take.
It is important for taking steps forward be fulfilling and satisfying for you, that keeps you motivated and enjoying the process.
You want to feel happy and excited after accomplishing every task, instead of just getting tired and exhausted.
Manage your expectations. Learn to enjoy taking steps forward, don’t beat yourself up, instead — pat yourself on the back for every bit of progress. That makes you more engaged and keeps you loving the process and wanting to do it more.
Don’t worry about how fast you are going, or how well you’re doing. Just taking action is all that matters and all you can do. Action and going through the process is what gets you into flow and gives you results. Consciously focus on feeling good about yourself after taking each little step.
Here’s a great talk on applying this principle in pick up:
To get into the flow, you need the actions you take to feel rewarding. You need to find a way to immediately see results of your actions, to measure how well you’re doing, and receive positive reinforcement once you accomplish it.
Understand what you do.
Don’t just go through the motions, this is the best state-killer. Have a clear plan, clear goal, understand each step that you take.
Make sure that you’re in charge and in control of what’s happening. Flow is about thinking and working with your mind, solving tasks, and knowing what you do and how you’re doing it.
Don’t try to replace this by going through random motions. Realize that rushing does not makes you more effective. What makes you faster and more effective — is skill, careful and calm thinking, planning, understanding, consciously applying the principles.
Let go of or get back to basics.
Once you’re already in the strong flow constantly checking out the principles may become a distraction. So once you’re in and it’s working — you may want to let go of the principles, and just enjoy being in the flow.
On the other hand, if it stops working and you’re feeling like you’re falling out of the process — don’t try to bruteforce through it. Stop. Think. Look at the checklist of the main principles.
- Do I have a good task?
- Am iI focused or distracted?
- Do I jave a crystal clear understanding of what I’m doing?
Find out what you’re not doing. Fix it. It’s not about power, it’s about simply going through the right actions.