How to practice mindfulness to achieve your peak performance, do the best work, and increase productivity? These are tips on how to get into a flow state.
You know the feeling. You've felt it before. And it's ecstatic.
It's the moment when everything around you is blurred. It's as if time stood still. You're so high yet focus that without realizing it you've finished all the difficult tasks like a hot knife through butter.
You tried to get back to that zone, but you can't seem to replicate the sensation.
Would it be nice if you can get in and out of that experience freely? That way you can always work in your highest gear. To make it possible, you need to know more about how to get into a flow state.
What is the Flow State?
Doing tasks, activities or duties may cost you energy and sometimes may not give you satisfaction. Or worse, you might be experiencing burnout from doing a lot of responsibilities. There are a lot of creative or work techniques you’ve tried like Pomodoro to help you work more effectively. But in some cases, you might still not be able to finish your work with a smile on your face.
You’d feel you still need to take a week off to rest and relax for a bit just so you can feel refreshed. It’s not a bad idea actually to take a break. But what if you still feel bored during work hours? Worst case scenario, if you do, maybe what you need is something different. Have you ever heard of flow state before?
Generally, a flow state is a mental state in which a person is fully immersed in an activity and can achieve a high level of performance. This state is often associated with a sense of joy, creativity, and flow. So rather than feeling burdened by the responsibilities, you’d feel more relaxed and energetic to finish your tasks.
In The Zone
People also know the flow state as “in the zone”. The phenomenon was first discovered by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi in the late 1960s. He's one of the co-founders of the field of positive psychology and probably the first flow researcher.
They admitted that they experienced it in different cases, like dancing, playing chess, doing surgery, and even mount climbing. It's a subjective experience. But they all have something in common. Which is all of them are high-performing individuals, and they are taking career paths that were challenging and rewarding for them.
"The ego falls away—time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you're using your skills to the utmost,” Csíkszentmihályi describes the flow of state in an interview with Wired Magazine.
Different people experience the flow state differently. But, to be precise, a flow state is when you're fully focused, and you put your attention to the task to achieve great work. A flow state is commonly experienced by people who are doing creative arts ( painting, drawing, writing, etc.) and sports ( running, playing basketball, skiing, etc.)
The concept of flow state often happens when you’re doing something that you enjoy and are quite skilled in. It can help you focus on working on something and experience the benefits more than the regular state of mind.
What Happens to the Brain When You Achieve Flow?
So how does a flow state happen to us? How does our brain function when we’re in a state of flow? There are two theories behind this phenomenon, which are the transient hypofrontality hypothesis and synchronization theory.
In the transient hypofrontality hypothesis, some studies have found that being in the state of flow is associated with a decrease of activity in the prefrontal cortex of the brain. The prefrontal cortex is essential in higher cognitive functions that include memory and self-consciousness. Reduced brain activity may explain why people experience a distorted sense of time and loss of self-consciousness when in the flow state.
On the other hand though, according to synchronization theories, when we're in a flow state, certain parts of our brains communicate better than they would otherwise. During flow states, there may be an increase in brain activation in the frontal lobes, which contributes to improved higher thinking.
In neuroscience studies, flow states are induced by interactions between 5 different neurotransmitters within the brain, which are:
When you first enter a flow state, you experience an increase in attention, followed by a flow of information and pattern recognition. You might say that this neurotransmitter is a skill booster.
This neurotransmitter triggers a glucose response so you’d have more energy, attention, emotional control, and increased arousal. You’d feel your heart rate speed up, your muscles would become tense, and speed up respiration. Or in other words, your brain produces a high.
By the time you’re in the flow state, your brain releases endorphins that relieve pain and induce pleasure.
Your brain also releases anandamide, which elevates moods, relieves pain, dilates blood vessels, and aids in respiration. This neurotransmitter also amplifies lateral thinking or the ability to disparate ideas together.
At the end of a flow state, your brain releases serotonin that leaves you with a post-exercising feeling of bliss and you can only feel it once the state of flow has already come and gone.
What Are The Benefits of Flow State?
You can now recognize how the brain works behind a flow state but does it give you the benefits? Research shows that there are 8 benefits of flow state in your personal life, which are:
1. Heightened concentration
You’d be able to focus on the work with complete concentration and without getting distracted. You'll have effortless attention and improve your creative flow. All will leads to a higher output of higher quality work.
2. Sense of clarity
In a state of flow, your body and mind will know what needs to be done without having to think about it. Or in other terms, your mind and body will go into auto mode, but you still feel a sense of control.
3. Less mind-based obstacles
When you achieve a state of flow, your thoughts and feelings that generally disturb your mind, such as stress, worry, and self-doubt, would be gone. It even can make you feel almost effortless in doing challenging tasks.
4. Sense of ecstasy
People describe being in a deep flow state as an intrinsically positive experience. You’d feel the pleasure that comes with being in the moment and doing something that you are passionate about. It's a sense of ecstasy
Not just the general type of happiness. But it is more likely a general sense of well-being and a lasting sense of happiness and fulfillment.
6. Higher productivity
People in a flow state often find themselves within their peak performance. Thanks to total attentional focus and a lack of self-consciousness, people can be more productive while using less energy.
7. Increased satisfaction
Flow has been shown to increase self-esteem and satisfaction with one’s own performance. They experience positive emotion and experience both during and after flow.
8. Improved emotional regulation
Because of how the brain works, researchers suggested flow as a positive alternative to unhealthy and unproductive coping mechanisms that will tax your energy levels.
What’s the Difference Between Flow and Hyperfocus?
Some people might ask what the difference is between being in the zone or just having hyperfocus. Both can seem very similar, but there are important differences. Hyperfocus means that you're so focused on one thing that you lose sight of anything else. It can be extremely detrimental to your health and well-being.
On the other end of the spectrum, the flow state is often associated with well-being and more positive experiences.
A major difference between flow and hyperfocus is that flow can happen in almost any type of activity, whereas hyperfocus occurs when you're extremely interested in an activity.
The Characteristics of Flow Experience
How do we know that we’re in a flow state?
The activity, task, or duty you're working on is intrinsically rewarding.
You will be aware of the challenge but you’ll also be aware of the goals that are still attainable.
You’ll feel more focused on the activity, task, or duty you’re doing.
You’ll experience feelings of control over the situation and the outcome.
You’ll have feelings of serenity and a loss of self-consciousness.
There is immediate feedback that you’ll have.
You’ll be able to tell whether the task is doable, and if so, whether there is a balance between the skills required and the challenges involved.
You’ll experience a lack of awareness of your physical needs, such as eating, resting, sleep, and others.
There is intense concentration and focused attention.
Time passes at an accelerated rate when you're in flow.
Try These Tips to Achieve a Flow State
Not only now do you know the benefits of the flow state and also how your brain works during that time, but how do you enter the state of flow? How to get into a flow state at work? Can you trigger the flow state? The research found that there are 5 ways to enter a flow state in your daily life. You can try these tips:
1. Choose an activity that challenges you
In his book, Csíkszentmihályi explains that "Flow also happens when a person's skills are fully involved in overcoming a challenge that is just about manageable, so it acts as a magnet for learning new skills and increasing challenges." He adds, "If challenges are too low, one gets back to flow by increasing them. If challenges are too great, one can return to the flow state by learning new skills."
2. Set some clear goals for yourself
Csíkszentmihályi also mentions that flow is likely more occur if you are faced with a task with clear goals that require a specific response. So you have to seek tasks that have clear goals to reach the flow state or to get in the zone to get into your deep work.
3. Eliminate distractions
It's easier to achieve flow states when you eliminate external and internal distractions such as turning off your phone, wearing noise-canceling headphones, and working in a silent area, such as a library. By doing that, you can get into a flow state and give your best work.
4. Focus on one task at hand
It's also worth noting that to trigger flow states, you have to put your full attention on a single task at hand. By doing many things simultaneously, you won't likely to experience a flow state.
5. Practice meditation and mindfulness
One study found that practicing mindfulness regularly helped athletes experience flow states and improved their performance. It is because mindfulness involves being more attuned to the present moment. Practice meditation and mindfulness regularly and you'll more likely to experience a flow state.
6. Choose a pursuit you enjoy
Flow state requires you to do what makes you happy. You are more unlikely to achieve a flow state if you’re doing an activity, duty, or task that you dislike. While trying to achieve a flow state, keep doing things you really enjoy.
A flow state can help you achieve peak performance in any activity. Not only will you achieve more, but you’ll also feel a blissful moment by the time you finish your task. By following the tips above, reaching the flow state is more accessible, and can help you stay giving your best work.
How Long Does It Take to Get Into A State of Flow?
When all the required conditions are met, you can expect to jump into the zone. But how long does it take to reach flow? Well, you won't be able to fall away to flow in a blink of an eye, for sure.
According to science, it takes us approximately 10-15 minutes of focused attention to achieve flow. Some said it's up to 20 minutes.
But there's a caveat. Every time you're interrupted, the so-called flow clock resets. So, make sure you create a no-distraction workspace. Rather than telling everybody to leave you alone, it's easier to just move away from those external distractions. Don't forget to turn off the biggest distractor of your life - your phone.
Create a moment to have uninterrupted time.
Once you're in the zone, the state of deep focus will last from 30 minutes to a couple of hours. But too much of a good thing is a bad thing. For an optimal experience, use an extended Pomodoro technique timer to give yourself a needed break. The sweet spot is at least every other hour.
And yes, it's possible to experience flow more than once a day. You just need the right mindset and condition.