Have you ever been so immersed in doing a task you forgot to eat, and time seemed to fly by? Being consumed by a task in this manner is what is referred to as flow. Positive psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi began researching this phenomenon after becoming fascinated by artists who got lost in their work. Artists, especially painters, were so captivated by their work they would disregard their need for food, water and even sleep.
“Flow helps to integrate the self because in that state of deep concentration consciousness is unusually well ordered. Thoughts, intentions, feelings, and all the senses are focused on the same goal. Experience is in harmony. And when the ﬂow episode is over, one feels more ‘together’ than before, not only internally but with respect to other people and the world in general.”
– Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, Positive Psychologist –
Why is being in a flow state important?
Being in a flow state or ‘being in the zone’ can help you:
- Feel happy and in control
- Become creative and productive
- Lose track of time
I believe the ability to fully immerse yourself in a single task and complete it to the best of your abilities is a major contributing factor of productivity.
How to induce flow
To maximize your chances of entering and staying in a flow state:
- Clearly define the task
- Ensure progress can be tracked
A clear direction and structure of completing the task will give you confidence in accomplishing the task.
- Ensure feedback on performance is clear and immediate
Immediate concise feedback will allow you to quickly adapt to any changes that may come up and continue being in the flow state.
- You feel the task is challenging
- You have the skills to complete the task
Being confident in your abilities to finish a challenging task is important to being in a flow state.
Figure 1: Mental State in terms of challenge and skill level
Challenges to entering and remaining in a flow state
As shown in Figure 1, there are other states you can experience when doing a task. These other states exist when there is a mismatch between your skill level and the challenge level of the task. According to Mihály Csíkszentmihályi:
“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.”
To enter and remain in flow, you must avoid distractions. This means turning of distracting music, logging off social media, being in a quiet space where you can truly focus on the task at hand.
Have you experienced flow?
I’d like to hear your thoughts on entering and remaining in the flow state, let me know in the comments section below.