February 13, 2012

Being in a State of Flow


Flow is the mental state of operation in which a person in an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity.

If you look at a brilliant musician play, he does not have to consciously think about where his fingers need to go to play the next note. It just happens seamlessly and subconsciously, with them being completely immersed and connected to the present moment.

A similar thing can be said about letting emotions take hold of you – be it love, anger, fear or excitement. These also have ways of taking away your conscious thinking and completely immersing you in the moment. Similar to an animal that can be angry, excited or scared, we can let these emotions completely envelop us (sometimes negatively).

One of the gifts of being human is that, using our conscious awareness, we can choose which states we can put our conscious mind in, so that the subconscious mind obediently follows. In this way we can reach a positive state of flow where we maximize our outputs without the need for constantly consciously double checking ourselves. Malcolm Gladwell mentions this state in his book “Blink”, where he describes how we can make fast and accurate decisions without having to second guess ourselves and over-analyze the situation.

What is the ideal human state for maximum productivity? It is this state of flow – of being fully in the moment with an energized focus. An experience of being in flow consists of the following ten factors:

  • Clear goals (expectations and rules are discernible and goals are attainable and align appropriately with one’s skill set and abilities). Moreover, the challenge level and skill level should both be high.
  • Concentrating, a high degree of concentration on a limited field of attention (a person engaged in the activity will have the opportunity to focus and to delve deeply into it).
  • loss of the feeling of self-consciousness, the merging of action and awareness.
  • Distorted sense of time, one’s subjective experience of time is altered.
  • Direct and immediate feedback (successes and failures in the course of the activity are apparent, so that behavior can be adjusted as needed).
  • Balance between ability level and challenge (the activity is neither too easy nor too difficult).
  • A sense of personal control over the situation or activity.
  • The activity is intrinsically rewarding, so there is an effortlessness of action.
  • A lack of awareness of bodily needs (to the extent that one can reach a point of great hunger or fatigue without realizing it)
  • Absorption into the activity, narrowing of the focus of awareness down to the activity itself, action awareness merging.

My Tips for Getting into Flow

  1. Minimize or eliminate any and all distractions that would take your focus away from your task. Social media breaks, checking websites and news all need to go. I found that music helps put me into flow, as long as it doesn’t have distracting lyrics that take my focus away.
  2. Have clear goals for what you are doing. This adds conscious direction and structure to your task which is fed back into your subconscious processes.
  3. A confident understanding of the task at hand and your abilities to carry it out. Ideally the task needs to have a high level of challenge that matches an equally high level of skill that you possess to carry it out.
  4. Clear and immediate feedback, so that any errors that you make are corrected immediately and without a break in state.
  5. Elimination of ego and self centredness. Judging yourself, others or your work just gets in the way of what you need to be doing.
  6. Using NLP techniques once the state has been reached. I personally use a concept called anchoring, where I attach my experience to a physical sensation. For example, when I’m in flow I hold my hands together touching the  front of my face. This anchors the physical sensation to my experience. When I want to get in flow faster in the future, I simply act out the anchor again.

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