It is likely that at some point or the other, you may have found yourself or someone else “in the zone”, a place where you lose track of time and space, keep going with an unending source of energy and passion. These are some of the best moments of your life, the most fulfilling ones if you really think about it. Have you ever wondered what is this place and how someone achieves it?
This is called the state of “Flow”, a state of remarkable focus and determination, which tunes out everything else which is irrelevant and unimportant to that moment. The psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi has said that the state of flow is defined as an “optimal state of consciousness where we feel our best and perform our best.”
If you are alien to this concept and are not able to co-relate, a state of flow is where you have remarkable clarity of your goals, no distractions, and you are able to think critically, with complete control over the situation and the outcome.
The way I would recommend you to think of is in this way. When your current level of skill matches the challenge ahead of you is when you have the right ingredients to achieve the state of flow. In any other case, i.e, high skill low challenge or low skill high challenge, you may end up in boredom or a state of anxiety.
How do we trigger this state of flow?
1. Let go of all distractions
Focus is a tricky customer, and to get there, you have to clear your path of any possible obstacles. This starts with identifying the things which distract you and ridding your environment of any distractions. This could be via devices, people, and other stimulants. Once you get distracted, it takes an average of 25 minutes to get back to a true state of focus. So, act upon your distractions.
2. Bring yourself to peace - Internally
You cannot focus if you are constantly thinking of something else and living elsewhere other than the moment. Discipline your mind, practice activities like meditation or journaling to let go of anything which may be a deterrent to your peace of mind.
3. Clarity of task and outcome
You need to know what is the one specific thing you want to work on and what do you tangibly need from it. Make sure to sit down and plot this first. Also, remember to make the task challenging but not overly challenging or complicated because it will lead you down a different path of boredom or worry.
4. Work at your most productive hours
By this point in time, you should already know what are your biological peak times are, i.e, what time of that day do you stay most active, energetic and willing to work. Supplement these hours by strategically consuming caffeine, staying well hydrated and more importantly, listening to the right kind of music which doesn’t distract you but helps you tune out everything else. (Lo-fi beats, Binaural music, Deep focus tracks)
The state of flow is a concept that has been gaining more prominence with significant research done in it. It is something which has been observed in top performers in a diverse range of fields and while they may all call it by a different name, flow is essentially an optimal way to live and it can be accomplished via a few dedicated steps.