Have you ever been working on something and suddenly looked up to notice the time and realized its much later than you thought it was?
You were in “the zone”. The zone is where flow lives.
The term “flow” was first used by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi when researching … He interviewed artists and … and when they described their experiences in this “ecstatic” state, the word “flow” kept coming up.
What Exactly is Flow?
It’s being so focused on the task at hand that you lose awareness of everything else. You can only process so much at a time. When you concentrate so intently on something, your mind is using most of its capacity on that activity and doesn’t allow other stuff to come through.
Words like “joy” and even “rapture” are often used to describe the state. Overall, flow is a feeling of enjoyment or happiness, although while in a state of flow, you may be so focused on what you’re doing that everything else —even your emotions–ceases to exist.
How do you know you’re in flow?
- Maybe the TV is on in the background, music is playing, general activity and life as we know it commences around you, but you’re oblivious to it.
- You’re intensely focused and concentrating on the matter at hand.
- When you come out of flow, perhaps due to completion of the task or a distraction, you again become aware of your body. Maybe your back aches from being in a hunched position (I tend to lean into my computer when I’m focused). Perhaps you become aware of hunger or fatigue for the first time since you started working. Outside of flow, you snap back to the present moment.
- You may feel like your body is merged with whatever you’re doing, like the whole of your being is focused on that one task. Maybe it’s almost like floating or being on autopilot.
- You’re serene, calm, in control while in a state of flow. That’s because flow is the perfect balance of your skills and the challenge of your work.
I experienced flow on one occasion when writing. The words flowed from me effortlessly. Everything else vanished. It was just me in my chair with my laptop and my imaginary world. I’m not a slow typist but my fingers could barely keep up with my brain. I didn’t want to stop.
If only writing were like that every time! Sometimes plucking the right words is almost torturous.
Flow not only leads to happiness in the moment, but can also lead to long-term happiness. Sounds like something we all could you a bit more of in our best lives, doesn’t it?
To get to flow, the conditions have to be just right.
- Choose an activity with a clear goal in mind. In the example I gave above, the clear goal when writing is to get your ideas and mental images onto paper.
- The activity should also provide “immediate feedback” so you can adjust as you go along if need be. As I’m typing my story, I see the words filling my screen and I hear the clickety clack of my typing as I convert the ideas into words. I can see and hear that I’m progressing with my work.
- You should enjoy what you choose to work on. The activity itself needs to be its own reward, not any figurative pat on the head you might get from it.
- There has to be a balance between the challenge of the activity and your mad skillz. You have to believe that you can do it. If the challenge is perceived to be greater than your skills, no flow for you. Same story if your skills are greater than the challenge. This combination leads to boredom which is where 55% of workers spend their days.
The good news is that by either increasing your skills or increasing the challenge of the work, you have two crucial ingredients for flow.
To hear more about flow from the expert himself, clicky on the video below to see Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi give his 2004 TED talk.
Have you ever experienced flow? What were you doing? Describe it in all its glory in the comments.