‘Flow state’ is a term made popular by positive psychologists Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Jeanne Nakamura. But what exactly does being in a ‘flow state’ entail? And what are some ways to achieve a flow state? Here, we’ll discuss the research underlying this powerful state of mind and the steps you may take to enter this powerful state of mind for yourself.

Definition of Flow State

Flow state

Flow is a term from positive psychology; the study of what makes people happy and successful in life. An important figure in positive psychology, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, first recognised and coined this powerful state of mind as ‘flow’. (1)

A person is said to be in a ‘flow state’ when they are thoroughly immersed in what they are doing at that moment. In this state, you are completely focused on the task on hand without being distracted by any inner thoughts regardless of your performance. The phrase ‘in the zone’ is sometimes used to describe this state of mind.

Benefits of Flow State

flow state of mind

Some in the field of positive psychology theorised that the ‘flow state’ might shed light on the ultimate meaning of existence. Fame, prosperity, and success are all things many people strive for, yet they almost always seem unattainable.

Professionals in the field of positive psychology share the view that the pursuit of happiness is the ultimate goal of living since happiness is something that cannot be taken away from you.

When we consider all the benefits we receive from attaining a state of flow, it’s easy to see how it contributes to our happiness.

Contentment, Positivity & Happiness

Being in a flow state is extremely enjoyable. There are no external forces driving this sense of positivity. Professional athletes describe this as the intrinsic pleasure of doing what they love. Performance just becomes a side effect.

Experiencing the feeling of flow is the pinnacle of eustress.

When we experience eustress, our brains respond positively, giving us a feeling of purpose and meaning that may carry us through difficult times.

These sensations can assist in recovery from setbacks, depression, and other low points in life.

Productivity

Remember that feeling you get when you do something you completely enjoy and excel at? For some of us it may be writing, for others it may be sports or research. That is exactly what being in the flow state is about. Feelings of contentment and fulfilment will wash over you as you work on what you find pleasurable and excel at.

Recent research has shown that those who are able to achieve a flow state at work are five times more productive. (2) Get work done quicker and more efficiently.

A Flow State Improves Creativity

Being in this powerful state of mind opens you up to be more receptive to new experiences, ideas, and innovative ways of doing things. Dopamine is released in response to rewarding experiences, and its effects include not just pleasure but also excitement.

It improves focus and concentration, making you more receptive to new discoveries and connections.

Improved Motivation

When you’re feeling good about yourself and what you’re doing, motivation becomes intrinsic. You become eager to take on challenges, grow as a person, and eventually master whatever it is you’re trying to get good at.

5 Hacks to Achieve a Flow State

Eliminate Distractions

There is a good reason we have emphasised eliminating distractions in many of our articles. Recent studies show that you must be completely undistracted by their surroundings in order to enter a state of flow. Being constantly interrupted from the flow state makes it harder to return to it. According to recent research on attaining a flow state during gaming; you need to be able to concentrate without interruption for 25 minutes. (3)

Distractions are plentiful in contemporary society. So, you should put your phone away, turn off all notifications and clear your workspace of any unrelated files.

Clear Goals

Our focus is directly proportional to the intensity with which we pursue our goals. (7)

Subdividing bigger, broad goals into more manageable ones is essential for entering a state of flow and maximizing performance. Absolute clarity is necessary for maintaining focus and entering a state of flow.

Having a firm grasp on the situation eliminates the need for mental resources to be spent on planning the next steps. Because of this increased ability to focus, enthusiasm levels rise. At this moment, action and knowledge become one, and we are drawn even deeper into the flow state.

Balance Challenge

According to Csikszentmihalyi’s definition, it is easier to enter a flow state when your talents are completely involved in solving a problem that is challenging yet manageable; when you feel confident in your capabilities and skills to solve it. (4)

This makes flow a magnet for acquiring new skills and increasing the difficulty of the task at hand. When the problems are too easy, the way to get back into the flow is to find harder tasks. If the tasks are too difficult to the extent that they seem unmanageable, the way to get into a flow state is to sharpen your current skills and/or acquire new ones.

Have Fun Doing What You Like

Flow may also be achieved via the use of intrinsic motivation. Getting into the flow state is simple and completely natural when you are doing what you love.

People who are purposeful or curious are described as “autotelic” by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. (6)

Individuals who are intrinsically driven, or autotelic, find it far simpler to achieve a flow state of mind compared to those who are motivated by material things like money, status, or fame.

Cautiously Consume Caffeine

Author of Hyperfocus, Chris Bailey, claims that careful caffeine consumption may significantly increase productivity and focus.

Consuming up to 200 mg of caffeine (about 2 cups of coffee) has been shown to improve attention span, endurance, and memory recall. (5)

In a nutshell, eliminating distractions, setting clear goals, challenging yourself, doing what you love and a little bit of caffeine can help you enter this powerful state of mind.

Bottomline

The flow state is a powerful state of mind where you are thoroughly immersed on the task on hand. Learning to enter this state of mind can substantially increase your productivity and pleasure you get from your work.

When you are in a state of flow, you are naturally more creative, motivated and happy. Optimal performance comes as a side effect. Fortunately, this is something that you can train yourself do better over time. We have intentionally kept these hacks simple and easy to apply. Try it and notice the difference in your life!

Related articles: 9 Effective Hacks to Enhance Focus & Concentration

  1. Bonaiuto M, Mao Y, Roberts S, Psalti A, Ariccio S, Ganucci Cancellieri U, et al. Optimal experience and personal growth: Flow and the consolidation of place identity. Frontiers in Psychology [Internet]. 2016 [cited 2022Oct5];7. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5097910/

  2. Šimleša M, Guegan J, Blanchard E, Tarpin-Bernard F, Buisine S. The Flow Engine Framework: A cognitive model of optimal human experience. Europe’s Journal of Psychology [Internet]. 2018 [cited 2022Oct5];14(1):232–53. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5973526/

  3. Rutrecht H, Wittmann M, Khoshnoud S, Igarzábal FA. Time speeds up during flow states: A study in virtual reality with the video game Thumper. Timing & Time Perception [Internet]. 2021 [cited 2022Oct5];9(4):353–76. Available from: https://brill.com/view/journals/time/9/4/article-p353_353.xml?language=en

  4. Linden D, Tops M, Bakker AB. Go with the flow: A neuroscientific view on being fully engaged. European Journal of Neuroscience [Internet]. 2020 [cited 2022Oct6];53(4):947–63. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7983950/

  5. Tayba Z, Sacre Y, Attieh R, Mannan H. Caffeine improves work durability and physical performance in anaerobic exercises among active adults in Tripoli Lebanon. BMC Sports Science, Medicine and Rehabilitation [Internet]. 2021 [cited 2022Oct6];13(1). Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8414861/

  6. Tse DC, Lau VW-yan, Perlman R, McLaughlin M. The development and validation of the Autotelic Personality Questionnaire. Journal of Personality Assessment [Internet]. 2018 [cited 2022Oct6];102(1):88–101. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30183366/

  7. Kaftan OJ, Freund AM. The Way is the Goal: The Role of Goal Focus for Successful Goal Pursuit and Subjective Well-Being. E Diener, S Oishi, & L Tay (Eds), Handbook of well-being [Internet]. 2018 [cited 2022Oct6]; Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/322850635_The_Way_is_the_Goal_The_Role_of_Goal_Focus_for_Successful_Goal_Pursuit_and_Subjective_Well-Being