You might not know the term or its origins, but you've certainly experienced the state psychologists call “flow.” No doubt you liked it.
“Named by Mihly Cskszentmihlyi,” Wikipedia helpfully tells us, “flow, also known as the zone, is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does.” As my colleague Christina Desmarais has pointed out, it is “a much sought-after state of being.”
But thanks to our world full of constantly beeping devices and jam-packed schedules, it's also a pretty hard state to achieve for many of us. But it is possible, author and positive psychology expert Christine Carter insisted recently in a Medium post. In the piece she goes into depth on how to clear your mind and focus enough to “get in the zone.” Here are a few of the basics.
1. Clear your mind
You can't get in the flow if your attention is on what you need to do rather than what you're actually doing now. By taking a minute to think about your open to-do list items and when you'll get to them before you start working, Carter explains, you can keep your mind from constantly breaking your concentration with unhelpful reminders.
“When our subconscious mind doesn't know when we will complete a task, it will often interrupt our flow state with intrusive reminders about what else we need to do. Research shows that our unconscious isn't actually nagging us to do the task at hand but rather to make a plan to get it done. So scheduling a task can make a huge difference in our ability to focus on something else,” she writes.
2. Nip interruptions in the bud.
The modern world offers plenty of distractions. Rather than hoping you'll ignore them when they crop up while you're working, take steps to ensure you're never interrupted at all once you get in the zone. "If you can't concentrate, you can't be in your sweet spot. Period,” Carter warns. So before you start working close your browser, put your phone on silent (hide it even), visit the bathroom if you have to, and even grab a tissue or snack to keep on hand if you think you'll need one.
3. Ready your brain
“This doesn't require any sci-fi technology that sends a probe or special rays into your brain. Instead, it just takes a few simple, very ordinary steps,” Carter reassures readers. What are they? Fuel up with a healthy snack, make sure you're well hydrated, and choose some tunes to listen to that will fire you up without distracting you.
Finally, “exhale deeply for a minute or so. Our breathing profoundly affects our nervous system and blood flow in our brain--and, therefore, our performance. Taking some nice deep breaths signals to our brain that we are safe, allowing us to access mental resources we can't when our breathing is shallow,” Carter concludes.
Want more details on the psychology of the flow as well as examples of how elite performers get in their personal zone? Check out the complete post.