Developing the ability to enter a state of flow is life-changing. When you enter into full contact with the present moment and lose track of the world around you, time flies, productivity skyrockets, and you experience a deep sense of fulfillment.
Positive psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi wrote, spoke, and intensively studied the state of flow:
"The best moments usually occur when a person's body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile. Optimal experience is thus something we make happen" (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990, p. 3).
Csikszentmihalyi believes that happiness and peak performance come from within. His research led him to conclude that humans have the unique ability to create environments that facilitate the development of a state of flow.
According to Csikszentmihalyi's research, here are seven statements that summarize what it feels like to be in a state of flow:
- You're completely immersed in what you're doing, such that you're focused and concentrated on the task at hand.
- There's a sense of ecstasy pervading your experience that feels outside of everyday reality.
- You have the felt-experience of inner clarity originating in your knowledge of what must be done and the integration of immediate feedback from the environment.
- Because you have the necessary skill set, you recognize that you're able to accomplish the task hand.
- No energy is directed towards distractions, fears of failure, or other concerns because you've transcended your ego and are only concerned with the here-and-now.
- Due to your immersion in the present moment, your sense of time falls from your awareness.
- You experience flow as it's own reward, indicating that the process is the destination.
Imagine if you were able to cultivate flow on a daily basis. If you were a basketball player, you'd be Michael Jordan. You wouldn't over-think the buzzer-beating jump shot to win the game, you'd simply be so consumed by the moment that you'd transcend fear and be one with the basketball as it flows through the net.
Here's five ways to find your flow every single day:
1. Select a task.
If you want to enter flow, you need to select a task that's challenging enough to create a state of arousal. If you can't select a task that's stimulating and engaging, then you need to create more difficult goals within that task to create an optimal level of difficulty that can draw you towards a state of flow.
2. Develop proficient skills.
After you've selected the task, you need to develop the skills required to meet the demands of the task. If the task is difficult and challenging, developing your skills to meet the demands of the situation will help you find flow--after all, if you don't have the skills the task will be too difficult.
If you're on the other end of the spectrum and have all of the skills necessary, then you need to re-frame your goals and find ways to make the task more meaningful.
3. Set clear goals.
Part of finding flow is being clear on what you want to achieve. Specify markers that will let you know if you're in the process of achieving your goals and signs that indicate when you've successfully met your goals. These indicators will help give you feedback during your task.
For tasks that aren't sufficiently challenging, adding the goal of being fully present is a difficult and worthwhile goal that may help facilitate a movement towards flow.
4. Eliminate distractions and frame your experience.
Put down your iPhone, turn off the television, close out of your group office chat, and glance at the clock. You're going to need a minimum of 15 minutes to enter a state of flow, so make sure you have sufficient time allocated to the task at hand.
Show your goals and the state of consciousness you wish to enter some respect by creating an optimally encouraging and safe environment.
5. Immerse yourself in the present moment.
Start bringing your awareness to the now. Connect to your breath and what it feels like to be in your body. With deliberate movements, go about your activity while allowing the mind to remain focused on sensations and actions rather than being distracted by thoughts.
As thoughts and feelings enter your mind, allow them to pass by like clouds against a blue sky. Remember, finding your flow means staying grounded as the sky and letting everything else melt away. You are not your thoughts, you are not your fears, you are the witness-awareness of motion.
Become one with your task, and enter the zone of peak performance, happiness, and fulfillment. Learn to pay attention to what's happening in the present moment and start enjoying your immediate experience.
The more you practice the five steps above, the more proficient you'll become at finding your flow.