How Flow can you go?
Updated: Oct 11, 2021
This article was adapted from https://positivepsychology.com/
7 Activities to Achieve a Flow State
1. Focus on the body
The body’s capacity for enjoyment is often overlooked, taking control of your physical capabilities and understanding your level of skill in an activity encourages an increase in confidence while simultaneously experiencing a loss in the self-consciousness barrier that often impedes entering a flow state.
Through practice and the development of skills required by an activity, we can find pleasure in our abilities while simultaneously receiving feedback through our successes or failures.
2. Focus your mind
The normal state of the mind is chaos – it is relatively easy to concentrate when our attention is structured by external stimuli, however, when left to our own devices the mind reverts to a disordered state.
Our tendency to focus on the negative means it is important to gain control over our mental processes and steer our thoughts in a positive direction. Meditation is a great way to become more mindful, it quiets the mind by focusing attention and calming emotional interferences such as anxiety.
Through meditative practices, we increase mental awareness while at the same time decrease physiological tension.
3. Leverage memory
Leveraging memory can assist in flow state achievement, particularly if it involves recalling the fulfillment of a goal and the positive emotions that accompanied it. By taking some time to think about previous successes we can confidently assess our skills in relation to the difficulty of the task and set appropriate goals which meet the challenge-skill balance required to achieve a flow state.
4. Focus on your thoughts
Have you ever been so ‘lost in thought’ that time itself seemed to alter? Philosophy and deep-thinking flourished because we consider it to be innately pleasurable. We are motivated by the autotelic enjoyment of thinking rather than any perceived rewards that would be gained by it – by consciously focusing on our thoughts we can avoid distractions that may impede flow state achievement.
Communication, whether through conversation or writing is another way of encouraging flow by improving our understanding of past experiences, writing, in particular, gives the mind a disciplined means of expression and self-feedback.
Observing and recording the memory of an experience fosters an understanding of our own capabilities, particularly in relation to the balance between the challenge in question and our level of skill.
6. Lifelong learning
The goal of learning is to understand what is happening around us and develop a personally meaningful sense of what one’s experience is all about.
The end of formal education should be the start of a different kind of education that is motivated intrinsically.
The continuation of learning, whether it be within an educational institution or otherwise, allows us to develop an understanding of our skills and limitations which consequently assists our understanding of personal challenge-skills balance.
7. Focus on the job at hand
In the modern workplace, there is often an emphasis on productivity rather than well-being. People may consider their jobs as a burden foisted upon them, however, an employee who finds variety, appropriate challenges to skills, clear goals and immediate feedback within their job can find flow in the workplace.
The knowledge that goals are being achieved allows us to tailor our actions in order to meet the demands. There are ways we can approach work that alters our perception of the mundane and encourage a flow state.
You could try taking on a challenge you haven’t attempted before or ask your employer to trust you with an important task – by taking a calculated risk where you know your skills are suited to the task you can push your limits and achieve flow.
4 Exercises to Help Trigger a Flow State
Flow can only arise when all of our attention is focused in the present moment and in order to focus our attention on the present we may need complete exercises to help trigger a flow state by guiding our attention to the here and now.
These flow state triggers can be divided into four categories:
Social: the collective flow or group flow happens when people enter a flow state together e.g. within a sports team.
Creative: thinking differently about the challenges you face and approaching them from a different perspective.
Environmental: external qualities in the environment that drive people deeper into ‘the zone’.
Psychological: internal triggers that create more flow.
Some exercise suggestions you can put into action in order to focus your attention and trigger a flow state:
1. Social Triggers
Flow state is more than just an individual phenomenon. Group flow has the potential to enhance a team’s effectiveness, productivity, performance, and capabilities.
Try making your group interactions more positive; a positive approach can encourage a feeling of togetherness. Say “Yes” to that new challenge and revel in it.
If you feel your skill level isn’t where it should be in relation to a task – practice! With familiarity comes confidence.
Take calculated risks and push your abilities to the very limit.
Be aware of the group goals, familiarize yourself with what is expected of you from others and focus on playing your part as best you can.
Speak up! If you are hesitant to voice your opinion or convey an idea – go for it. The elevated risk level of taking yourself out of your comfort zone is an effective flow trigger.
Listen! Try to engage fully in the moment by giving companions your undivided attention.
2. Creative Triggers
Creativity can trigger flow and in turn, flow increases creativity in a positive feedback loop. We are hardwired to recognize patterns and are attracted to taking risks – combining the skill of linking new ideas with the confidence to present these ideas to others is liberating and a great way to trigger a flow state.
Try taking a different approach when tackling a new challenge, really stretch your imagination, think outside the box and look at problems from a different angle than you would normally.
Raise the bar for yourself – allow yourself to believe you can do better. When you achieve your latest goal, set another!
Take a risk and trust that you will succeed – when you take a chance and it pays off, you encourage more of the same. Successfully tackling a problem nurtures your confidence, allowing you to believe in your abilities.
Immerse yourself in situations that would ordinarily be outside of your comfort zone, the unfamiliar encourages us to see things from a different perspective and come up with solutions we may not have previously considered.
3. Environmental Triggers
When an activity or task has some perceived physical, mental, social, or emotional risk (high consequences), it is important to navigate the potential risk and understand that consequences are relative. Oftentimes, with risk comes reward – consider a mountaineer successfully scaling a dangerous summit, the elevated levels of risk drives him/her to their limit and deeper into a state of flow. Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone (but not so much that your challenge-skills balance is upset) will help you focus and achieve flow.
Immerse yourself in new experiences and environments – unpredictable situations make us pay more attention to what is happening in the moment. Why not try playing a new sport or joining a social group either online or within your local community?
Take part in activities that have high consequences for you personally – whether they are emotional, intellectual or social risks, try pushing yourself to achieve things you never thought possible. Never took part in a marathon before? Sign up! Too intimidated to speak up in that meeting? Clear your throat and go for it!
Take a walk – remove yourself from the familiar and immerse yourself in nature. Be mindful of your own body and movements to encourage complete physical awareness.
4. Psychological Triggers
We can trigger a flow state with psychological (or internal) prompts that hone our focus and allow for greater concentration in the moment.
Flow requires extended periods of intensely focused attention, clear individual goals and immediate feedback so that we better understand what is expected of us (and if we have been successful), and a balance between your skills and the challenge. When engaging these psychological triggers, we lessen the potential extraneous factors that may impede flow.
Consider your skill level and set clear personal goals – take a few moments to think about what is to be done, try writing them down if it helps cement your objectives and get them clear in your mind.
Create your own personal mission statement – consider your abilities and targets and ask yourself, “What do I want to achieve?”
Don’t look for external validation instead rely on your own internal validation, the goals you have set and achieved are enough to legitimize your success.
A List of Activities Known to Induce Flow
By this point, you are probably getting the hang of the concept of flow and the conditions in which a flow state can flourish. There are many activities that by their very nature compel an individual to focus their full attention on a task and present opportunities for all skill levels to be challenged yet achieve set goals. The following are just some of the activities you can embrace in order to induce flow in all aspects of your day-to-day life.
Swimming requires focus and practice, whether you are a novice or an adept swimmer, it opens you up to new challenges. If you are new to swimming or out of practice you might try setting smaller goals that challenge your skills, like swimming a full length. If you are a more experienced swimmer try to set a new personal best or complete more lengths than you’ve managed before.
Table tennis is a great activity to induce flow, much like swimming a player needs to be fully immersed and focused – if you can find an opponent who matches your skill level you will both avoid the negative impact of boredom and frustration.
Tai Chi is often referred to as meditation in motion and is known to enhance overall well-being and encourage a relaxed state. Through physical action and the achievement of a meditative state our concentration is focused and our minds clear from distractions. Tai Chi grounds you in the moment and teaches you to control external interference, it is also ideal for people who prefer low impact activities.
Cycling and running (especially over long distances) are great activities to induce flow, intense focus on technique and pacing means that mental strength, physical strength, and physical ability is important.
Mountaineering and rock climbing can be considered extreme sports, there is a certain amount of danger involved, but in the spirit of flow, there’s no reward without a little bit of risk. While straying out of your comfort zone is an excellent way to enter a flow state, it is important to remember safety! Taking risks doesn’t mean putting your life at risk, it is enough to bring yourself outside of the mundane and into something challenging instead.
Osho Dynamic Meditation is an intense form of active meditation in which you must be continuously alert and aware throughout. Each meditation lasts for one hour and requires you to keep your eyes closed throughout, this forces you to concentrate fully on your movements and into a state of deep embodiment.
Cooking and baking are excellent ways to induce flow, once again, you must concentrate and focus your attention on the moment – allow yourself to be lost ‘in the zone’ and whip up some cupcakes!
If you are finding it difficult to induce flow, why not consider the Pomodoro technique? While this doesn’t work for everyone, those of us with a propensity for procrastination may find it a useful way to achieve focus in short bursts. The premise of this technique is simple: set a timer – usually for 25 minutes – and focus solely on your task intensely during that time. When the timer is up you should have a five-minute break before you set another timer. While some may find that this technique obstructs flow state through interruption, for others it helps gain focus and loosen up.
Give this a try - Ice baths. Love them or hate them, they’re good practice, even outside of professional sport! In this short video Dr. Andrew Huberman gives an excellent overview of how cold water exposure increases feelings of mental well-being and clarity.
Try it, 2-5 minutes in the shower daily and increase the length over time, but not longer than 15 minutes. Or, if you’re nearby, take a dip in the Atlantic ocean.
These are just some of the activities you can get involved in that can help to induce a flow state; the important thing is to participate in an activity that suits your needs. In reality almost any activity you find intrinsically rewarding and that requires full engagement can guide you on the path to your flow state.
“Inducing flow is about the balance between the level of skill and the size of the challenge at hand”
(Nakamura et al., 2009).