Ever finish up a run, workout, or work project and think to yourself, “Wow, where did the time go?” You were definitely in a flow state — one of the most best places to be.
“Flow state” refers to a mental state where you’re fully immersed in an activity and experience with a sense of energized focus, complete absorption, and enjoyment in the process. It’s also known as being “in the zone.”
This state of mind was first identified by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in the 1970s, who found that people experiencing flow state described feeling a deep sense of satisfaction and happiness during and after the activity.
It typically occurs during activities that are challenging but not too difficult, and require a high degree of focus and concentration. The activity may be something that you’re highly skilled at, or it may be a new and novel experience.
In the middle of it, it’s not uncommon to experiences a loss of self-consciousness and a sense of time distortion, where time seems to pass more quickly or slowly than usual. The experience can be highly motivating and can lead to increased creativity, productivity, and a sense of well-being.
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The Science of Flow State
A 2021 study published in the Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology looked at the relationship between flow state and performance in a sample of college athletes. The study found that athletes who reported experiencing flow state during competition also reported higher levels of performance and satisfaction with their performance.
A 2020 study published in the journal Emotion examined the neural correlates of flow state in a sample of professional musicians. The study found that flow state was associated with increased activity in brain regions involved in attention, self-awareness, and reward processing.
A 2019 study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology investigated the effects of mindfulness meditation on flow state and creativity. The study found that mindfulness meditation increased the frequency and duration of flow experiences and improved creative thinking.
A 2018 meta-analysis published in the Journal of Positive Psychology reviewed 25 studies on flow state in various domains, including sports, work, and hobbies. The meta-analysis found that flow state was associated with positive outcomes such as improved performance, enjoyment, and well-being.
How to Get into Flow State Faster
Initially you might have to “fight some friction” to achieve flow, but you can get there.
1. Set clear goals
Having a clear goal for the activity can help create a sense of purpose and motivation. Simply writing a note with a goal on it is sufficient, but you need to write it out, not just think it.
2. Focus on the present moment
Being fully present and engaged in the activity can help reduce distractions and increase concentration. Commit to accomplish whats in front of you, or at least commit to working towards getting something accomplished.
3. Eliminate distractions
Minimizing distractions such as noise, notifications, and interruptions can help maintain focus. You’d be surprised how easily we get distributed on a daily basis that you might not even realize.
4. Practice regularly
Regular practice of the activity can help develop the necessary skills and familiarity. Consistency really is the key to everything. Show up everyday.
5. Use visualization
Visualizing the activity in detail, including the sensations and emotions involved, can help create a mental blueprint for achieving flow.