Flow State – Think about the last time where you were engaged in an activity and you simply lost track of time… You were focused like a ninja, you felt amazing and it seemed as if there was nothing else on this planet besides you and your activity.
This is what they call ‘flow state’.
Flow state is a very powerful state of mind where you are extremely productive and also feel great. You don’t have to force yourself to work hard. Rather, it seems to go automatically. It seems as if you are ‘flowing’ through your work.
The truth is, getting into flow state is not something that happens ‘by accident’, you can actually put yourself in flow state proactively. You just need to know what triggers you to get there. And that’s what we’re going to talk about in this article!
Flow State = Happy State
Most people assume that relaxation makes them happy. They want to work less and spend more time in the hammock. However, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s (author of the book ‘Flow State’) studies reveal that most people have this wrong.
“The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times… The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”
– Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
In fact, most people are at their happiest when they are in a state of flow. It’s when they are fully immersed in a challenging task, almost feeling one with it, that they’re at their happiest. Human beings, it seems, are at their best when immersed deeply in something challenging.
Flow State Trigger 1: Eliminate All External Distractions
It’s been proven by research that in order to reach flow state, you must eliminate all external distractions. Every time you get pulled out of your focus, you’ll be taken further away from flow state. Only when you can focus with undivided attention for at least 10–15 minutes you can get into flow state.
Therefore, it’s critical that you put your phone away and disable all alerts and notifications (as this is the biggest source of distractions nowadays), close all social media & email tabs, remove all unnecessary files and objects from your workspace and preferably go to a quiet environment.
This will protect you from being disrupted and allows you to enter a state of hyperfocus, which is the most important element of reaching flow state.
In fact, whenever you get distracted it takes on average 25 minutes (according to research) to gain back your full attention on the task at hand. This is because of something called ‘attention residue’, which implies that some of your attention is still left behind at the previous task or distraction that you were dealing with.
Flow State Trigger 2: Eliminate Internal Distractions
Besides eliminating external distractions, you also need to eliminate internal distractions if you want to reach flow state. Whenever you experience stress or have too much on your mind, it’ll be incredibly hard to keep your mind focused on your task at hand — and therefore it’ll be impossible to reach flow state.
If this happens regularly to you, I recommend you try two things:
- Journaling every morning and evening
- Daily meditation (at least 10 minutes)
Both will help you clear your mind, limit mind wandering and control your thoughts a lot better.
Flow State Trigger 3: Work At Your BPT (Biological Peak Time)
Getting into flow state is hard if you are low on energy. You need to have the willpower to focus on just one thing and not get distracted along the way. Tapping into your willpower and attention is energy draining, so you absolutely need to do it when your mind is sharp and energized.
If you try to get into flow state when you are tired and energy drained, it’ll feel like an uphill battle where you get distracted much easier and have less willpower to stay with your tasks for long enough to get into a state of flow.
Therefore, I recommend you use your mornings to get into flow state. Another option would be to enter flow state right after you took a real break (so not one in which you fill your attention to the brim by checking social media or email) of about 15–30 minutes.
Trigger 4: Listen To (The Right Kind Of) Music
Music can actually help you become highly focused and, therefore, highly productive. Especially when you listen to music on repeat (or repetitive type music such as techno, classical music or trance) it’ll be easier to reach a state of flow.
Listening to music with your earbuds in helps you to block external distractions such as chatter from co-workers. Furthermore, it helps to keep internal distractions at a minimum.
Personally, I notice that music (and especially techno music) keeps my mind in check and prevents it from wandering off. I clearly notice that when I don’t listen to music I start to have more internal distractions in the form of thoughts compared to when I do listen to music.
However, it’s important that the song you put on is familiar to you (aka, no new songs) and that you put it on repeat. When new songs come up, or when you listen to a variety of different songs that include vocals, the music starts to compete for attentional space in your brain. As your brain now needs to spend energy to fight off these distractions, you’ll be less likely to reach flow state.
Therefore, put one song on repeat for 1–2 hours or listen to repetitive type music like techno, classical music or trance music. This will help you reach a state of flow with more ease.
Trigger 5: Work On One Very Specific Task
When it isn’t fully clear about what exactly you’re going to work on, it’ll be highly unlikely that you reach flow state. When it’s not exactly clear what you’re supposed to work on, you’ll either switch between multiple different tasks too quickly or get distracted much easier. Both will prevent you from getting into flow state.
Therefore, pick one specific task that you’re going to work on. Maybe it’s writing a blogpost, recording or editing a video, recording a podcast episode, writing copy or designing an awesome logo. Be very clear about what exactly you’re going to work on.
Trigger 6: The Task Must Be Challenging Enough, But Not Too Challenging
If you want to reach flow state, the task that you’re working on must be challenging enough for your brain to be fully engaged, but not too challenging as this will lead to frustration and stress (which will prevent you from getting into flow state).
If a task is too easy, you’ll be bored quickly and your mind is likely to wander, so you won’t reach flow state. However, if a task is too hard you’ll likely get overwhelmed and you won’t be able to achieve that subconscious level that is necessary for the flow state.
Flow state can only be achieved when an activity is challenging enough to keep your brain interested, while at the same time you’re skilled enough to tackle the challenge without it being too difficult.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has written a book about the concept of Flow state and the model he presented can be found in the picture above. You want to find yourself in the upper right part of this model, as that is where a state of flow can be reached.https://cdn.embedly.com/widgets/media.html?src=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fembed%2FfXIeFJCqsPs&display_name=YouTube&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DfXIeFJCqsPs&image=http%3A%2F%2Fi.ytimg.com%2Fvi%2FfXIeFJCqsPs%2Fhqdefault.jpg&key=a19fcc184b9711e1b4764040d3dc5c07&type=text%2Fhtml&schema=youtubeWatch Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s (probably included a typo here) TED talk about Flow
Trigger 7: Have A Clear Outcome or Goal
Whenever you lack clarity about what you want to accomplish, your brain will struggle to get into optimum concentration. Therefore, clearly set out what you’d like to accomplish to avoid this mental hurdle.
When you have a clear outcome or goal, you make sure you prevent mind wandering and internal distractions. If you don’t have a clear outcome, you don’t know exactly when you’re finished with your task. Procrastination loves it when this lack of clarity exists, as it’ll try to push you towards quitting earlier or switch to easier tasks instead.
Trigger 8: Strategically Consume Caffeine
According to Chris Bailey, author of Hyperfocus, consuming caffeine strategically can provide a serious productivity and focus boost. If you consume up to 200 milligrams of caffeine (about 2 cups of coffee), it has been proven that you can focus more intensely, work for longer without giving up and have a better short-term memory. All of this will help you in reaching flow state.
However (and this is a very strong however), after consuming more than 200 milligrams of caffeine the effects start to diminish. Amounts of more than 400 milligrams should be avoided as this leads to increased anxiety and decreased focus.
Therefore, aim to consume caffeine strategically. Drink a cup of coffee right before you want to enter flow state. Preferably, don’t drink more than 2 cups per day and don’t consume after 17:00, as this will impact the quality of your sleep!
Trigger 9: Stay Hydrated
One of the simplest but most overlooked ways to improve the performance of your brain (and thereby reach flow state with more ease) is to drink enough water. As it turns out, drinking enough water is incredibly important to your ability to concentrate and focus.
The brain consists of 75% of water, so it’s no wonder that we start to experience immediate effects when we don’t drink enough water. I always ask people who feel sluggish, unfocused and low on energy if they drank enough water and the answer is almost always no.
In short, drinking enough water makes sure the energy production of the brain is functioning well, while not drinking enough leads to lower energy production, leaving you to feel foggy, fatigued, and not sharp. All of which leads to heavily decreased productivity levels and make it harder to reach flow state.
In fact, when you’re fueling your body with an adequate amount of water, you’ll be able to think faster by 14%, stay focused for much longer, experience less brain fog and fatigue — and feel a lot more energized. That’s one easy way to boost your productivity!
Trigger 10: Create A Mental Cue
The last ‘flow state trigger’ is to create a mental cue for yourself to enter flow state. In other words, do something special each time before you sit down to go into flow state. Whether it’s repeating a special sentence or affirmation, taking a few deep breaths or anything else — do that same exact thing each time you want to get into flow state.
Over time, this will help you create a mental cue for your brain. In other words, each time you follow your cue, you tell your brain that it’s time to get into flow state — and your brain acts accordingly. Maybe it sounds a bit strange, but it truly works.
Our behaviour is largely based on neuro-associations, and by creating a mental cue for getting into flow state you are essentially creating a new neuro-association. All in all, over time you’re making it easier for yourself to get into a state of flow.
Now Do It
As flow state is one of the most productive and happiest states that we can be in, I encourage you to seek it as often as you can. However, getting into flow state is a delicate process and you won’t just master it by simply reading about it. It requires practice to easily enter it time and time again.
Therefore, as an action point for this article, follow the 10 flow state triggers for one of the activities in your next workday.