Entering flow state whenever you want isn’t a practice left only for the mental fitness gurus, anyone can do it. And in this article we’ll tell you how, with a little editorial flavour for spice.
There are those times you might remember in your younger years when you’d be able to turn your headphones up, listen to some EDM, and get into the zone for whatever it was you were working on.
Whether it was crushing lines of code, drawing your nine thousandth illustration of Batman in a sketchbook, or having an above-average deep conversation at the lake with a girl you are really into.
There have been times in your life where everything connected; jokes didn’t fall flat, code worked the first time around, and research papers passed with flying colours.
And then it was gone.
That feeling of being in the zone was hard to achieve, rarely intentional, scarce, and even harder to repeat intentionally.
Where did it go?
What is Flow State?
Being “in the zone” as it is still commonly called, long before the Mihaly Csikszentmihalyis and Steven Kotlers of the world was how we’d describe an epic day where we accomplished a lot, the hands on the clock circled around without noticing, and everything generally felt easy.
Everyone knows the zone.
We know it from periods in our lives where we were likely more healthy –but what exactly we put into our bodies that day is harder to recall.
The circumstances that put us in the zone usually go a little like this; we were down to the wire on something, just uncomfortable enough for it to feel good, and our thoughts were a linear stream of epicness.
Today, the zone is recognized among Millennials as Flow State –and flow state is described by the man assuming credit for the concept today (there have been many and will be many more, just with different marketing) as “the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter”.
Let’s roll that quote back so I don’t seem too cynical;
“I developed a theory of optimal experience based on the concept of flow— the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it” – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow
I won’t be too critical of Mihaly beyond that, but it is incredibly important for you and everyone else to know that we all own Flow State. It’s a part of all of us; we can feel it. It’s like developing a theory of love. You can write it down all you want but you don’t know it until you feel it, and you certainly cannot put your name on it.
No marketing by it’s manic street preacher Steven Kotler or book by Mihalay can take flow state away from you. Some say it is a gift of God, or gods, and others a form of enlightenment from within –whatever your school of thought. You can find it between the pages of countless works or while you’re standing in the shower.
Gurus of all walks of life have promoted the same concept under different names for as long as recorded history has recorded history, and I’m sure, many more generations before that.
WIth that out of the way, let’s go a little further down the rabbit hole.
Why Flow is Important
Would it be a safe bet Einstein knew flow state? He sure had strange sleeping patterns he spoke of, to help him achieve greatness.
Flow state could help one make a better income to support their family. It could help a doctor perform a life-saving surgery.
The world is at a point where the odds are stacked against everything. And at the bottom of this presupposed “everything” are challenges that threaten our very existence.
Even if it’s the small stuff.
Do you think Elon Musk knows flow state?
Flow state is more important than ever. The future of one thing and everything alike depend on more people finding it.
Do you think the shamans encouraging people with money and power to give Ayahuasca a try know flow state?
There’s more to flow than meets the eye. It’s only normal for folks to try and get right in front of that bus.
Flow is meaningfully important, depending on The Why of whoever you might ask on a given day.
How to Achieve Flow State
Yes folks, I will describe how to achieve flow state without the woo woo.
First I’ll describe my own experience, and then I’ll chase it with some points from the woo woo master of the day himself. I guess‘not being critical anymore’ flowed out the window.
Take Care of Your Health
The most boring point of all, but still important. I am a man, so this part is a wee bit geared to men; clean your house mentally, do things you say you’re going to do, focus on exercise that reboots your hormonal order (testosterone levels) and consider the importance of eating right.
Healthy fats, herbs for your mind, maybe even ketosis. But that’s for another article.
Don’t Fill Your Head with Garbage
One of the points I really like from the 17 Triggers of Flow State by Steven Kotler is where he describes close communication –focusing on the task at hand and uplifting the ideas and actions of others.
As in, thinking of witty things to say is superfluous and repugnant to The Flow –especially in a group scenario. Maybe expunging some pop culture from your diet might help.
Listen to Mihalay and Steven
Now we’re in Kotler land, full tilt. You see, the truth is I am still a fan of Flow. They’re bringing the concept to an entirely new generation, even if it’s a little wordier, politically correct, and sterile than I’d like.
So here’s some of my understanding of Steven and Mihalay. Some key points I really found helpful to take away from our article 17 Triggers of Flow State include;
- To achieve flow as a group, work with a group that shares the same level skills and experience, a common understanding, and familiarity (sort of like an unspoken language).
- In spite of modern outrage, Jordan Peterson is pretty concise when he talks about equal opportunity versus equal outcome. Go ahead, Google him, I’ll wait.
- Equal opportunity means not everyone will have the same outcome. Some will be ahead, others will be behind.
- Equal outcome means changing the rules on an individual basis so everyone gets a trophy (the same result).
- Stick with those who fall into the equal opportunity bracket and still achieve the same outcome as you to reach social flow, or group flow in work scenarios.
- When you lump a bunch of people together because you’re filling quota, that has the potential to eat away at flow potential.
- To be more PC; if you’re playing a video game and one friend has never played it before, or just really isn’t any good, they’ll likely hold the team back. Not always, but often. Be objective, not politically correct all the darn time.
- No one wants to win the Darwin Award in school or work because that one member of the group is relying on everyone else to get them an A and is holding said group back.
- Allow yourself to be uncomfortable. Safe spaces be damned, the world doesn’t work that way. If Mahalay said that he’d polarise people and sell less books, so I will.
- It is possible to step within your skill set, but outside of your comfort zone. Like when you’re under a deadline or you’re intimidated by someone you’re working with. These can be good things, embrace them!
- Distract yourself through your environment a little (not your mind itself, you need to keep that focused) and put yourself in the middle of a bunch of challenging unfamiliarity now and again.
- Andy Warhol had a record player playing, a TV or two on, stood in the middle of a social function in his studio –all while he painted what many consider works of art. It kept his mind open, he saw things he may not have noticed, and he often drew his inspiration from his surroundings.
- Surround yourself with things or scenery or people that aren’t familiar. That way you’ll snap out of thinking you already know everything around you, and you might start to see new patterns and gain new perspective on whatever you’re working on.
- Driving is a great example of this. When you drive, you see representations of cars all around you, in your head, and you might skip the features. What might be a Lexus is, in your mind, just a mental icon for “there’s a car to my left” –you don’t even look at it, and don’t notice the details like that the driver is wearing a full ninja costume and drunk (and therefore a serious risk to your health).
- Simply put; seek newness in your environment to help you reach your peak potential. You may find a missing piece.
- For some people it’s becoming a digital nomad, for others it’s swapping the coworking space for a bingo hall. Whatever floats your boat.
- Boat! Now there’s an idea.
I timed how long it took to write this article; 49 minutes and 12 seconds, with sources open in front of me and before editing the typos (there were 19, not bad).
I’m sitting in a sparsely furnished room in the middle of a jungle in the Philippines. My air conditioner hardly works, and it guzzles money. And my wife is waiting for me to finish this article so we can binge a full season of a show I’m too embarrassed to tell you the title of.
Not very comfortable, check.
Strange and unfamiliar surroundings, check.
Risks, double check (how do I know this article will even pass the editor, it’s certainly a curve ball, and rewriting it means I lose time and money).
I swear to flow, I think we can both agree it would be really lame if I make all that up to make a point. I’m sure it happens. But not this guy, and in the least, not right now.
Anyone can achieve flow. And I hope this article helped make the concept a little more relatable for you.
It’s easy when you understand the material and own it. When you’re good at something, under a deadline, and just uncomfortable enough –and there we go; I’m describing “the zone” again.
Or whatever you want to call it. It’s yours to do so.
How do you achieve flow? Let everyone know in the comments.
Written by Michael Hulleman