Entering a State of Flow
As a child growing up, I remember being involved in many innocuous activities, where I was incredibly focused and completely in the moment. Time didn’t exist and neither did the world outside of the activity. There was this simplicity, this happiness and this sense of clarity. All the value came from the intrinsic quality of the experience and nothing outside of it mattered.
This is what Psychologists call, the flow state, and it becomes increasingly difficult to reach as we age into the chaos that is modern society. This is because as we get older, we become motivated and shaped by social pressures, money and power. These motivations all exist externally and so are the complete opposite of the internal ‘intrinsic quality’, which is needed to reach a state of flow.
The flow state however, can and is still reached by adults all around the world. The trick according to psychologist, Csikszentmihalyi (Try say it), is to find an activity that you enjoy yet is challenging and risky. This allows you to really focus on the task at hand, which in turn forces all thinking regarding things unrelated to the activity, to take a back seat.
Initially it’s just your thoughts (work, money, people, ideas) that go, but then your hunger, thirst and feeling of tiredness disappear. And then eventually even your self-consciousness disintegrates into nothingness. Neurologists have found that the lateral prefrontal cortex (the area of the brain responsible self-editing, correction and control) completely shuts down during this state. MRI scans show how the whole area just dims out completely, allowing your mind to just flow without obstruction.
Sportsmen like to call it, ‘getting in the zone’, ‘getting your head in the game’ or ‘on the ball’. Outdoor enthusiasts such as surfers and rock climbers are also well known for experiencing it. But the truth is that anyone can experience it doing any activity, as long as that activity has a level of difficulty that is completely in balance with your level of skill, there are clear goals and the activity exists as an end in itself.
• Balance is key because if the level of difficulty is too high, anxiety and stress emerge, but if the difficulty level is too low, you will get bored and your brain will start to search for other things to direct its attention towards.
• The benefit of clear goals is that it enables you to receive immediate feedback as you progress, therefore always driving you forward.
• These goals cannot be set on something extrinsic though. In order to achieve flow you must seek reward in the activity itself.
This state of flow is said to be derived from the autotelic self, where meaning and value are evoked through creativity from the imagination within, rather than via external competition and comparison.
You cease to exist as an individual self, and so become one with the world of your activity.
The idea of flow is truly an awe-inspiring thought, and one should really be applied as frequently as possible. It seems the secret to flow is to immerse yourself in just a few challenging yet exciting activities that have room for creativity and limitless growth. You must never attempt these activities at the same time though, as multi-tasking destroys the conscious order that is needed for progression and thus flow to exist.
Flow also apparently favours a curious, persistent and low self-centred mind. And so as you are reading this, that probably implies someone like you. : )