You’ve probably felt it before. That state where time seems to stand still, where you just seem to know exactly what to do. You’re fully immersed in the experience, taking one action after another, without thinking or distracting yourself. That’s the flow state.
In many ways, the flow state is very much like a state of meditation. The chatter in the mind fades away, as does the ego. Instead, you’re left with just the present moment – just you and the task at hand.
This flow state was first examined and written about in detail by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a renowned psychologist. Since then, many studies have been done on the subject. Flow state has been observed in many different kinds of circumstances – from programming to surgery to all kinds of sports.
Why Cultivate a State of Flow?
There are a few key reasons to consciously cultivate this state:
- It’s a state of immense concentration. You’ll often get a lot done – and produce higher quality results – while in the flow state.
- It creates a powerful sense of clarity. You know exactly what needs to be done, without needing to think about it.
- Being in flow removes normal mental obstacles. Stress, worry, lack of concentration, self-doubt, all of that disappears during a flow state.
- The flow state is intrinsically ecstatic. Just being in the moment, facing a worthwhile challenge is highly pleasurable.
How to Create a State of Flow
A flow state cannot be forced. Instead, flow comes naturally when certain conditions are met. The primary conditions are:
- A challenge or task that is not too easy. Otherwise, apathy or boredom will prevent the flow state.
- A challenge or task that is not too difficult. Otherwise, anxiety, worry or stress will prevent the flow state.
- A clear goal. Flow is achieved when working towards something you care about.
- A focus on the process, not the goal. This may seem contrary to #3, yet is an essential part of flow. An athlete might have a goal of winning the gold medal. But the flow state is only achieved when the athlete focuses on playing the game, right now, in the moment – rather than thinking about winning the medal. Yet without the goal and the desire behind the goal, flow will not be achieved. Both the goal and the focus on the process are necessary.
- A lack of interruptions. The flow state is easily broken. For flow to be achieved and sustained, you need to be able to focus on the task at hand without interruption.
When these conditions are aligned, flow is a natural consequence. Of course meditation will also increase your natural ability to achieve flow. Meditation lets you deliberately practice going into states of concentration, as well as filtering out distractions. A consistent meditation practice, as well as the deliberate cultivation of these five flow factors, will help you achieve flow much more consistently.