Flow can be a tricky state to conceptualize. For something that is different for everyone, it can be hard to say when someone has reached true “flow.” For the psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, he described flow as “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.” For some, flow can come during sports, for others, during a hobby. Whatever you love to do, you can try to channel flow through that activity. Flow can be described as when runners feel like they have a “high” while running. They don’t feel tired, and it’s almost like they’re floating. Csíkszentmihályi says that there are 10 components to flow:
Clear goals that, while challenging, are still attainable
Strong concentration and focused attention
The activity is intrinsically rewarding
Feelings of serenity; a loss of feelings of self-consciousness
Timelessness; a distorted sense of time; feeling so focused on the present that you lose track of time passing
Knowing that the task is doable; a balance between skill level and the challenge presented
Feelings of personal control over the situation and the outcome
Lack of awareness of physical needs
Complete focus on the activity itself
Not all of these components must be present to experience flow, but the more you have, the more likely flow will be. There are also some ways you can try to achieve a sense of flow. These are things that can help produce flow:
Pick something that you enjoy doing, but that is slightly difficult. If you’re a marathon runner, you won’t reach the flow state with a jog around the block. Make sure you love what you’re doing, but also make sure that you’re pushing yourself a little bit.
Develop your skills that relate to the challenge
Because your challenge is challenging, you’re going to need to develop the skills necessary to complete the task. Don’t let yourself get bored or let your mind wander — this is toxic for flow. Don’t allow yourself to be overwhelmed either. That’s the opposite end of the spectrum.
Without goals, you won’t be achieving anything. You want to set clear, SMART goals. SMART goals are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely. If you want to reach the flow state while running, this might be your goal: run 3 miles every day for 3 weeks, then reassess where you’re at.
Focus completely on what you’re doing
You can not expect yourself to reach the flow state if you are half paying attention to what you are doing. Don’t allow your mind to wander. Concentration is key for flow.
Give yourself enough time
Flow takes time, too. Don’t get discouraged if it takes a while to get into the flow state. Once you are in the flow state, don’t rush it or wish it away. Make the most of it.
Monitor your emotional state
If you’re struggling with getting into the flow state but you’ve done the above steps, monitor your emotional state. You might need to help calm yourself down if you’re too anxious or pick yourself up if you’re lacking energy.
From Csíkszentmihályi: “Flow also happens when a person’s skills are fully involved in overcoming a challenge that is just about manageable, so it acts as a magnet for learning new skills and increasing challenges. If challenges are too low, one gets back to flow by increasing them. If challenges are too great, one can return to the flow state by learning new skills.”
Flow is a process. It doesn’t just come to you when you least expect it. You have to practice your skills that will get you to that space of flow. You must push yourself to be the best version of yourself. Here are the states of flow:
During this phase, you must be willing to step out of your comfort zone. The struggle doesn’t really feel good, and most people are not willing to push themselves and struggle to reach flow.
After a struggle and once you have accepted it, the release phase comes. You become to do the activity without realizing that you are struggling anymore.
The flow state is what some people call being “in the zone.” This is where you are productive and do things with the flow.
Brain rewiring and memory consolidation phase
After the activity has ended, you have a space to evaluate what just happened. This evaluation helps to further your future flow states.
Flow is like when a baseball player hits the fastball on the sweet spot of the bat. Some have said that they don’t even feel the ball hitting the bat on home runs. This is flow. Give yourself the time and space to experience flow for whatever activity you’re doing. Flow can be extremely beneficial for your recovery.
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