Can you remember a time when you were so engrossed in something that the world seemed to disappear? What you were experiencing is something called the zone. These are times when you experience a period of intense motivation and time literally flies by.
Being in the zone or a state of flow is when we do our best work and achieve peak performance. First discussed in scientific terms by psychologist Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi in his book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, flow is what powers optimal human experience.
Csíkszentmihályi describes 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.”
He posits that flow is a state that melds creativity with happiness and occurs when you become deeply immersed in any creative process. This state not only blocks out negative feelings and self-doubt, it also creates a feeling of contentment that can last far after the state ends.
Flow state commonly occurs when you …
- Become 100 percent focused on a task.
- Lose track of what is going on around you. You become immune to outside distractions.
- Know exactly what needs to be accomplished and how to do it.
- Lose some of your sense of self and become one with the process you are working on.
- Forget about your self limiting beliefs and throw away worries and doubts about your abilities.
- Feel increased joy and contentment from doing the thing you love.
Putting it simply, flow state is a magical moment when you experience peak performance and nothing comes between you and doing great things.
The downside is that getting in the flow can’t be switched on like a light. Some days, no matter what you try, it never shows up. And while you can’t force a state of flow, you can open yourself up to this experience of heightened creativity and focus.
After reading Csikszentmihalyi’s book a number of times, I recommend a simple 3-step process that will increase the likelihood of creating a flow state and achieving peak performance on a more consistent basis.
Work on Something Fun
The first key to achieving flow is a challenging task that you’re already good at. When you feel passionate about something, and you’re good at it, it tends to be fun. Flow happens when the subconscious takes over from the conscious mind. You’re not going to get there learning a new task, because you’re consciously thinking about what you’re doing. Flow requires effortless action, or in the parlance of the Nike tagline, just doing it.
Create the Perfect Environment
The next essential aspect is a complete lack of distraction, coupled with intense focus. Unplug completely by turning off your phone and go offline if possible to avoid interruptions. Find a place to work in private and never multitask. Unless you are listening to soothing background music, doing more than one thing only leads to a cluttered, stressed-out mind. To prime your focus, remember that various forms of mediation are all about creating and maintaining singular focus.
Work in Time Blocks
Top achievers use time to their advantage by learning how to ignore distractions while their focusing on a project. It would seem that our modern technological world is a committed enemy of flow. Rather than otherworldly focus, we live in a state of constant distraction punctuated with futile attempts at multitasking. One way around this, is to condense your working time into short sprints and track them with a timer. A widely used system for doing this is called the Pomodoro Technique. This technique helps eliminate these distractions because it keeps your mind fresh and focused. With scheduled rest breaks, you have an opportunity to take a few minutes off to relax and recharge.
These 3 essential elements of achieving a flow state seem simple… because they are. But they’re not easy for most of us, thanks to our self-imposed lives of distraction. So, before you start looking at flow-inducing tricks such as visualization, make sure you’ve created the necessary foundational conditions.