Have you ever noticed how your mind changes during the most productive days? Instead of struggling to concentrate and repel distractions, you are trapped, allowing you to accomplish the task with ease. Hours are running out – and before you know it, your big job is done.
There is actually a name for this seemingly magical phenomenon: the state of flow. The unwinding state occurs when you are totally immersed in a task, to the point that the distractions no longer have any effect. Your job seems easy because you "pass" seamlessly from one step to the other.
However, the state of flow is elusive. No pill or mantra will magically place you in this ultra-productive state of mind. So, how can you put the flow to work for you? Here's what you need to know to exploit your flow state more often.
Who discovered the state of flux?
Although the flow state probably existed for as long as the human brain, it was officially "discovered" and named by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.
Csikszentmihalyi, a psychologist, focused his career on positive psychology, or the study of how people can discover the purpose, meaning and fulfillment of life. He is best known for his discoveries on the state of flow, which stems from a shocking discovery: happier at work that they are during free time.
This discovery comes from the Csikszentmihalyi study in which participants reported their emotional states at random times of the day. The study participants had pagers (it was in the late '80s, you notice) who were leaving periodically. Whenever the pager sounded, they would record what they were doing and what they were feeling at the time.
What Csikszentmihalyi discovered is that if people thought they were happier during their free time, their self-declaration revealed something different. His participants were actually happier at work, even if they did not know it.
Csikszentmihalyi explained this phenomenon with the state of flow. When we are in flux, we are engaged and challenged in the right proportions. The flow state is incredible – that's why we are more than happy to do a job that interests us and challenges us to stay at rest.
Why should you sink instead of working
Of course, we do not reach the flow state every time we work. The mundane, boring and too difficult or too easy tasks will not give us a hard time. However, the more time we spend in the flow state, the happier and more productive we will be – so it's worth looking for.
The state of flow does not only apply to work in the traditional sense of the term. If you work in certain areas, such as data entry or in a call center, the nature of your work may not be very conducive to fluidity. But you can also use your flow state during a secondary activity, a passion project or an engaging hobby. By finding exciting projects to tackle during your free time, you can actually increase your happiness.
The key to the flow state feels challenged but not overwhelmed. You must be interested in what you are doing and it must be hard enough to engage you. If you are frustrated, disinterested or discouraged, you will not be able to find your stream.
The state of flux is also never guaranteed. Some days you may not be able to sink, while on other days it will come naturally. But the more you become familiar with this state, the more you can draw from it. And as a bonus, researching your state of flux can help you better understand your passions, which will lead you to more fulfilling jobs and hobbies.
Exploit your flow status
So, how can you tap into your flow state to accomplish more and feel happier?
The research has not yet revealed a magic "key" to the flow state. Many trials and errors are the best way to better understand the factors that trigger it. However, these ideas can help you start to find your feed more often.
Set clear goals and steps to achieve them
The flow state is usually associated with tasks that have a clear purpose and can be broken down into easy-to-manage steps. If you can not determine the next step or if you do not know exactly what the end of your task looks like, it will be difficult for you to follow.
You can help reach your flow state by using checklists that break down a larger task into simple and necessary steps.
Take the challenge
You also can not reach the flow state unless the task at hand forces you to focus. So, take tasks that are not very easy (but are not too difficult either).
If you are at work, see if you can try harder projects from time to time. If you are at home, challenge yourself to learn and practice a new skill or face a difficult project that you have delayed. Leave your comfort zone. Try to do your best, rather than just doing the job.
Use your skills
The flow state works best when you use your natural talents. Try to identify the link between your strengths and those that interest you, and you can move more often.
Find what you like
The more you are passionate about something, the more you will achieve. The key to fluidity is to take advantage of the process, not just to cross the finish line. So try new things until you find something that you are passionate about.
Manage your time
If you have little time to complete a task, you are more likely to leave out distractions and focus completely, which will help you manage your workflow. Use timers and delays to your advantage, as with the Pomodoro Technique.
A single interruption can take you out of the flow state and returning to it is not always easy. Try to find a time and place where you can work without interruption or distractions as much as possible. Put away your phone or deactivate the notifications If you need to.
Finally, keep in mind that sinking does not mean working too much. Although research can show that work makes us happy, we also need relaxation to stay healthy. Instead of working harder or harder, the flow state is about working smarter, making the most of your work time. While you're looking for the flow, do not forget to give yourself a lot of free time, too.
The state of flux is not a myth: it is a real phenomenon, supported by research, that everyone can live. With practice, you can better reach this state and enjoy your work (and your life) more.
Do you want to try to tap into the flow state during your downtime? You can start by learning a new refreshing hobby, such as starter guide for yoga.