Getting into the flow

Do you easily manage to get fully immersed in one activity so that you disconnect from your surroundings? How come, and how easy is it to do that?

This post is also available in Dutch.

Psychologists call it flow. In lay terms, this flow is the mental state you enter when you get fully absorbed in what you are doing. You feel hyper-focused and, so productive that nothing can come between you and the goals you want to achieve. It sounds amazing, even mystical. Those kinds of experiences you would like to have quite often

But how can we actually go into a flow state?

The psychologist Csikszenthmihalyi and colleagues began to talk about flow when seeing many painters so absorbed by their work that they could forget about time, food and other people. Fortunately you don’t need to be an artist to experience flow. Apparently, anyone can do so – although a pinch of creativity would not hurt.  Indeed, flow states arise out of our ability to pay attention. To be more precise, our brain is naturally set to process just a limited amount of information at a time. This means that if you are dealing with a specific task, it becomes necessary to restrict your focus on that task alone (Yes, this also means that when you try to listen to your boyfriend while finishing that last sentence of your favourite book, you are just pretending).

However, having a task to fulfil is not enough. Researchers at the University of Milan show that to reach flow it is important that your task is meaningful for you. That is, you should at least get involved in a task that is somehow connected with your passion and/or your big life purposes. Not just that, it seems that to enter a flow state, there should be a balance between your skill level and the level of the challenge of your task. For this, you should engage in activities that are challenging and stimulating for you. It is important, though, that you perceive your skills as adequate to perform the task. Otherwise, if the task is too difficult, you may end up feeling anxious and worried.

No matter which activity, if it is meaningful, we can all reach flow while doing it. But how does it feel to be in the flow?

Apparently, being in the flow can initiate a fully emotional journey. According to flow experts, when you are in the flow you feel a sense of ecstasy. You feel activated and satisfied. Also, you feel a sense of serenity and fulfilment that keeps you going without any decrease in motivation. Lastly, you experience timelessness as if no past or future, but only the present moment, is important for you.

Flow sounds great. Yet, why is it sometimes so difficult to be in the flow even when loving the task?

Going into the flow state is especially difficult when your mind is filled with thoughts and ideas that are unrelated to your current task. Research at the Ruhr University Bochum in Germany highlights one particular “thief” of flow: unfinished tasks. Namely, when you have tons of unfinished tasks in the background, it is less likely that you will experience flow during your activities at work. Unfinished tasks from previous days are like stressors that impede your ability to fully enjoy your current task. Interestingly, these unfinished tasks also diminish your chance of feeling in the flow when it comes to leisure activates, reducing your chances of feeling happy.

Going into the flow is possible. It is a sense of happiness and fulfilment that derives from having goals, and yet working actively and mindfully towards achieving them. And you, are you ready to make flow a constant in your days? 

 Author: Martina Arenella
Buddy: Rebecca Calcott
Edit: Marisha Manahova
Translator: Ellen Rommelse
Edit Translator: Wessel Hieselaar

Photocredit: featured image by Pexels via Pixabay

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