Find Balance

Getting to a Flow state

You’ve probably heard the concept of «flow» before. It’s also been studied a lot in the context of sports and refers to a state of being «completely absorbed» in the activity.

Think of a marathon race. You are concentrated, fit, and focused on the task and exist only in the moment. You are completely absorbed in the task at hand and time doesn’t seem to matter. You don’t notice if you are exhausted or not. In such a situation you are probably in flow, a state where everything happens automatically, you are innovative, joyful and happy.

Csikszentmihalyi describes flow as «the holistic feeling of being completely absorbed in the activity. In the flow state, action follows action, according to an inner logic that seems to require no conscious intervention on the part of the doer.» In the flow state, you are the master of your actions and are only incidentally aware of everything around you. You are completely in your task and in control of what is happening at all times.

Csikszentmihalyi, 1975

The components of flow adapted from Csikszentmihalyi

  • In the flow state, you are optimally engaged. This means, the task is not too hard and not too easy. You have everything under control.
  • You know at any time what you have to do without thinking about it. It just happens automatically. You don’t have to keep your concentration up willingly.
  • Your sense of time is not regular and clear as usual. In flow, you forget the time and don’t know how long you have been at the task.
  • The experience is intrinsically motivating for you.

Every person experiences flow differently and different aspects have to apply to get into a flow state. It is very important that the task is neither too difficult nor too easy, otherwise you are more likely to experience boredom or nervousness/anxiety. I can confirm from personal experience that I have only experienced such a state in close Badminton matches where the opponent and I were about equally good. I was completely concentrated, calm, and focused on the task and slipped into the flow where the rallies took place with high quality without thinking too much. My body knew what to do and which shot to make at which moment.

The way to flow

The question now is how you can get into flow, and it’s not an easy question to answer because you can’t achieve the state by pressing a button. However, there are a few ways you can increase the chances of reaching a flow state:

  • It is important to block out everything that can distract you. For example: switch off your smartphone, don’t pay attention to the audience, be for yourself.
  • Find tasks that are challenging but not too difficult or too easy (Nakamura et al, 2009).
  • A study by Walker (2008) found out that the flow state can be achieved in a team and is even more pleasant and enjoyable than alone. So set yourself tasks in a team.
  • Intrinsic motivation means doing something because you love. The highest intrinsic motivation according to Csikszentmihalyi is the flow state. Think of it, for example, as a surfer riding a wave and being completely absorbed in the moment.
  • Koehn et al, 2013 found a correlation between visualization, self-confidence and flow. Visualization can help you increase your self-confidence, which in turn increases the chances of flow.

Now it’s up to you to get there! Enjoy the process.