You know you’ve heard these phrases around your office or work space:
“I’m in the zone.”
“I’m in my flow.”
“I’m getting sh*t done.”
While there are many different terms for this state, they all boil down to a sense of being productive, aligned, immersed in your task or activity. They can feel like you’re pushing to the outermost limits of your creativity, literally stretching your brain capacity and developing a sense of ease in whatever you’re doing.
Flow means you are truly absorbed in an activity to the point where you can lose your sense of time. You reach your optimal performance with ease. The term “Flow” was coined by researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in the 1970s based on his research to help people live in their optimal performance so they could enjoy life.
Csikszentmihalyi discovered that, when we perform at our highest potential, we use a very small and specific part of our brain that allows us to be laser-focused and gets rid of our sense of self-conciousness or imposter syndrome. Our inner critic is silenced when we are fully immersed in this way.
The problem is that, while we all experience flow states, it’s challenging to access them on demand. Instead, we spend much of the day twiddling our thumbs, waiting to be struck by a lightning bolt of genius.
Then, as soon as we get into a flow state, the experience may be fleeting because we become so preoccupied about losing the focus. As a result, we lose focus and become distracted again.
What if you could create a structure where you could access your flow on demand to live at optimal performance? What if you could get more done before 9am than you typically do in a full day? What if you were able to truly transform the way you work so that you could have the impact you want?
It’s possible, but it takes practice.
So how do you enter this flow state? I have a few key tips:
By identifying exactly what you want to do, you begin to narrow your focus and identify your point of focus. Choose a hobby, a business venture, or another experience that you really enjoy. If you have trouble deciding what activity would be equally fulfilling, challenging, and satisfying, write down all your ideas to start- then narrow down later.
Narrow down your top 1-3 challenges identified in part 1, and identify and begin to develop the necessary skills to practice that hobby, business venture or activity (surfing, writing, chess).
By setting goals using the SMART strategy, you ensure that you move in the desired direction, not just in any direction. This is how flow helps us move closer to our goals.
SMART goals suggest choosing goals that are: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-based.
One of the primary ways to hone or hack your flow is by using time to your advantage. This means that, if you tend to be more focused in the morning, you would work at those times. Conversely, if you’re struck with genius in the middle of the night, work more during those hours.
If you’re someone who feels that genius states are random, start to track whenever you’re most focused and work backward from there. Once you identify any sort of pattern, start scheduling your work time or your most challenging tasks during those times.
We live in a digital and interconnected world. For some of us, that means more connections but, for all of us, it means we tend to be spread a bit thin and bombarded with alerts. Timelines and unreasonable expectations often keep us from focusing for long periods of time.
To get into a flow state, first turn off notifications, close your office door, sit in a café with fewer interruptions, put your phone hidden out of view, or put an away message up.
The goal of flow is not just productivity but the enjoy what you’re doing. In a flow state, self-consciousness slips away, leading to complete absorption. This means that when you engage in an activity, you’re fully immersed without your inner critic.
Make sure you’re enjoying this hobby, activity, task, or skill in order to further hone and experience flow states.
Set up rules and guidelines so you receive feedback and make sure you are moving closer towards your goals.
Flow and genius encourage the enhancement of your abilities. Once you’ve achieved your goal, you don’t stop there; you up-level your goal to stretch your capacity, skills, and genius to their optimal performance. If you keep honing these skills, the payoff will result in more dynamic and productive work where you feel focused, rather than on the verge of burnout.
I care so much about every person learning how to develop their genius and flow states that I organized Flow Summit, a free, online summit. At the summit, 20 innovative psychologists, researchers, consultants, scientists and entrepreneurs (including Alyssa from MyWellbeing!) will teach you their strategies for accessing flow. We all want to make sure that, you can serve your clients, communities, and companies in alignment and flow through whatever work you do.
In addition, as a flow researcher, coach, and consultant, I will be providing a free four-day training in flow states.
By the end of the summit, you will know how to live in flow and activate your creative genius on demand. You’ll learn practical skills to help you get unstuck, get more organized, and transform the way you live and work so you can have the impact you’re meant to have.
Part of flow is clueing into the synchronicities around us. That’s why I’ve brought together leaders across different disciplines but with one common goal to develop connection, community, and serve.
You can also get in on the conversations in the summit’s Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/flowsummit/
I look forward to seeing you at the Flow Summit! In the meantime, I hope the tips above help you find your flow and become more productive and happier in your day-to-day work, hobbies, and activities.
Julia Colangelo is one of the wonderful therapists in the MyWellbeing community. She is a professor at Columbia, a scholar at UPenn, a therapist, and a flow consultant and coach. You can connect with her at www.findflowtoday.com and contact her by email at [email protected] or on Instagram at @juliacolangelo_.