We all want to be in the “zone” when we have a deadline or an important task to accomplish.
Being in the “zone” is another way of saying we want to focus, or we want to have a specific conscious awareness of what we are doing, so we can complete the task or mission in an extraordinary way.
Author Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls this state of mind your “flow state” in his book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.
The flow zone is a state we all visit — some of us more than others. But there’s no denying you are in it when it occurs, even though you might not realize it at the time.
One prominent composer explains the flow state as an ecstatic experience where you feel you almost don’t exist.
It is a state where another aspect of yourself takes over, and you watch and feel yourself doing things you rarely do. Creativity flows from within you, but you seem to have nothing to do with the incredible results of that creativity.
There’s no denying that being in the zone, or being in the unrehearsed active flow of creativity, is an exciting as well as productive experience.
In fact, if you allow your creative juices to flow without emotional or judgmental restrictions, your work becomes an enjoyable experience regardless of the challenges or the stress that often accompanies a particular task.
How to Experience The Flow State
Dr. Csikszentmihalyi's points out in his book that the nervous system can only process 110 bits of information per second.
We process about 60 bits of information per second when someone is talking to us. If two people are talking to us at the same time and at the same speed, we can’t process all that information.
We usually don’t understand what either person is saying. But when we concentrate on one conversation and ignore the other we are able to understand the message.
That concentration point is the door that leads to a state of mind where all things are doable. In other words, all other feelings such as hunger, anger, fatigue, and stress disappear in that concentration point.
Another door opens, and we become one with the process. This other aspect of yourself jumps into the project with both ethereal feet, and amazing things happen.
We don’t consciously think about what we are doing because our minds are functioning on autopilot. All we do is hang on and enjoy the extremely satisfying, creative ride.
What Are The Benefits Of Reaching This Mindful Flow State?
There are many benefits of reaching the concentration point where all things are possible. Here are seven benefits that are hard to ignore.
1. You’re completely in the moment and completely immersed in what you’re doing, and that gives you a euphoric feeling.
2. You experience a sense of ecstasy when you function outside of your normal daily reality.
3. You develop an inner clarity. You automatically know what to do, and you get immediate positive feedback.
4. You innately realize you have the skills to complete the work.
5. Your normal sense of yourself disappears, and your concerns and worries disappear with that sense of self.
6. Time has no meaning when you’re completely in the zone and in the present moment.
7. You develop an intrinsic sense of motivation. Being in the flow becomes its own reward.
Read Related: The Ultimate Guide To Practicing Mindfulness
How to Activate Your Flow State And Practice It
There’s no exact method of getting into that undeniable state of flow where you become the maestro of your own compositions.
Everyone has a different way to unlock that mental door and go on a journey that combines your conscious awareness with the consciousness that exists in another part of your being.
But there are things you can do to open that door and keep it open, so you can walk through it when the need is present. Here are a few ideas how to activate the flow:
Find a Challenge At Work
Do something you enjoy doing at work and feel the enjoyment in that task. Then face the challenge with that same mentality.
It helps to think about the other things you love such as golf, skiing, soccer, family time before you start because that euphoria will continue when you start the challenge.
Develop The Flow Ability So You’re Up For The Challenge
Most people get bored pretty easily. Their minds wander and a wandering mind doesn’t flow well. And when people are in over their heads, they won’t be able to get into the flow zone.
In order to achieve the subconscious competence to flow, you must develop the ability. That means let it come whenever you can, but with the right tasks.
Choose tasks that are challenging enough to hold your concentration and focus — but not so challenging that you are frustrated. If a task is too easy, you won't need to concentrate and won't enter the flow.
Set Flow Goals
Put fear aside and set goals so you finish what you start. Goals will initiate a flow zone if you give yourself the freedom to explore ideas before you begin.
Goals can be simple or they can be complex. Start with simple goals, and then add another goal then another until you reach the finish line. Once you are in the flow those goals complete themselves.
Focus On The Work
Distractions are flow stoppers. If you are trying to do more than one thing at a time you can bet your flow meter isn’t working.
Concentration is a main flow motivator. If you lose your concentration, you lose the flow.
Give Yourself Time To Hit The Flow Zone
It may take a few minutes to get into the zone, and a little longer to get deep enough into that zone to be productive.
But if you give yourself enough warmup time, you will keep going and finish faster without stopping even when a minor distraction tries to stop you.
Be Aware Of Your Emotional State
If you are having trouble getting into the flow zone, you might have an emotional issue that is blocking your ability to fully concentrate on the task at hand.
If you are angry, stressed, anxious, or nervous try to relax before you start any work project. Think about something that gives you a peaceful feeling or gives you a reason to laugh.
You might want to exercise before you start or you could boost your energy levels by reliving an old accomplishment.
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Eat a favorite snack or call a friend that always lifts your spirits. Start the project on a level playing field, and you’ll feel the flow sooner than you thought you could.
Here are a few examples of flow zone accomplishments:
- Any runner who has completed a marathon or any competitive race knows what it feels like to be in the flow zone.
- Great writers hit the zone as soon as they have a computer in front of them and the first words appear.
- Musicians and composers are in the zone and great chefs know the only way to prepare a gourmet meal is to get into the mechanics of the meal before they start.
People from all walks of life are flow zone examples when they push themselves to achieve more than they expect and love more than hate.
There’s no better example of being in the flow zone than being in love. Love is the impetus behind all flow zone accomplishments and the fuel that keeps that zone alive in any kind of situation.
Some people are afraid to activate this amazing inner gift. They always want to be in control, and they want to feel the pain of completing a job.
They think they need to experience the hard things in life in order to be successful and productive. They ignore the other parts of us that invisibly float around us waiting for a sign to engage.
The art of the flow is a natural loving gift, and we should use it whenever we can.
There is nothing unusual or mysterious about concentrating so intently that another part of mind goes into action, and we are able to accomplish things we thought were too hard or impossible.
By removing distractions, inviting your creative mind to engage, and focusing intently on the task at hand, you may discover you naturally enter a joyful state of flow in which you feel blissful, productive, and deeply engaged.