Finding Your Flow

The term “flow state” is bandied around, but when you experience it – that elevated mental state of energised focus – you understand. We’re interested in more than just the brain-hacking side of finding your flow: we want to know how flow state can be harnessed for an involved, inspired approach to work and life.

The concept of Flow was first academically legitimised through research by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who asserts that achieving flow is the secret to happiness [1]. It’s a bold claim, but analysing Csikszentmihalyi’s definition, it makes sense. Csikszentmihalyi asserts that Flow refers to an autotelic experience: an experience that is pleasant, enjoyable, and intrinsically motivating [2]. It’s the combination of these factors which distinguishes the state of Flow from a sense of hedonic gratification: flow state involves engaging in an activity which garners a reward as well as being enjoyable in the moment. The science of “flow state”, based on Csikszentmihalyi’s work, generally agrees that Flow is met through the following conditions [3]:

  • The understanding of clear goals
  • A degree of immediate feedback
  • A balance between challenge and skill
  • The merging of action and awareness
  • The exclusion of distractions
  • No fear of failure
  • The elimination of self-consciousness
  • A distorted sense of time

While Csikszentmihalyi’s understanding of Flow is achieved by engaging with a challenging – often creative – task, there are steps we can take to adopt a “Flow” state of mind throughout the day. In his book The Rise of Superman, author and self-confessed “flow-junky” Steven Kotler identifies seven flow triggers that can be put in place to allow us to enter Flow state [4]. Kotler asserts that in order to enter flow state we should:

  1. Minimise distractions
  2. Embrace risk and mental chance-taking
  3. Curate or choose a rich environment
  4. Pay attention to your senses – Kotler describes a sense of bodily mindfulness and sensory awareness as “deep embodiment”
  5. Be clear on what you want to achieve
  6. Engage with immediate feedback – tuning in to the progress you’re making
  7. Find the balance between challenge and skill – choose tasks which challenge you but allow you to harness a natural ability

Kotler asserts that flow state is the closest thing that humans have to a superpower, and in the absence of a cape and the ability to fly, engaging with our work in a way that provides a genuine sense of happiness is an appealing option.

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