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Finding Flow

by Beth on November 13th, 2017

Flow is a mental state that occurs when you’re so absorbed by an activity that you are completely immersed in the moment. You lose your sense of self, forgetting about your worries and concerns, and your sense of time is distorted. Athletes describe it as being “in the zone”.

Experiencing flow is good for our well-being and our success. The actual state of flow is void of emotion. We are so wrapped up in the moment that we don’t notice how we are feeling. Yet on reflection, people report having enjoyed the experience. This makes flow a powerful source of intrinsic motivation.

Neurochemicals are released in our brains when we experience flow, helping us to learn better. In a study done by DARPA, military snipers who were trained while in a state of flow learned 230 percent faster than normal. The focus that accompanies flow can dramatically improve performance. According to a 10-year study by McKinsey, top executives were five times more productive when they were in flow.

There are three main conditions for achieving flow. First, skills must be well matched to the challenge of the task. When a challenge exceeds our level of skill, we become anxious and stressed. Alternatively, if the task is too easy for our skill level, we become bored and distracted. A balance between the two produces a degree of focus and satisfaction, which makes the experience enjoyable and contributes to optimal performance.

Second, we need clear goals with feedback regarding progress. Goals give direction and structure to the task, and feedback helps us adjust our performance in order to maintain the flow state. Playing sports or video games are often associated with flow because they provide both a clear goal and feedback.

The third condition is to eliminate distractions. Studies show that it takes up to twenty minutes of focus before you become fully immersed in an activity. So you have to shut down email and social media and put away your phone in order to maintain focus.

See if you can find more opportunities to experience flow. Find an activity that you enjoy and that requires a certain level of focus. This can be anything: a project at work, a hobby, or cooking dinner. Eliminate distractions and commit to it for at least 20 minutes. You’ll appreciate the way it makes you feel and the sense of accomplishment you will gain!

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