The Ultimate Guide to Experiencing Flow State
Have you experienced an activity in such a way that came so easily to you? As if, in that very moment, the entire world disappears? That whatever it is that you’re doing becomes so endlessly fulfilling to you that every life problem your mind can conjure up is on mute? You become so intune with what’s happening, that every following moves come naturally to you.
That is flow.
Flow is a state of being that requires mental clarity and focus. I believe that every single human being is capable of immense creativity. Thus, flow state is available to us in every single form imaginable. There is no better way to get out of your head and into reality than to be experience flow state.
Bless Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi for his insights as I will be reiterating some of the key concepts from his book Flow.
Our Generation’s Biggest Problem
…is not having very obvious ones.
Would you believe me if I said that the down payment for a house today is what the entire mortgage would have been for our grandparents. People were struggling to figure out how to simply survive, so their main goals in life were clear and distinctive. It was easy to make a decision because the options were quite limited. We have a lot more freedom nowadays, but at the cost of our happiness in making sure our final decision will reap the most contentment. With that being said, technology has evolved to solve almost every problem imaginable. We are being replaced by technology. We have access to absolutely everything. Of course we’re anxious, depressed and confused about finding our purpose in life. Because our problems are a lot more introspective than having to farm our foods or build a house.
What does this have to do with flow state?
I believe that to live a happy life, we need to experience flow state in our daily lives. Even if it isn’t our method of making a living, finding an activity outside of ourselves is essential to experiencing the most out of life. It’s meditative. A task that produces flow is almost like sleeping. It gives your mind the time to rest from the repetitive nature of life. It is self-love. It is a matter of giving back to yourself in a time and place that puts so much focus on having control and structure. You don’t really need to know absolutely everything. Just go and play. Enjoy life.
Pleasure vs. Enjoyment
Pleasure is instantaneous. It’s easy. It requires little to no extraneous thought or action. It could be the taste of chocolate or putting your genitals on someone else’s genitals (consensually). It’s the idea of working for a short amount of time in a pyramid scheme selling generic products to get rich, meanwhile the laundry list of people you barely knew in high school who think you’re weird and want nothing to do with you grows. Pleasure is fleeting. It’s the anticipation that makes it so juicy.
But what is all the more fulfilling than pleasure is genuine enjoyment. Enjoyment works well with progress, rooted from the tasks that help you grow. The actions that take up your mental space, your endurance and your strength to execute. Knowing you worked hard to achieve something is so much more enjoyable then having sex just to come for 6 seconds.
The Difference Between Enjoyment and Pleasure
The food critique takes the extra time to understand different flavour profiles, texture and presentation. The experience of eating what someone else would otherwise just throw in the microwave and call a day is a process of blissful enjoyment. It takes careful attention to describe a taste and pick up on different ingredients. To this person, food is a portal into flow state. With no consideration, eating a meal can be seen as a human chore required to satiate hunger. Perspective, baby. That’s all it takes. Find your focus then hone in on it.
Your Attention is Your Primal Resource
Your attention is just as precious as your time. When you hop from task to task, your energy and focus isn’t at its peak. Your divided attention means work that ends up being subpar, as opposed to creating your best work with the potency of your complete focus and effort. When you do something with your complete focus, it feels as though every following step comes to you with no effort. Your body just knows what to do. Thought is practically unnecessary.
“How we feel about ourselves, the joy we get from living, ultimately depend directly on how the mind filters and interprets everyday experiences”
– Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
The Importance of Maintaining Your Focus
Without order to your thoughts, attention will easily shift itself towards issues happening in your life. What’s more intrusive is being overwhelmed with thoughts about matters one has no immediate control over. Your mind can imagine itself into pain, hold resentments and foster long-term frustrations when you’re in a considerably relaxed physical state like showering or laying in bed. Our natural instinct is to avoid and resolve pain. With the prevalence of media consumption that allows us to immediately enter a state of pleasure, we seldom allow ourselves to really feel the breadth of our sadness, or any seemingly low point. Most of us can attest to having (at least at one point) a pretty declining rate of focus. Meditation or mindfulness activities are great for improving focus. Especially decreasing phone time helps improve.. almost everything.
Be in the moment, not on your phone.
Flow Demands Challenge
We are addicted to progression. Try working the same exact job, 9-5 for several years, with absolutely zero chance of being promoted, learning a new skill or being faced with any challenges. How happy do you think you’d be? Flow requires working towards a specific goal. Like the hockey player that wants to score a goal and win the game, or the marathon runner looking to beat their personal record.
I heard this from Tony Robbins, but he has too many quotes to pull out this specific one but essentially:
“You will always have problems in your life. It’s simply a matter of finding better problems.”
It’s also a balancing act.
“Too little challenge will create boredom. Too much challenge creates anxiety”
– Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
The Obstacles That Stand in the Way of Flow
For some who are affected by attentional disorders, it is a lot harder to be able to hone in on any certain task as focus is quite a challenge to hold in the first place.
“Things are coming in too fast. I lose my grip and get lost. I am attending to everything at once and as a result, I do not really attend to anything”
Self-consciousness disrupts flow. As one is caught in a landslide of thought and desire to impress or remain in good terms with all.
Self-centeredness is also an obstacle that disrupts flow as it strips away total concentration towards any one activity. In this state, it is more important to heed results in desire as opposed to the actual process.
Be mindful of your intentions. Do it for yourself. Flow in life not to impress but to enjoy.
Using Competition as a Starting Point of Motivation
It goes without saying that friendly competition can make a game all the more intense. But intentions must be set within to avoid the grim. If the goal of the game is just to prove someone wrong, to try to impress an audience or to obtain some big fancy trophy than the enjoyment becomes a means to attain pleasure. Competition can be useful so as long as it is only one part of the playful nature of the game.
You Can Literally Turn Anything into Flow State
So Mihaly uses the example of some guy (Professor Maier-Leibnitz) who would often have to sit through long boring conferences. To pass the time, he invented a game for himself in which he would tap his fingers in a specific pattern, in accordance to how boring a lecturer is. I would guess that he would add a finger tap every time he would get bored whilst repeating the entire sequence each time the game calls for it.
I used to live quite far from my high school, so I had to sit through nearly an hour long bus ride to school and back. So, throughout my ride, I would count how many buses would be able to fit in a row between telephone poles while we drove. In part, I thought I had OCD, but it seems like my brain was just trying to pass time.
The Ancient Chinese path of Tao is a matter of “living without concern for external awards, spontaneously, with total commitment”.
What Does the Flow State Feel Like?
It is the focused, automatic flow in which you execute something seemingly with no effort. Yet, it requires your complete attention. Thus, enveloping every fraction of your attention, an activity seems to be the only thing in your current reality. Nothing exists but the task and the goal at which you seek to accomplish. That is flow state. Imagine a rock climber about to embark on the next protruding opportunity to climb higher, or biking as fast as humanly possible through a landscape of trees and fresh air, or writing prose with no thought of what’s next, because it seems as though the words are right at your fingertips, on the fringes, waiting in queue to be written into existence.
Flow state is meditation. To get out of your head and into your body. A flow state activity is the portal to exist in the now.
“If I am to live twenty more years, I will try to live enjoying each moment, instead of killing myself to get more”