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How To Enter Flow States And Boost Your Creativity

Written by: Seline Shenoy, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

 
Executive Contributor Seline Shenoy

What is flow state? Have you ever gotten so engrossed with your work that you lost track of time? During that time, you had perfect concentration and felt aligned with the task you were doing. Your thoughts and emotions were channeled with precision and grace. There were no blocks, anxiety or distracting thoughts. You were in a state of flow. 

Young man is soaring in the air with a Cup of coffee and a laptop
“Be like water, Flow like a river, Crash like the rain, Fly like the cloud again!” ― Md. Ziaul Haque

'Flow state' refers to a positive mental state in which we are completely engrossed in a particular project. The task is challenging yet achievable. Factors such as eating and sleeping lose importance and time loses relevance. We wholly engage ourselves without distraction.

 

You may have heard of flow or some variation of it. Phrases like being in the zone, immersion, and deep work allude to this sensation of absolute immersion in the task at hand. 

 

When we are in flow, we experience a lack of our own self-conscious thoughts about the opinions of others, and our focus is firmly directed toward completing our tasks. This results in a sense of euphoria, which supersedes the physical and mental exertion required to achieve our goal. 

 

Our inner critic is silenced, and when in flow, we engage in the task with a sense of freedom from our own internal negativity. How others judge the result is unimportant to us when we are in 'flow.' We are entirely absorbed while doing what is required of us. We are firmly committed to completing the task.

 

When we function in a 'flow state,' we exert effort and attention and stay intrinsically motivated. This leads us to experience positive feelings of delight, bliss, achievement, and satisfaction within ourselves. The 'flow state' is described as an autotelic experience because it allows us to do something with purpose without anticipating any benefit upon its completion. This is precisely what makes the result more intrinsically satisfying. 

 

Thorough interviews with athletes, surgeons, artists, and musicians and extensive research into the phenomenon of persons functioning in 'flow' concluded that getting into the zone significantly impacts how we feel about our own lives and how content we are within ourselves. Simply put, the more we practice flow in our daily lives, the more gratifying our life events become and the happier we feel.

 

Practicing the flow state enriches our lives

 How we live today in our fast-paced world often leaves us feeling emptiness and fatigue. So much emphasis is placed on achieving happiness and validation from external sources. We seek the approval of others and buy more and more possessions like cars, homes, clothing, and gadgets in the pursuit of happiness. But the happy moments from these endeavors are fleeting. 

 

Neither are the best moments in life laid back and passive. Instead, they are when we're actively engaged with life and our minds are stretched to their limits to accomplish meaningful and worthwhile things. This happens when we're in flow.

 

Positive psychology is rooted in emphasizing achieving fulfillment and contentment in our lives. We do this by engaging in pleasurable experiences whereby we gain intrinsic benefits. Practicing a state of flow leaves us with an inner sense of happiness and benefits us in the following ways: 

  • Our stress levels are lowered because we experience more positive emotions when in a flow state.

  • Our overall functioning and creativity are boosted when we practice flow more often in our daily lives.

  • We are more motivated and creative because we experience more feelings of self-worth when we practice flow more often.

  • We reach a more genuine level of happiness in our lives because our flow experiences are positive and reinforce that we can make ourselves happy without continuously needing validation from external factors. 

 

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, known as 'the father of flow," said, "People who learn to control inner experience will be able to determine the quality of their lives, which is as close as any of us can come to being happy."

 

How do we reach a flow state?

 According to positive psychologists Csikszentmihalyi and Nakamura, reaching a state of 'flow' is possible within a setting where we are actively and exclusively engaged in a demanding yet doable task that satisfies our need for enjoyment and personal achievement. When we are excited and determined to complete a project, we do so without allowing ourselves to be distracted throughout the process.

 

We are so intensely focused on the task at hand. In essence, activities involving relaxation and little effort on our part, such as taking a long bath or watching a movie, do not bring about a state of 'flow.' 

 

Csikszentmihalyi describes it well.

"The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times... The best moments usually occur if a person's body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile."

Achieving a balance between the difficulty of the task and our level of skill is crucial to ensure a state of flow. An endeavor that is too easy for us to finish will not help us to reach a state of flow as we may become bored and disinterested.

 

The chosen task should be challenging yet possible within our individual skill framework. A colossal challenge will not result in a state of flow. This may make us experience negative emotions such as nervousness and feeling overwhelmed.

 

5 tips on achieving a flow state

1. Have clear, specific goals and a map to get there

Before starting a task, be clear about your outcomes and the approaches you need to reach them. Make sure that it's measurable and time-bound. 


2. Engage the right interests

Flow is more accessible to hit when doing something you like. This is because a flow state of mind is based on intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. 


3. Work during your most productive times

We're more likely to get into flow when we work at or near our peaks of focus. The times when your concentration and focus are at their best can be determined by your circadian rhythm, a natural, internal process that regulates the sleep-wake cycle.


4. Take breaks and meditate

After a certain point, your mind will wander. It's best to step away when that happens. Give yourself a short break to do deep breathing, take a walk or drink water. 


5. Be physically active

Plenty of research has shown the benefits of being physically active in improving focus and memory. Being active increases blood flow to the brain, leading to growth in brain cells and making it easier to enter a flow state.

 

The two vital requirements to achieve a flow state

Achieving a flow state requires us first to ensure two key things:

  • We must undertake a task to see through to its completion. The chosen task must be finished. Setting a clear goal is imperative for a flow state to occur.

  • When we have completed the task, there is an immediate result. Our flow state during the completion process provides a definitive result that affords us the satisfaction required to motivate us to undertake more tasks and allow us to experience a state of flow again. The experience of completing the task must bring about positive feelings within us about ourselves.

 

Being in the zone requires our full participation in our chosen task. 

 

Two basic categories of motivation, extrinsic and intrinsic, drive us to get a task done. A brief description of each below will further clarify the role of both categories of motivation in a flow state:

  • Intrinsic motivation: When we do something for personal gratification, such as activities we do for enjoyment, and not for external reasons, such as receiving an award or fear of punishment. We are doing a task ourselves without expecting anything from an external source.

  • Extrinsic motivation: When we do something for external factors, such as performing harder at work to avoid getting into trouble with our boss or to be promoted. 

 

Flow, and you will internally glow

 Life becomes more meaningful when we are content within ourselves and our outlook brightens. Practicing flow states in our everyday lives helps us to boost our creativity and bond with ourselves. Our overall life experiences become more intrinsically rewarding, and we gain inner peace. 

 

Neuroscientists have recognized that flow is a distinct mental state. When in a flow state of mind, dopamine is released, causing us to feel relaxed, energized, and optimistic. We also reach an alpha brain state that allows a free flow of information within us, making an activity easier.

 

While our minds are fully engaged in the tasks we're working on, it frees other parts of our brains to make connections and associations that lead to creative ideas and breakthroughs.

 

A flow state of mind is accessible to anyone — not just those performing the artistic feats with which it's commonly associated. Playing tennis, skiing, running, or dancing can induce flow. Even simple day-to-day tasks like gardening and washing dishes can take you there.


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Seline Shenoy Brainz Magazine
 

Seline Shenoy, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Seline Shenoy is a podcast host, journalist, blogger and award-winning writer on psychology, self-help, social and global issues. She is the founder of The Dream Catcher – a blog and podcast community. Its inspirational message has been attracting thousands of readers and listeners every month from all over the world since 2014. Seline is also a managing partner of an IT and software distribution business.

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