As of this writing, the 2016 Rio Olympics is underway. Hundreds of athletes will give their best performance in front of the world stage. To achieve winning and record feats, Olympians need to reach what psychologists call peak performances, otherwise called as in the zone or flow state.
Psychologists do not limit flow state to athletic activities. Flow experiences are also important in any part of our lives, especially at work. We often accomplish our greatest accomplishments and performances while we are in this condition.
What is a flow state?
Psychologists describe flow as a state of mind where one is fully absorbed in a task to a point they forget about other things outside. Others define this as a being one with the task that you are doing. Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi, the psychologist who first coined flow, laid down a list of features of this experience:
- Fulfilling clear, specified goals that are attainable and aligned appropriately to a person’s abilities and skill set
- High level of concentration and focus on a limited field of attention
- Losing the feeling of self-consciousness to a point that their action and awareness merge
- Change in one’s personal experience of time as if the clock stops while doing their task
- Reaching a balance between the level of ability and challenge so that the activity is neither too easy nor hard.
- Feeling a sense of enormous personal control over the activity or situation
- Doing the activity effortlessly because it is intrinsically rewarding
- Full immersion in the activity such that your awareness is focused exclusively on the action itself
- Capacity to absorb direct and immediate feedback so that behavior can be adjusted as needed as you carry out the activity that you want to succeed.
You are in a flow state in doing an activity if you reach a point when you have already mastered it and at the same time doing it under the most challenging conditions.
Ways of achieving flow experiences
Being in a flow state is a rewarding experience that boosts your performance. Here are some ways to make this in your life.
1. Choose the activities/work you love – No matter how you put much effort in your task, you will never enjoy it unless your heart says so. Flow experiences do not happen on tasks that bore or do not motivate you.
2. Sharpen your skills to achieve these activities – Flow experiences do not occur in an instant. You need an effort to sharpen the saw by constantly honing your skills. Making it better and better
3. Plan your day – Our body follows a sleep-wake cycle also known as circadian rhythm. This cycle determines at which time in the day our energy reaches its peak. This phenomenon explains why night owls cannot work well in the morning while early birds are at their worse at night. First, honestly identify whether you are an early bird or night owl and schedule your tasks accordingly.
4. Keep practicing – While practice makes perfect, it can also lead you to your flow state. Practicing over and over lead you to be unconsciously competent, a condition close to flow state. It is as if you masterly carry out an activity with the least conscious effort.
5. Get rid of distractions – Distractions veer you away from the tasks you need to perform at your best level. Eliminate the things or activities that make you lose focus. Be picky in selecting the tasks you want to do by making sure they contribute to mastering the activities that you want to be in the zone.
6. Enjoy doing the activity – Your affection for your tasks wanes from time to time. As such, you need to motivate yourself to do them continually. Always fan the flames of your desire to accomplish your tasks by constantly reminding yourself how significant these are in your life.
7. Learn mindfulness exercises – Mindfulness meditation loosens the tension and silences the internal conflicts inside your body and mind. Doing these mindfulness exercises conditions your mind and body to experience flow.
8. Get quality sleep – Getting quality sleep benefits our body more than we imagined before, especially in our productivity and success. Sound sleep if done nightly readies your body to achieve flow.
9. Celebrate your milestones and successes – The best way we get the motivation to move further is by feeling and owning the joy of reaching our milestones and accomplishments. A celebration is a way to acknowledge your achievement. It also imprints in our minds the blissful feeling of success, which our mind would subconsciously aim to experience over and over again in our succeeding attempts.
Flow is a necessary and unexplainable experience to accomplish personal and professional feats. Doing the pointers above can contribute to realizing this powerful, ecstatic experience which is a cornerstone for our happiness.