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Being in a flow state

Updated on August 3, 2013

Flow is a mental state in which a person is completely immersed in an activity. In this state the ego falls away and time flies. Every thought, action and movement follows inevitably the previous one. Athletes can easily go into a flow during the performance of their sport. A painter or a writer can go into a flow while painting or writing. Even while reading an interesting book, a reader can go into the flow. Everyone at times goes into a flow when doing something, which is characterized by a feeling of great absorption, fulfillment and happiness forgetting the temporal concerns like time, food, ego etc.

Flow is an optimal state of intrinsic motivation. Intrinsically motivated people are more goals oriented and enjoy challenges that lead to an increase in happiness. To achieve a flow state there must be a balance between the challenges of the task and the skill of the performer. If the task is too easy or too difficult, a flow cannot occur.

An autotelic person can easily experience flow. An autotelic person is intrinsically motivated and exhibits a sense of purpose and curiosity. Such a person doesn’t care much about comfort, power or fame because he or she will experience flow in work, in family relations, when interacting with people, when eating and even when alone. Such a person is fully immersed in the current of life and is, therefore, very happy with few material possessions, comforts, power or fame.

Neuro-chemical changes in a flow state--

Flow state has been linked to states of euphoria or pleasure that occur during and after states of prolonged physical exertion. This euphoric state is generally attributed to the release of endogenous endorphins and dopamine. Endorphins are the body's natural bio-chemicals for toning down specific pain responses at different levels. As a result of physical stress, endorphin release produces euphoria, respiratory depression, reduced gastrointestinal motility and analgesia. Dopamine also elicits similar subjective feelings of euphoria. However, the relationship between flow state and state of euphoria is due to the similar neurochemical changes they share. The release of dopamine is highly correlated with the flow state but, nonetheless, it cannot be solely responsible for feelings of ecstasy or bliss.

Some common activities in which one can achieve flow state—

  • Flow in sports— One can achieve a flow state by engaging in a challenging athletic activity that is doable. Reaching this state of flow allows an athlete to have complete mastery of the performance. This is also sometimes referred as to being in the zone.
  • Flow in workplace—The state can also be achieved by workers engaged in tasks by focusing entirely on them. For example, a writer can experience this while working on a novel.
  • Flow in education—On can achieve a flow state by over-learning a skill or a concept. By slightly stretching one’s current skills, an individual can easily experience flow.

The flow state has some very useful benefits, which we can make use of in our daily life.

  • It helps to relax and unwind quickly.
  • The task performed in a flow state is very good and it provides a sense satisfaction to the performer.
  • It helps bring our focus fully into the present moment. Not only does this make us more effective but we are also able to enjoy the full range of life experience to be found there in all its diversity.

How to achieve a flow state—

We cannot achieve flow state all the time in everything we do. Therefore, we should not struggle to achieve a flow state. The following are some important tips to achieve it—

  • A flow state cannot be forced. In fact, forcing to achieve it will be a hindrance to achieve it. Ironically, beginning a task without expecting anything will encourage flow to occur.
  • There must be a compelling motivation to undertake a task. A strong motivation will drive you to enjoy a task and, therefore, to achieve a flow state. For example, a driving motivation for writing an article will improve our creative output and will encourage people to benefit by it.
  • We should avoid procrastination though it is very appealing. We should understand that attaining flow is much more enjoyable and rewarding than procrastination. The good thing is that the more often we avoid procrastination and undertake tasks that achieve flow state, the easier it becomes to avoid procrastination!
  • We should perform a task that is challenging but not too easy or too hard. If the task is too easy, we will complete it without thought or concentration required. If the task is too hard, we will have trouble getting into a flow as the concentration is focused on figuring out how to do the task, often resulting in giving up entirely.
  • If we undertake a new task, we will not achieve a flow state until we become reasonably good at it. So we will have to exercise our patience till we attain flow state. This is true for such things as learning a new language, learning to play guitar and beginning a new sport.
  • We should undertake a task in an environment which encourages a flow state. This environment is personal and can vary from person to person. As an example, someone will find it much easier to achieve a flow state while being alone with some good music playing in the background. Someone else may find the environment more encouraging of flow state, when a few people are around with no music playing in the background.
  • We should minimize distractions and interruptions as much as possible. This will help us to attain a flow state easily but a good thing is that when we are experiencing a flow state, distractions are more easily ignored.
  • We should regularly engage in a task that encourages a flow state. If more often we engage in tasks that encourage a flow state, we will achieve a flow state more often and it becomes easier to attain. It is like a muscle – the more regularly we use it, the stronger it becomes.

It is not difficult to attain a flow state in some of our routine activities if we have a strong motivation. We can attain a flow state in our daily mundane activities such as cooking, house cleaning, car washing or family get-togethers. When in a flow, all these activities don’t tire us but, on the other hand, one will enjoy them. The outcome of an activity performed in a flow state is very good and satisfying.

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    • Dr Pran Rangan profile imageAUTHOR

      Dr Pran Rangan 

      3 years ago from Kanpur (UP), India

      Thanks a lot.

    • profile image

      Jeslyn 

      3 years ago

      Son of a gun, this is so heflpul!

    • Dr Pran Rangan profile imageAUTHOR

      Dr Pran Rangan 

      5 years ago from Kanpur (UP), India

      Yes, one can attain the flow state even in uninteresting activities.

      Thanks

    • purnasrinivas profile image

      purnasrinivas 

      5 years ago from Bangalore

      A nice hub,

      Many of our day to day activities seem to be uninteresting to us. As described we should attain a flow state to cherish those activities.

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