My challenge to you is to find and incorporate more activity that induces flow in your life. You'll be happier, more productive, and have more energy. By the end of this post, you will learn what flow is, and how you can get into it.
I am a firm believer of pushing your limits. Broadening your horizons, failing at the margins of your own experience. One of the most satisfying feelings in the world is reaching a higher level of awareness or capability. Achieving something you felt was previously impossible gives me a real kick in the ass and actually helps me to work harder. If we don't venture to the outer limits of our abilities we never really know where our greatest potential lies.
I feel like I am always looking for the next new thing I can take on or learn about. Maybe it's fishing or hunting, maybe it's starting a business, maybe raising chickens. Whatever it is, I just know that I love doing new shit. I feel like I'm cooped up and dying a slow death if I'm not engaging in some novel activity or experience.
Other than keeping me sane, there is a myriad of additional benefits to constantly pushing my limits, learning new skills, and taking on new challenges. Out of those benefits I'd like to focus on the topic of the day: FLOW.
What is flow?
A flow state is an optimal state of consciousness where we feel and perform our best. It's also called being in "the zone". It's where you are totally and utterly focused on the task at hand and are not distracted by the ever-present voice of your ego or other environmental distractions. So what does a flow state look or feel like?
University of Chicago Psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, outlined the 8 characteristics of the flow state in his book, “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.”
- Complete concentration on a task
- Clarity of goals, immediate feedback, and a reward in mind
- Transformation of time (speeding up or slowing down of time)
- Intrinsically rewarding experience – an end in-and-of itself
- Effortlessness and ease
- Balance between challenge and skills
- Actions merge with awareness — a loss of self-conscious rumination
- Feelings of control over the task
So those are the defining characteristics of a flow state. Loss of self conscious rumination is an interesting one. This is due to a physiological reaction called transient hypofrontality. When your prefrontal cortex dials back it's activity you get transient hypofrontality. The prefrontal cortex is where our ego lives, the part of your brain that judges and evaluates everything you're doing. This process allows you to experiment and discover new ways of accomplishing tasks without the inner critic passing judgement, pulling you out of the zone.
How do you reach a flow state?
A flow state can be reached when presented with a situation or activity that provides the right amount of challenge for the persons ability. Snowboarding too difficult of a run for a beginner will leave the boarder frustrated and possibly frightened, not allowing the right mix of neurochemicals to be released. The flow state appears in the not too much, or too little range of difficulty.
Here are some "side-effects" of flow:
- Increased creativity (reports of 500-700% increases)
- Increased productivity
- Transformation of time (sped up or slowed down)
- Accelerated learning (Military snipers in flow state learned 200-500% faster while in flow)
- Better sleep
- Increased happiness
I would have to say that these seem to be almost unbelievable increases. The crazy thing is, it's a real state we can all tap into. It's just finding the activity that allows you to drop into flow.
Personally I've used multiple different activities to engage a flow state. Something as simple as learning how to juggle triggered a flow state for me. I was intensely focused on learning the proper timing and movement patterns and it led me right into flow. I wasn't worried about what I looked like or judging myself, just focused on learning.
I've used snowboarding, wakeboarding, longboarding, exercise, slack lining, and my personal favorite, trail running in rough terrain to get into flow.
Find some activities you find intrinsically rewarding that challenge your current ability and it's fairly likely you'll drop you into a flow state. There are so many ways to do it, you just have to find the right mix of challenge and ability.
My challenge to you is to find and incorporate more activity that induces flow in your life. You'll be happier, more productive, and have more energy.