Have you ever lost yourself in an activity? Have you been so focused and energized by what you are doing that you are blissfully content? And, being so engaged to the point that you can’t and don’t think of other things and lose track of time? If so, you might have been in the zone or experiencing what experts call a “flow state.”

That feeling of flow, of just doing, losing track of time, putting your worries aside for a while, being focused and energized, and not having your mind wandering to other things is pretty amazing. And it has some other great benefits as well.

What is Flow

Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi began researching this state in the 1970s. He was interested in artists who got lost in their work and came up with the theory of Flow. His research showed that more time spent in flow can make our life experiences happier and make us more successful. If we are in flow, we can have a more positive experience and even perform better.

He found that Flow gives us a sense of being completely involved in what we are doing, makes us feel happier and have feelings of enjoyment, gives us clarity, provides a sense of serenity, and makes us feel like the activity is doable. And since flow is its own reward, the motivation comes from within. Finally, while we are in Flow, we are totally focused on the present, and the time flies.

How Do We Find Flow

Flow is pretty awesome! So how do we find it? According to Csikszentmihalyi, there are three essential elements:

First, you have to be challenged. Flow comes with activities where there is personal development and growth. We must be doing things that challenge us and push us a little out of our comfort zone.

Second, we have to have clear goals and progress. When we are in the flow state, we are working to master what we are doing.

Finally, the activity provides immediate feedback. When doing this, we have a great feeling that we are capable of learning and growing.

So flow requires engagement and action. You are not just a bystander enjoying a relaxing moment! You have a sense of personal control and agency over your actions. You lose your sense of self-consciousness and self-judgment.

In flow, you feel inspired but not overwhelmed. It is all about balance too. Finding the sweet spot. Too much challenge, and we will walk away frustrated, not seeing progress, and stressed with negative feedback. Too little challenge and we will get bored, have no meaningful progress, and little feedback.

This sounds amazing. I want more flow!

What activities get you in the Zone

What kinds of things might get you in this flow state? Well, the activity is different for everyone.

According to the Deliberate Practice Theory of Anders Ericsson, psychology professor, you can actively look for ways to add more flow to your life.

First, pick an activity that will challenge you. It has to be something a little difficult for you. It will usually not be something you routinely do or a task. But, If there is something you think you can find flow in that you do routinely, try to do it a little differently. Try to do it deliberately, with intention and focus on the parts of the task. Don’t just go thru the motions. 

Next, find something that you already have some experience with. It is hard to find flow when you are first learning to do something, and you must be taught or constantly googling or U-tubing a how-to video. However, please don’t let this stop you from trying new things. Trying new things and learning has its own rewards and, with time, might be your flow thing.

Also, look for something you can do in a rich environment, like nature or a creative space, without a lot of distractions.

Find something that YOU will be motivated to do.  Flow requires your motivation coming from within you. It’s not likely that you will feel that zone feeling if someone else is requiring you to do something. 

For some people, it’s sports like running, hiking, or biking, etc. For others, it’s cooking, organizing things, playing music, painting or sketching, or writing.  Artists can often get in the zone when deeply engaged in their work and even have a name for the feeling, “the Muse.”  Some people (definitely not everyone) can get into a flow state in the workplace.  It all counts as long as it gets you to that place where you lose track of time and have positive energy, focus, and contentment. 

One activity that gets me in flow is skiing. I’m not a great skier, and it is challenging, but I am past that learning stage. And when I’m out there, I am in nature, on my own time, in my own world, and I feel like I am flying and hours go by. When I hike in nature, I feel the same way. I might add gardening to my list.  And I have done a bit of sketching, which can also get me there.  

But when I walk for exercise, I think a lot, problem-solve, plan, and listen to music or podcasts, so I would not say I’m in the zone. Now golf, I am just learning to golf, and my mind wanders. I check my phone, I check my watch, I chat, and I am often frustrated. It’s not my zone, but golf may be the ticket for others. 

Pick something you can feel a real connection to and find fulfilling. Ask yourself what you would like to spend time doing if you had all the time in the world. What excites you when you think about it? What are you curious about? Is it art or some creative discipline, moving your body in dance or sports, growing things, being in nature, etc…   You will know it when you feel it!

What brings you to that flow state? 

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