Back to Blog

The flow state - what is it and how do we achieve this superpower?

Simon Labahn

So what is this ‘flow state’?

A flow state is that sense of fluidity between body and mind, that feeling of complete internal focus, distraction free consciousness, completely present in the moment where you feel entirely immersed into the activity at hand. 

Some of the easiest ways to describe this feeling involve performing an intense physical activity such as extreme sports, creating music or even playing competitive chess. In this state we enjoy calm, tunnel vision with heightened awareness of the task at hand, whilst unconcerned of the surroundings outside of the task. 

The term “flow” was coined by Dr Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in the 1960s. In his book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, he describes it as a ‘highly focused mental state which facilitates productivity’. In his research, Dr Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi found that there was no correlation between money and happiness. Instead, the human brain is at its happiest when engaged in the meaningful pursuit of a goal.

“The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”

woman writing on paper inside well-lit room

The specific task that you are focused on can be anything, be it playing sports, coding, designing, writing, reading, learning a new language or even just walking and listening to music. This flow state is even relevant in mundane tasks such as cleaning your house! 

“Contrary to what we usually believe, moments like these, the best moments in our lives, are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times…. The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile”. 

Flow matters because of the control it gives you. Instead of reacting to external events and stimuli, you take an active role in your life, from the most mundane moments to the most critical.

When you achieve flow, you achieve the holy grail of productivity: intense, laser-focused single-tasking, but that’s just the beginning. Where you go from there is the creation of a more meaningful existence, of making an impact that’s beyond just you, your locus of control expanding as you gain possession of your own life.

person playing piano

How to get into a flow state

  1. Make sure you aren’t hungry
  • We have been shown that if we are hungry our body is craving energy, which stops a person from being fully focused. 
  • As Chris Bailey from A Life of Productivity puts it in his exploration of the effects of food on productivity: “When you eat anything processed, the oil refinery in your stomach converts it into a heap of glucose that stores your brain all at once, which causes your energy levels to rollercoaster.”
  • Also the type of food is important. Non-processed foods with certain nutrients will really help to improve focus, such as omega 3, which is found in oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and soybeans and nuts. Studies have shown that people with high levels of omega-3s had increased blood flow in the brain. The researchers also identified a connection between omega-3 levels and better cognition, or thinking abilities. 
  1. Create an environment free of distractions and just do one thing at a time
  • The key is blocking both digital and real-world distractions, whether that’s stopping Facebook and WhatsApp notifications coming through on your mobile or putting noise cancelling headphones on to cut out the din of your co-working space.
  • Single tasking is critical in allowing yourself to be fully consumed and fully immersed in the experience. When we think we are multitasking, we are actually just doing lots of small tasks one at a time. True flow, problem solving and creativity comes from sitting with one idea or problem for a substantial period of time. 
  • Tools such as Spotlight that can help you manage both inbound notifications and your access to distracting websites and applications across all your devices, allowing you to focus on what matters!
  1. Define your goal and have an end in mind
  • Knowing there is a finish line is a good way to stay focused for extended periods. Motivation can be fleeting but the discipline to continue to move towards your goal will keep you going.  
  • If the task is big, plan to break it up in smaller chunks and take stock each time you reach a milestone on the way to your goal. 
  • A popular method is the well known Pomodoro technique but there are other time management techniques that incorporate work and regular intervals to enhance a focus in order to achieve flow state. You can research some of those further here
  • Productivity author John Zeratsky, Make Time, has a one key hack called a Highlight, which is to define the One Thing that you want to work on each day.  
  1. Get sufficient high-quality sleep
  • In a similar way to hunger above, being tired and fatigued through lack of sleep can also reduce your cognitive ability, making it much harder to achieve and sustain flow. 
  • Most adults need between 6 to 9 hours of sleep per night. By working out what you need through experimenting, you can set a regular bedtime schedule. Also setting both a morning and night-time routine can be very beneficial to sustaining this indefinitely. 
  1. Find the right balance in your tasks 
  • In order to achieve flow state, you need the right balance between the challenge of the activity and your skill level. The higher the synergy between these two, the more likely you are to achieve flow state. If the challenge is either too low or high it will be difficult to fully achieve flow state. 
  • A key way to find the right balance is to start measuring the amount of time it takes to complete certain tasks and journal the difficulty. Over a period of time you will have a clearer understanding of future tasks that will be within that optimal balance between task and difficulty level. 

Work/Life Balance

During this COVID period, as people are working remotely there has been a real blurring of lines between work and play,  

“Ironically, jobs are actually easier to enjoy than free time, because like flow activities they have built-in goals, feedback, rules, and challenges, all of which encourage one to become involved in one’s work, to concentrate and lose oneself in it.

 Free time, on the other hand, is unstructured, and requires much greater effort to be shaped into something that can be enjoyed” 

The flow state might sound mythical, but with the right environment and mindset, it is something that can be achieved and relied on consistently. These 5 steps should help you on your journey, but equally you may find other methods that work best for your way of working. We hope you enjoy your new found focus, whether you use it to be more productive, achieve your goals, or be the most creative person in the room.   

Share on social media: 

More from the Blog

7 Tips For A Smooth Transition Back To The Office

You've just got the email saying the team is returning to the office, what now?

Read Story

Why do I struggle to stick to new habits?

It's easy to start a habit, how do we stick to them?

Read Story

Start creating space in your digital environment