The state of flow, or being “in the zone”, is a state of peak performance.
Ever have a moment—perhaps while writing, designing, or werkin that job just smashin goals—where you're so focused on the tasks that the world around you disappears and you're perfectly focused? It feels like you're on autopilot. Nothing can go wrong. Work comes naturally with no friction. No effort.
Athletes call it "being in the zone." Artists call it "the muse." Psychologists today have given it an official name: Flow.
First proposed by positive psychologist Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi in the 70s, flow is the mental state where we are "so immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity that we lose sense of space and time." Or as Steven Kotler describes it in Rise of the Superman, flow is where "every action, each decision, leads effortlessly, fluidly, seamlessly to the next. It’s high-speed problem solving; it’s being swept away by the river of ultimate performance."
Sounds like a dream. But like any reverie, the moment you recognize being IN FLOW, its blissful sensation begins to dissolve and the world around you, complete with its distractions (emails, texts, phone calls, kids, pets, mimosas lol), comes rushing back into our heads allowing you to feel possibly ‘out of flow’.
Research suggests that if you can cultivate the flow in your daily life, the benefits don’t just stop at job performance — the flow state of mind also contributes to health and well-being. But as soon as we try to bottle up the feeling and carry it into less appealing tasks, it seems to elude us. Rather than getting in the flow, we end up disengaged and working harder than ever on work we just don’t appreciate.
Thankfully, cutting-edge psychological research can help us cultivate flow when we’re elbow-deep in work we think we don’t want to do or are too tired to do. As I am sure you know, when facing difficult tasks (even something as simple as I do not want to work out), we can experience meaning, move through challenges, and embrace productivity which is known to ease stress.
In flow psychology offers an alternative to the daily grind: a way of working that is easier, more effective, and more enjoyable. Csikszentmihalyi says, “An autotelic activity is one we do for its own sake because to experience it is the main goal.” The science of getting IN FLOW.
Getting into an autotelic state has the power to transform your work — and your life. Not only does it allow you to derive a strong sense of meaning and pleasure from your work, it heightens your abilities to “superhero” levels.
Steven Kotler, who wrote the book “The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance,” credits increased performance to a mix of five neurochemicals the brain releases during this state: norepinephrine, dopamine, endorphins, anandamide, and serotonin.
Kotler summarizes their impact in Harvard Business Review:
“Motivationally, these five chemicals are the biggest rewards the brain can produce, and flow is one of the only times the brain produces all five simultaneously. This makes the state one of the most pleasurable, meaningful and — literally — addictive experiences available.”
In the flow state, you exhibit increased brain function. It’s easier for you to process data and it leads to deeper thinking, which is vital in the midst of information overload.
A study by McKinsey & Company points to the practical effects of these changes in the workplace. Executives in a state of flow are five times more productive than their counterparts. On a smaller scale, their research suggests that if you increase your time in the flow by 15 to 20 percent, you can double productivity.
Kotler’s work also suggests that the flow state of mind has enormous health benefits. Specifically, this mindset amplifies the immune system, flushing out stress-causing hormones and promoting personal well-being. Csikszentmihalyi traces the flow back to Taoism — like many Eastern spiritual practices, this approach nurtures deep engagement, contentment, and joy.
There’s no magic bullet for amazing work, but the flow state is every person’s best chance of reaching peak levels of performance and fulfillment in all areas of life. Although it may seem as elusive as enlightenment, you can get into the flow by developing a new perspective on daily life & work. It is mindset, mindset, mindset … my favorite topic out there.
When everything is going right, you’re going with the flow. When everything is not going right, you’re trying to go against it. We all know that it’s useless to swim upstream. So instead of feeling frustrated and being too hard on yourself, take it easy. I have been the last few weeks of March.
It’s a waste of time and energy if you try to go upstream. If you’re unproductive for a while, it’s not the end of the world. It happens to the most productive people I know.
So if you’re feeling unproductive; make use of it! Have that ice cream. Sleep in. Don’t work out. Relax a little. Before you know it, you’ll want to get back to your productive routines. Being unproductive for too long sucks & if you are stuck for too long phone a friend … or Me!! I will nudge you right back IN FLOW.
I’ve learned that looking back is only good for one reason: To learn. If you’re off track, it’s the perfect time to look back. Think of a moment you were in a powerful state of mind. A time when everything went well. And try to be very specific. Look at your past, and try to remember something similar. It can be anything. The day your child was born, when you got your degree, a raise, a new car, or asked your spouse to marry you, etc.
Now, sit down, and picture that moment vividly. What were you wearing, what fragrance did you have on, what was your body language? Try to be as specific as you can.
If you do that several times a day, you will notice that you start feeling that way again.
Feeling good is all in our mind. Within an instant, and without a specific reason, you can go from sad to happy, and from timid to powerful.
You have the power to control your mind. So why not use it?
“Sometimes, things may not go your way, but the effort should be there every single night.” Said Michael Jordan about playing professional basketball. The NBA is one of the longest competitions in the world. Their regular season takes six months and 82 games. That’s excluding the playoffs. It amazes me as I watch my home team, Philly Sixers, crush their game, putting in extreme effort through these last regular season games to make the playoffs.
In basketball, many different factors influence the outcome of a game. Your best player can be killing it the first few minutes but not see play time until the late second quarter. The refs might miss certain calls. You name it.
NBA teams, regardless of how good they are, will lose multiple games during a season. And it’s easy to allow a loss pull you into a negative spiral. That’s why a lot of teams that lose, keep losing. Like the legendary football coach, Vince Lombardi said, “Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.” I love that mindset. And you win by focusing on your effort, as Michael Jordan said. But when you’re in a rut, it’s easy to focus on your results. You might gain weight, lose money, and not get the results you want at work, but you must never forget one thing: You will get back. But that requires us to focus on our effort. That’s the only thing that brings us back. The results will follow automatically.
“What should I do next?” Is what you should never think to yourself. When you plan your days, you know what you have to do. And it’s very easy:
*Look at your goals (if you don’t have goals, make them up … seriously personal growth people even if you think life is perfect there is always room for growth)
*Think about what daily activities you have to do to achieve them
*Schedule those activities on your calendar
*Schedule time for family, friends, relaxation, reading, etc.
If you think people will call you a control freak, don’t worry. I’ve also met the people who claim they have empty calendars. They’re full of shit. Every happy and well-off person allocates time to their top priorities.
Whether they use their mind to do so or their calendar doesn’t matter.
What matters is that we need to perform the activities that bring us closer to our goals. You can have all the plans and goals in the world, but if you don’t know how you’re going to make them happen AND CHECK BACK WITH IT ALL DAILY, you will get lost.
Dwight Eisenhower said it perfectly:
“Plans are nothing; planning is everything.”
You know exactly what I mean here and I am guilty, guilty, guilty for not doing this step. When I’m working, I put my phone in airplane mode. I close all unnecessary browsers, and I put on headphones. We must be ruthless about shutting down tasks that do not serve the current task - calling a best friend to catch up about the weekend, instagram scroll, what is for dinner, etc. When you’re responding to emails, just respond to emails. When you’re talking to a customer, really talk to the customer.
But being busy does not equate to being productive. Multitasking is the enemy of mastery. Doing less and doing it without interruptions can be the key to being more productive and allowing you to get back in & stay IN FLOW.
Getting in the flow is a lifelong skill that will serve you in every challenge, every environment, and every job. By taking you deeper into the present moment, flow psychology moves you effortlessly forward, both personally and professionally. Unlike other productivity tactics, it promises meaning & happiness — something that should never be underrated or taken for granted. Always sending you light, love & happiness. XOXO Alia