Have you ever found yourself completely absorbed in a project or creative activity; so much so that you lose sense of anything but what you are doing and time seems to fly? If you have, you have experienced what professor and author Mihály Csíkszentmihályi describes as the state of FLOW. In his book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Professor Csíkszentmihályi explains that people are most happy when they are in a state of concentration or complete absorption with the activity, or situation, at hand.
When people refer to being “in the zone” that is exactly the same thing as the state of flow. But, stressed and distracted as we are, feelings of total and happy immersion in what we are doing often pass us by. Shame.
Read on to discover how flow works and find out how you can enter the contented state of fluid accomplishment…
Goals & Destinations
The key to productivity in the state of flow is to use direction, planning and action. First, know where you want to go. What is it that you are trying to do? Do you have a defined outcome? If not, then set one now. Note down your intentions on a piece of paper, then close you eyes for a moment and get your mind actively involved, use you imagination to see what you want to do and help you conjure some enthusiasm and motivation.
Any task can be thought of as a journey, and taking a few moments to mentally set your destination is a huge help in getting there faster and with ease. “If you don’t know where you’re going, don’t be surprised if you don’t get anywhere.”
Check Your Map Along the Way
Keep checking in with yourself as you set out and start making progress. Ask yourself “where am I with this?” It’s easy to get distracted and blown off course when working on any task or project, by asking yourself questions and reminding yourself of the destination you set in the beginning you can keep yourself on track and making progress.
Ask yourself if what you are doing is getting you closer to completion. If you’re answer is yes, do more. If what you are doing is not getting you nearer to your goal, it’s either not working, or it’s a distraction, in which case it’s time to do less, or do something different.
Einstein defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Don’t be afraid to change course if something isn’t working out. Taking the odd wrong turn on a journey is only a minor problem, so long as you notice, turn around and carry on in the right direction again.
Asking questions about your progress keeps you focused and flexible.
The state of flow is a very comfortable and productive place to be. We naturally enter that state when our skills and the task at hand are well balanced. If we feel the task is beyond our level of ability we may feel challenged and uncertain. But if our skills are much greater than required to get the task done, we can easily become bored and lose interest.
The stream of flow occurs where tasks and skills are easily matched, this is where we can work at our best, we can remain interested, enthusiastic and productive and we can upgrade our skills as we push the task closer to completion.
[Diagram: the state of flow occurs when our skill is equal to the task]
So how can we get in flow? We can learn to use one side of the equation to push the envelope of the other. For example: if the task is beyond our skills, we can upgrade our skills so that we can meet the requirements of the task, or if our skills are already advanced beyond what is required to get the task done, we can upgrade the task to something a bit more challenging.
By noticing how well we are matched to any given task we can constantly change and improve the way we work.
Challenge Yourself: Instead of just getting the job done, try applying your full abilities to what you do and see how efficiently, creatively, or quickly you can get things done. This principle of personal challenge is a powerful self-development tool in increasing efficiency, ability and self-confidence.
Focus Leads to Effortless Involvement and True FLOW
When you become absorbed by keeping yourself challenged and motivated it feels as if things almost begin to happen by them-self. You go beyond trying into the state of effortless doing. Now you are productive, yet freed up at the same time. You are working at your best, relaxed and aware and open to resources and opportunities.
At this level of effortless action, you lose your sense of self and become completely absorbed in what you are doing and time seems to fly by. And that is how you know that you have entered the true state of FLOW.
Bee photo by tanakawho
About the Author: Ananga Sivyer is the editor of Living by Design and the life coach behind Inner Calm Audio, she is also the author of the EFT workbook The Art & Science of Emotional Freedom. Get more from Ananga on Facebook or Twitter.
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