Finding your flow

I’m endlessly fascinated by the concept of “flow”. I’ve written about this topic before, drawing from the works of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Daniel Goleman. However, a new TED video has led me to revisit the idea with fresh eyes. The animation not only enhances its attractiveness but also simplifies the concept significantly.

Moreover, you can also find a few useful strategies for finding your flow here.

What is “flow”?

Imagine being so engrossed in something you love doing that time slips away, and you even forget that meals exist, until your stomach stages a protest. That’s what we call – flow. It’s like being in your own world where you’re super focused, having a blast, and feeling totally fulfilled.

Flow is a state of complete absorption in an activity. I experience it when I’m building something I love or caught up in spontaneous writing. We’ve all had those times, right?

This educational TED video says –

Flow also tends to diminish feelings of worry or self-judgment, in turn fostering creativity. And people report experiencing a sense of oneness with what they’re doing, allowing for peak performance.

Do watch, it is less than 5 mins.

Why is flow important

Here are three important reasons why you would want to achieve a flow state.

  1. You produce your best work in flow: Research connects it to improved productivity, better learning, and academic success. It’s like having secret superpower for nailing tasks – because when you’re having a blast, you’re totally winning the game.
  2. Flow makes you happy: People who find themselves in the flow regularly tend to feel happier, more creative, and accomplished.
  3. Flow during tough times: Flow isn’t just for the good days; it’s uplifting during the bad ones too. Organizational psychologist Adam Grant shared how it made a difference in finding happiness during the pandemic’s languishing. Grant emphasizes – “In the early days of the pandemic, researchers found that the best predictor of well-being was not optimism. It was flow.”

How to find your flow

The million-dollar question is this: Can we actually unlock the flow state by following a roadmap? While there’s no one-size-fits-all recipe, there are a handful of strategies that can help you finding your flow.

Flow: Challenge Vs Skills.
Flow: Challenge Vs Skills. (PC: Instagram. Creator unknown)
  • Start by diving into an activity you’re genuinely passionate about and find/create a place of zero distractions. Seek out tasks that light up your internal motivation, ones that hold meaning, purpose, or pure joy for you. Richard Feynman enjoyed his flow in painting the office walls.¯\_(ツ)_/¯
  • The challenge of the task/activity should slightly exceed your current skill level. If it’s below your skill level, you’ll get bored. If it greatly exceeds your current skills, you’ll find it overwhelming or stressful. Matching your skill level with the challenge of the activity is key to finding your flow (see the accompanying ‘Challenge Vs Skills.’ image).
  • Having enough autonomy/freedom while tackling a task is absolutely vital. It’s not just about enriching your flow experience, but also about developing mastery in your craft. This autonomy empowers you to take your skills to the next level, preparing for even more challenging tasks.
  • As you take on challenging tasks, a feeling of progress is essential. The “flow” activities should have clear goals and offer feedback on your step-by-step progress. (This is why even games of chance are so addictive – they deliver instant feedback for heightened engagement.)
  • Spicing up activities with novelty and a touch of complexity can work wonders for boosting enjoyment, paving the way for you to achieve a state of flow. After all, doing the same old thing on repeat gets pretty boring soon.

22 flow triggers by Steven Kotler

Here is another interesting video by entrepreneur and author, Steven Kotler. According to Kotler, there are 22 flow triggers — some of them are environmental, while others are personal. Environmental triggers are factors in your surroundings that can help you enter a flow state, such as having autonomy, having clear goals and feedback, or working on a challenging but achievable task. Personal triggers are factors within yourself that can help you enter a flow state, such as being passionate about what you’re doing, having a purpose, and being willing to take risks. Together, these factor can help you enter a flow state.

Do listen to his ideas in this ~7 minutes video.

And if you’re intrigued, Kotler also appears in this 90+ minute episode where he delves into “flow” deeper.

Let it flow, naturally…

Here’s the twist: obsessing over finding flow could actually keep it out of reach. Don’t try too hard to get in the zone; instead, flow into it naturally. 🙂

By the way, if you haven’t already heard about it, this book covers Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s seminal work – definitely worth checking out!

Featured Image and other illustration:

The featured image used in this article is my own click of Davki river in Meghalaya, India. The ‘Challenge-Abilities’ illustration is from Instagram (creator unknown).  I’m using all these images here with gratitude.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.