The state of flow is an uncanny occurrence that has been examined and pursued by the world’s greatest minds of science, art, and physical performers. Athletes refer to this state as being in “the zone” and accredit their performance of a lifetime to being in this enhanced mental state. While achieving flow state takes practice, nootropics like FOCUS can help get you there.
In the following article, we will explore the experience and dynamics of the flow state to serve as a reference for all your future forays into this auspicious state of mind.
What is The Flow State?
Spiritualists and religious people call this mental state spiritual ecstasy and recount a touch of the divine during meditative practices like chanting or dancing. Artists and professionals of all types have also experienced an “aesthetic rapture” during periods of undisturbed performance where an activity becomes so engaging that awareness of anything beyond the activity is diminished.1
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is a leading psychologist and researcher on the subject of flow. According to him, some of the happiest times of our lives are not when enjoying rewards or even feeling healthy and serene, but when we are engaged in an activity that we love for its own sake and nothing more.2
This sort of intrinsic motivation lies at the very core of the state of flow and allows happiness to be cultivated from within, rather than delivered from an exterior factor. The happiness that is enjoyed is powerfully attractive because of this personal connection to an activity which can be nurtured and explored infinitely.
What Does it Feel Like to be in the Flow State?
The experience of flow or being in the zone is subjective. Much of the specifics of what is being felt is determined by the type of activity being practiced as well as the individuality of the doer. While all who enter the flow state will experience a complete absorption into the activity, the extent of this absorption can vary greatly.
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For example, most experts will warn about hunger when trying to achieve the state of flow, because this especially strong signal can snap the attention from effortless progress.
Nevertheless, veterans of the zone like Isaac Newton writing the Principia Mathematica have been known to go days without eating.3 This level of absorption obviously came with intense practice and learned application.
The intensified absorption into the task at hand allows for a highly increased perspective and sudden influx of creativity that works to exclude whatever is not directly related to the activity and final goal, including regular thought processes.
Many athletes and performers could not even recall what they were thinking when looking back on the state of flow. Actions are completed beyond conscious thought due to muscle memory and highly refined skills meeting a worthy challenge.
During his lifetime’s research into human happiness and the state of flow, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi identified 8 of the most common characteristics of the flow state. This is not to say there are not others or that all of these will be present in every state of flow. However, these do provide a good frame of reference for gauging the personal experience.
8 Characteristics of Flow
Concentration and a total lack of distractions are essential. Even the thought of extrinsic rewards for a job well done can serve as a distraction. As long as you choose a fitting activity, it should already be rewarding. Focus can be built in quickly leading to full absorption into the task.
Know the Final Goal and Get Feedback
Having clearly defined ideas of what the end goal is and what the final product will look like provides structure to the task and limits stress. This also allows every action taken to be aligned to a single outcome. Feedback is also vital so that you can constantly realign your methods to meet the needs of a goal. This greatly refines the efficiency of the process.
A Sense of Timelessness
Time itself can vanish from the awareness as the conscious mind is given a needed break from most executive action. In this state of timelessness, it may seem that actions are being performed by themselves and that future outcomes are being fully perceived.
The state of flow can be considered the highest form of intrinsic motivation and allows greater ingenuity and creativity to be applied. Extrinsic motivators compel people to seek out the easiest way to accomplish a task and collect a reward.
Intrinsic motivation comes from a personal desire to engage in a specific behavior or activity and compels us to seek out the best possible solutions for personal satisfaction nothing more.
Effortlessness and Ease
You have undoubtedly felt this experience yourself in a moment of intense engagement in a specific activity. Perhaps you were playing your favorite sport, perfecting an instrument, or even studying a particularly fascinating topic. Despite the passing time and considerable efforts being made, your energy reserves remain powerful long past quitting time.
Challenge Versus Skill Balance
Csikszentmihalyi consistently emphasizes the importance of correctly matching challenge to the skill of the performer. If a task is too challenging, the performer will be frustrated and stressed out because of fear the goal may be completely unattainable. On the contra, an easy task will make the performer bored. This is an important point to keep in mind when setting goals and process plans.
In the state of flow, mental and physical functions are optimized to improve their efficiency. Through a deeper absorption into and activity, the awareness of the self is relinquished and the barriers between the doer and the deed vanish. Actions seem to fall in place as planned without the intervention of the conscious mind.
Have a Deep Connection
The culmination of the flow is a sensation of being in complete control over the task and the outcome. As the sheer enjoyment of the project flows through the awareness, it is far easier to envision the final goal and feel satisfied along with each step closer to completion. Some even report a clear awareness of how the task will develop and what the outcome will be, otherwise known as clairvoyance.4
According to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, it is the autotelic personality type that will ultimately enjoy the state of flow the most. Why? Because the autotelic individual tends to seek out activities for their own sake. These are also the people who find enjoyment in anything they do, have a greater interest in life, and a particularly low level of self-centeredness.
This personality type can be nurtured in anyone through setting goals, trying new things and cultivating the state of flow.
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