State of flow – what is it really?
So what exactly is the flow state? It occurs when the activity you are doing absorbs you so much that you lose track of time and completely immerse yourself in what you are doing.
Flow state can be achieved through physical activities such as mountain climbing, jogging or swimming. It is also often assigned to activities related to creativity – then flow it is also referred to as creative fever. You’ve probably heard of painters, musicians or writers who became so absorbed in their work that they were able to stay in their studio or writing room for several days. The state of flow is very often placed in a creative context. No wonder that it was artists who inspired the populariser of flow theory.
Flow state – the genesis of the theory
This unusual state, which can be compared to a trance, was investigated by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, an American psychologist of Hungarian origin. The theory describing the state of flow began to develop in his head during research conducted with Jacob Getzels in the 1960s. At that time, the two researchers focused on observing creative processes. Csíkszentmihályi was fascinated by how artists could be focused on their work. How they strove towards the goal of completing the work, regardless of such inconveniences as fatigue or hunger.
10 elements accompanying flow
During his research, Mihály Csíkszentmihályi distinguished factors that usually accompany the state of flow, and the occurrence of which increases the probability of achieving it.
- The activity undertaken is satisfying.
- There are clear goals that, while clearly challenging, are still achievable.
- Complete focus on the activity.
- A sense of control over the situation and the effect of actions.
- Feeling of peace and loss of ego.
- Receiving immediate feedback – the effect is visible immediately, during the action. This is especially clearly felt in sports, when playing the ball immediately brings information about the effectiveness of our actions.
- The task being performed is achievable and there is a good balance between the skill and the challenge facing the actor.
- Experiencing a lack of concern for your own physical needs.
- Strong concentration and focus on the task.
- No sense of time. The flow person is unable to say how long it took them to complete the task.
Of course, all these elements do not have to be present in order to enter the flow state.
How can we achieve the flow state?
If you want to achieve the flow state , you should raise the bar of your goal to be at the limit of your ability. The challenges you undertake should be at the top level of your skills: if the bar is set too low, you will be bored, if it is too high, you can feel anxiety and stress. The flow state often occurs when the body and brain are pushed to the limit, to respond to the challenges they set for themselves.
So, how can we get into the flow state? The first and second steps in this direction are clearly setting a goal and following the principle of altius citius fortius – higher, faster, stronger – that is, each time trying to do a given task better.
Coaches, trainers and psychologists also suggest that it is easier to enter the state of flow when disturbances and disruptive stimuli from the environment are eliminated. In practice, this means that if you want to stimulate the brain to learn , it is worth gathering notes, books, a computer, coloured pens and sheets of paper around you so as not to waste time looking for them.
The elimination of stimuli from the environment also means:
- Turning off websites and programs unnecessary for the task at this point (oh, how suddenly Facebook and the browser tempt).
- Turning on background music or white noise to remove background noises.
- Tidying up the study space.
- Finding a place where other people’s movements are not distracting.
When you eliminate distractors, it will be easier to achieve the state of flow, although it certainly won’t come right away. Fortunately, there are also exercises to help you get flow. Some of them can be found in the following paragraphs.
Flow state – exercises
Steven Kotler, an American author who became interested in the phenomenon of flow, has grouped certain stimuli, triggers that can also be treated as flow exercises, helping to achieve this state:
- Look for positive interactions in a group; a positive approach builds a sense of community, and then it is easier to focus on a common goal.
- If you do not feel strong enough to cope with the task – train – this will allow you to achieve the confidence needed to enter the flow state.
- Listen, get involved and give your companions your full attention.
- Try to think outside the box, approach problems from outside the box, try new solutions.
- Take risks with confidence in your success. Successful problem-solving builds self-confidence, allowing you to believe in your abilities.
- Immerse yourself in a situation that requires you to get out of your comfort zone. This will force you to look at the problem, or the task from a completely different perspective, one previously unavailable.
- Take up challenges that have serious consequences. Go beyond your limits. Try to force yourself to do things that until now seemed impossible to you. For one person, it may be running a marathon, and for another, speaking at a company meeting.
- Go for a walk, immerse yourself in the natural world and practice mindfulness.
How can we stimulate the brain to learn?
Can entering the flow state become a basis for effective learning? Of course it can, but for most people it can be difficult to achieve flow. This does not mean that you cannot stimulate the brain to learn in any other way.
During mental activity related to study or creativity, time is usually divided into periods of work and short breaks. How long the work or study takes, and how long a break is, is an individual matter. In SuperMemo courses, there is a special system of spaced repetition, which, thanks to the algorithm, calculates the individual frequency of repetitions for each student, as well as the time they should spend learning.
So, if, despite your efforts, you are not able to enter the flow state, it does not mean that you cannot absorb knowledge in another, more classic mode. Stimulate your brain to learn by:
- proper organisation of work,
- mind mapping,
- creating a to-do list,
- organising your work into blocks (if you fail to enter the flow state, breaks will have a beneficial effect on learning),
- elimination of distractions (this element is important both in the pursuit of flow and in everyday learning, which does not necessarily have much in common with a trance state).
Remember not to get discouraged if the flow state does not come, despite your best efforts – it is undoubtedly a unique reward, but it is not a necessary element of your success.