What is the Flow State?

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Have you ever felt so immersed in an activity, it was as if the rest of the world simply faded away, and the only mattered was the task you were doing? If so, you may have been experiencing what’s known as the flow state. This unique state of mind is a concept that is found in ancient philosophies like Stoicism and Taoism but has now been adopted by performers looking to gain an edge in their lives. 

The flow state was first studied by psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi in the 1970s. In his studies of renaissance painters like Michaelangelo, he became fascinated with the fact that these artists were able to enter a trance-like state which allowed them to achieve laser focus on their works of art. Csíkszentmihályi described the phenomenon as “being so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”

Knowing you’ve entered the flow state requires you to take note of a handful of factors that accompany the experience. Csíkszentmihályi identifies ten components that may come with entering the flow state. It is important to note that it is not necessary to experience all of them. 

  1. Having a desire to accomplish goals 
  2. Extreme concentration 
  3. Participating in the activity you find to be intrinsically rewarding 
  4. Feelings of self-consciousness evaporate 
  5. Lose track of time 
  6. Physical needs are temporarily forgotten 
  7. A strong sense of self-control over the situation
  8. Understanding that your skills align with the task at hand 
  9. Feedback is readily available to judge your progress 
  10. Focus is strong and unwavering

Entering the flow state is only possible when you take on challenges with the right level of difficulty and the proper level of skill required to complete the task. To achieve this, Csíkszentmihályi detailed three necessary components required to enter the flow state:

  1. The task at hand must have a clear structure, with a set of tasks and goals to accompany it.
  2. You must have a source of feedback for the task, allowing you to measure the nature of the task, and implement adjustments to improve performance.
  3. The level of skill required vs. the difficulty of the task must be in balance. 

The flow state experience can vary for different people. Some may experience flow state while participating in physical activities such as running, dancing, skiing, or tennis. The flow state, also known as The Zone in basketball, is used by elite athletes to zero in and focus on the game at hand, especially during free throws. Other instances of athletes using flow state include powerlifters gearing up to perform a major lift, or a quarterback dropping back in the pocket and reading the field to complete a pass. 

Flow state can also be experienced during activities like painting, writing, drawing, or designing. Many of the top artists in the world have claimed to tap into the flow state in order to devote utter focus to their works of art. Creativity and the flow state go hand-in-hand with each other and have been the driving force behind many of the world’s most artistic creations. 

Tapping into the mind’s potential that flow state brings can have incredible benefits to your overall performance in your daily life. Reduced to its simplest terms, the flow state is the idea of practicing mindfulness to the highest degree, and in a world filled with endless distractions, it could become a powerful tool for success. 

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