Your mind declutters and the noise of your environment fades away, placing you in a non-distracted zone that creates a sense of uninterrupted fluidity between mind and body.
For those who struggle to concentrate or stay focused, this sounds like heaven.
This is known as the “flow state,” “flow,” or colloquially in sports as “in the zone” or “on a roll.” Surprisingly, you don’t necessarily have to be LeBron James, a super yogi, or a psychology guru to achieve it.
Whether you’re an athlete, an artist, or just a regular person engaged in a simple day-to-day task, with the right know-how, the flow state can be achieved. It may not quite be heaven, but it’s close enough for the easily distracted.
For many of us, focus and concentration have fallen prey to an onslaught of distractions and stimulation, some of which are deliberately engineered to capture our attention. This leaves us with little to no uninterrupted time to focus and concentrate, causing us to feel overwhelmed and helpless.
However, learning how to improve our focus and concentration by getting into the flow could be a silver bullet for the unrelenting distractions.
Characteristics of the Flow
According to psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who recognized and named “flow,” the concept has eight main characteristics:
- Complete concentration on the task.
- A feeling of control over the task.
- Effortlessness and ease.
- Clarity of goals and reward in mind and immediate feedback.
- A balance between challenges and skills.
- The experience is intrinsically rewarding.
- Transformation of time (speeding up/slowing down).
- Actions and awareness are merged, losing self-conscious rumination.
As a result of its positive characteristics, flow has several benefits.
Research conducted by Harvard professor Teresa Amabile revealed that people who have experienced flow report higher levels of productivity and creativity for up to three days. However, these are just two of the many benefits.
The Benefits of Flow Immersion
The benefits of flow are multitudinous. Here is a sampling of how it can benefit you:
The ability to focus deeply minus distractions leads to higher output and quality work. When in a flow state, concentration becomes so laser-focused that everything else seems to fall away.
When in flow, your body and mind are in unison and know what to do without having to consciously think about it.
While in flow, the distracting emotions that usually cloud our minds, such as stress, worry, self-doubt, and lack of confidence, take a back seat.
Improve the Ability to Cope
Emotion regulation, a crucial skill when coping with negative emotions and memories, is directly connected to focus, one of the prerequisites of flow.
Flow directs our focus outward on the task at hand, instead of inward on our worries, fears, and frustrations.
If you know how to tune out negative distractions and focus on solving problems, you’ll get better at handling and moving on from major setbacks.
Flow is said to be one of the most productive and happiest states that humans can be in.
Being fully immersed in a challenging task and feeling at one with it brings a general sense of well-being and a lasting sense of happiness and fulfillment.
Engage in a Positive Experience
The pleasure that comes with being deeply engrossed in something of significant interest or passion is said to result in an intrinsically positive experience.
Because it releases dopamine, flow enhances learning. Dopamine goes beyond providing a temporary high. It also heightens attention and decreases distractions, helping to raise our awareness.
A study ((McKinsey & Company: Increasing the ‘meaning quotient’ of work)) found that top executives who practice getting into the flow report being five times more productive.
Another study done by Harvard Business school reveals that creative teams are more creative and productive even a day after being in the flow.
According to scientists, the flow of our brain waves shifts from the beta waves of concentration to the alpha waves of rest and relaxation and the theta waves that occur during meditation. Theta waves are said to be prerequisites for moments of insight and the gateway to creative genius.
Improve Productivity in the Workplace
Due to its powerful influence, flow can be a major source of inspiration for employees to perform at their peak.
According to scientific research, the average employee switches tasks every three minutes. Due to the resulting “attention residue,” whenever an employee gets distracted, it takes an average of 25 minutes to regain full attention on the task at hand ((Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes: Why is it so hard to do my work? The challenge of attention residue when switching between work tasks)).
Consistently entering a flow state can facilitate employees to increase focus, which will lead to higher productivity and better work. This is music to the ears of not only employers but employees as well as it can ultimately lead to significant advancement in a career.
However, knowing how to improve focus and concentration using flow takes some effort. It is a delicate process that you won’t master by simply reading about it.
With that in mind, here is a breakdown on how to improve focus and concentration by getting into a state of flow.
How to Improve Focus and Concentration by Getting Into Flow
Getting into flow sounds great in theory, but mastering the skill of repeated immersion in flow is not easy.
You won’t achieve a state of flow in every attempt, but you can prime your environment and yourself for flow so that you experience it more often.
1. Have Clear Goals, Outcomes, and Expectations
Your mind will struggle to achieve optimum concentration and focus if you lack clarity about what you want to accomplish.
If there’s no clear outcome, you won’t know exactly when you’re finished with your task. This will breed mind-wandering and procrastination and encourage quitting and switching to easier tasks.
2. Work on One Very Specific Task
Just like the goal, if you lack clarity on exactly what you are going to work on, it will be very difficult to enter a state of flow. You will either switch between multiple tasks too quickly or get distracted much more easily – both are serious detriments to achieving flow.
Multitasking creates a web of distractions that can make it impossible to achieve flow, so try to focus on one important task at a time.
3. Eliminate All Distractions and Avoid Interruptions
Research says external distractions must be eliminated to reach a flow state.((Oxford Handbook of Positive Psychology: “Add Flow to the Fire”: Flow and Hope as a Shield against Burnout of Fire Service Workers))
Each time you get pulled away from your focus, you’ll be taken further away from flow.
It’s vital that you devote all of your concentration and undivided attention to the task at hand. You can only get into flow when you’re able to keep your focus and concentration for at least 10-15 minutes.
External distractions – Turn off your phone, television, other devices, and objects in your work environment that might distract you from the task at hand.
Try to set aside a time and move to a quiet environment that is conducive to “deep work,” where you won’t be interrupted or distracted.
Internal distractions – You’ll also need to eliminate internal distractions. Stress and an overwhelmed mind will make it very hard or even impossible to get into a flow state.
Eliminating all distractions will protect you from being disrupted and allows you to enter a state of deep focus and concentration, which is one of the most important elements of flow.
4. Do Something You Love
The easiest way to get into flow is to do something you love that is intrinsically rewarding. It will satisfy your mind’s craving for something challenging but doable.
5. Identify Your Peak Productive and Creative Times
Identify the times where your mind most naturally functions at peak performance. For many people, the morning after a good night’s sleep is the most productive. Focusing on the day’s main task during these times will make flow easier and more effective.
6. Create a Ritual
Try to create a series of actions that you do every single time you’re about to begin a task that requires you to enter a state of concentration.
This could be anything that helps, such as meditation or stretching. Whatever the activity, it will trigger your brain to get ready for what’s about to begin.
7. Focus on the Process, Not the End Goal
While having goals and a specific task are crucial, getting into the flow also requires enjoying the journey and not just fixating on the outcome.
Try to allow yourself to simply live in the present moment without worrying too much about the end product of your efforts. This will allow the experience to be pleasurable, which will encourage you to do it more often.
Getting into the flow is a powerful practice that can pave a pathway to achievement and personal improvement.
Mastering it is also a great way to learn how to improve focus and concentration, which is essential to achieving goals in life.
However, like every skill, it’s going to take intent and practice to master. We hope these tips will help you to go with the flow and develop the laser-like focus that will improve your performance on the job or in your daily life.