“The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times… the best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.” – Mihaly Csikszentmihályi
Back in the 1970s, psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihályi began noticing that certain artists appeared to become so absorbed in their work that all else was forgotten. They wouldn’t eat, drink, or even sleep while they were totally immersed in a project, so he decided to begin some research to try to understand this mental state.
The Flow State
If you’ve ever found yourself so absorbed in what you’re doing that you lose all track of time, you’ve probably experienced what’s known as a flow state. However, unlike drifting off in a daydream, flow only occurs when you’re concentrating on and fully engaged in an activity that’s enjoyably challenging. When you achieve it, you find yourself performing at your best without any conscious awareness of how you’re doing it, your body and mind become totally in sync, and you’re “in the zone”.
In the zone:
- Time vanishes
You’re no longer aware of time, you’re just in the moment – the now.
- Self-consciousness vanishes
You no longer have a sense of self, you’re just part of what you’re doing, so there’s no longer a voice in your head criticizing your every move.
- Frustration vanishes
What you’re doing becomes effortless; there’s no sense of struggle or frustration.
- The reward is simply doing it
The sheer enjoyment of doing what you’re doing becomes all the reward you need; you are intrinsically motivated to keep doing it.
- You feel in control
You experience a sense of control overall you’re doing, a powerful sense that extends beyond the activity to leave you feeling euphoric and in control of your own destiny.
The Benefits of Flow
The above characteristics of achieving a flow state already highlight the benefits. Getting into the zone is a key element of achieving a top performance in sport, but the benefits extend beyond competitive activities or art projects to all areas of life, helping to boost overall well-being in general.
Being able to fully focus and concentrate without getting distracted leads to greater output and greater quality in your output.
The sense of clarity achieved leads to doing without thinking; you just know what to do without knowing that you do!
Self-doubt and all other negative stresses are cleared away, leaving no obstacles in your path and a sense of being unstoppable.
The pleasure of doing something you’re passionate about and good at makes the activity itself the motivation and the reward. The enjoyment in the experience from moment to moment provides all the positive energy needed to continue, and no external driving force is required.
The sense of well-being gained from being in a flow state extends beyond a temporary high to leave a longer-lasting feeling of fulfillment and satisfied happiness.
Achieving a Flow State
Anyone can achieve a flow state, and everyone can benefit from being able to get into the zone. It takes practice, and effort is going to be required before an activity can become effortless, but by setting yourself a goal that’s just outside your comfort zone and then determinedly working towards achieving it with passion and focus, enjoying every moment of the journey, flow becomes achievable. Csíkszentmihályi puts it this way:
“Flow happens when a person’s skills are fully involved in overcoming a challenge that is just about manageable, so it acts as a magnet for learning new skills and increasing challenges. If challenges are too low, one gets back to flow by increasing them. If challenges are too great, one can return to the flow state by learning new skills…You know that what you need to do is possible to do, even though difficult, and sense of time disappears, you forget yourself, you feel part of something larger. And once the conditions are present, what you are doing becomes worth doing for its own sake.”
Don MacNaughton is a High-Performance Coach working in Pro-Sports and Business over the last 18 years to find out about an individual coaching program email firstname.lastname@example.org