Last week, I opened the topic of flow and we looked at what flow is. This week I will look at how you can access some of this magic in your own life.
But first, let’s summarize what we learned last week…
Flow is a state of ultimate peak mental and physical human performance. It is commonly found among athletes, musicians, writers, and artists, where a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. It is also referred to as ‘being in the zone’. They become deeply focused on the present moment, the Now and the sense of time disappears.
Flow results in high levels of personal well being and life satisfaction. Every decision, every thought and every creative idea you have flows seamlessly and effortlessly from the last.
Besides flow, there are three other mental states, – negative spiral, current reality trap, and stress & anxiety.
Here are 7 ways to create flow in your life:
1. Learn to live in the present moment, the Now!
The importance of being present in the now and letting go of our reliance on the past and the future is explained beautifully by Eckhart Tolle in his bestselling book called, The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment. In it he says:
‘Realize deeply that the present moment is all you have. Make the Now the primary focus of your life.‘
‘All negativity is caused by an accumulation of psychological time and denial of the present. Unease, anxiety, tension, stress, worry – all forms of fear – are caused by too much future, and not enough presence. Guilt, regret, resentment, grievances, sadness, …… are caused by too much past, and not enough presence.’
In order to bring flow into our lives, we need to bring awareness to the “Now”. Stay focused and intensely alert on the task at hand and don’t allow yourself to be distracted by your thoughts. Pay attention to what’s happening in the present moment and don’t concern yourself with events in your past that you cannot change or future scenarios that may or may not happen. As you do this, your sense of self and identification with the mind will disappear.
2. Choose a job you love
You cannot enter the flow state unless you love what you do. There’s nothing worse than doing a job you hate just because it puts a roof over your head. Find something you are truly passionate about, that will bring you joy and fulfillment in doing it. This may simply be to find projects that you love to do within your current job.
3. Find your quiet time and remove distractions
Find a quiet time and space to work and remove any clutter or other distractions from your workspace so that you can focus fully on the task at hand. For some of us, this may be the first thing in the morning when you wake up, or early in the workday when most people haven’t yet arrived. For others, it may be during a lunch hour, or in the evenings before you go to bed. Try out a few different times and see what works best for you considering your schedule.
If you’re working from home, it’s particularly important to find your quiet time and space. If you’re a parent with young kids this can be quite challenging. It’s easy to get distracted by the craziness of rowdy kids, naughty pets, the neighbor’s kids ringing the front doorbell, the gardener wanting to discuss this or that, or the domestic worker vacuuming your study!
Try to plan your day in such a way that you can have pockets of quiet time when the kids are either at school, playing with their mates or after they’ve gone to bed. Use these times efficiently to get your work done without distractions.
A separate room that can be converted into a study is ideal but if this isn’t available, then any quiet space away from the crazy family activities is perfectly fine. The key is to find a space that the family will respect as ‘your’ space and where you will not be disturbed! A coffee shop can be another great place to escape and work for a few hours if you have a house full of busy kids and pets running around.
It’s important to find a balance between your personal time and your family time!
Removing clutter from your workspace and desk is also helpful. Sweep miscellaneous papers into a folder to be sorted through later.
4. Set goals and tasks that scare you a little but excite you a lot!
An essential ingredient in finding flow is being crystal clear on your goals in life – both in the short and the long term. Do things that challenge you without being impossible. Stretch yourself and get out of the comfort zone!
Set goals that are aligned with your values and hold yourself accountable.
Your goals and tasks should be challenging enough to require your full concentration but not so difficult that you spend most of your concentration just trying to figure out how to do them. This will result in you getting discouraged and possibly even giving up. Ensure your goals are measurable and check the progress on your goals at regular intervals, say weekly or monthly.
Set yourself a goal to be fully present when doing a task and ask yourself afterward – how the present was I? Constantly seek areas of improvement in the delivery of your goals.
5. Get enough rest!
It is essential that you get enough sleep. The quality and quantity of your sleep directly affect your mental and physical health. It determines the quality of your waking life, including productivity, emotional balance, creativity, vitality, and even your weight! According to the National Institutes of Health, most healthy adults need between 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night to function at their best.
6. Practice switching off your brain
If you’re on a long-distance run or bike ride through nature, your mind zones out and literally let’s go of thinking. Your prefrontal cortex shuts down temporarily to allow an exchange of non-essential energy. Read more about this in my post entitled, Flow State: Part 1 – What is the State of Flow?
A similar thing happens when you perform intense physical exercise. If your heart is beating out of your chest and your muscles are on fire, there’s no space to think about the stuff you’re stressing about.
Use these intense physical workout sessions to practice ‘switching off’ your brain.
7. Have fun and enjoy what you do
It’s a great feeling when you lose yourself inflow. It’s hugely satisfying and rewarding when you make great progress on a project or important task that you are passionate about. Take the time afterward to appreciate this feeling.
The more you practice the seven steps above, the more proficient you’ll become at finding your flow.