How to achieve a flow state of mind

Written by Samreen McGregor Wednesday 23 August 2023
To find flow, you need clarity on your goals, the right amount of challenge, minimal distractions, plus a willingness to fall short, or even fail, but to learn from the journey
Woman working on a whiteboard

Key takeaways:

  • Flow is very useful for boosting performance in individuals and organisations.
  • You can achieve flow by ensuring certain conditions are in place, such as the appropriate amount of challenge in a task.
  • Maximising your opportunity for concentration and focus will also help you find flow.

You probably know the feeling of being “in flow” or “in the zone”. It’s that feeling of being so absorbed that you lose a sense of yourself and your surroundings. 

Positive psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who coined the term, has compared it to playing jazz. He told Wired: “[It’s] being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. 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.”

Csikszentmihalyi’s research has found that a state of flow involves energised focus on what you are doing in the present, devoid of distraction. The outside world, or any problems or issues cease to exist, generating a sense of efficacy. It’s a feeling of immersive joy, motivation and concentration.

Scientists think that the brain’s dopamine reward system plays an integral role – the “feel good” chemical that’s released when we do something pleasurable. 

Researchers also think flow has something to do with brain activity being suppressed in structures “associated with thinking about ourselves [and] negative thoughts,” says Richard Huskey, assistant professor of communication and cognitive science at University of California, Davis, who studies motivation in the brain. This may explain the feeling of immersion in the task at hand.

But why should managers care about flow? 

Attaining flow is associated with having energy, finding fulfilment, as well as enhancing creativity and performance, which has obvious benefits for individuals in the workplace.

Studies have also highlighted the desirable aspects of the flow state for companies as a means for entire organisations to maximise the opportunities for people to flourish and make meaningful contributions.

Management attention is one of an organisation’s most precious resources. When managers are able to be in a coherent, purposeful and satisfied zone, devoid of ego-infused interference, and where their core capabilities and passion are harnessed, they can orchestrate a lot more meaningful work and cultivate a happy culture

Flow will help managers balance conflicting pressures and meet both their own needs and the needs of those who rely on them.

Want to learn how to achieve a flow state?


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