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When was the last time you were “in the zone”?

I haven’t met any person who don’t know what it’s like.

At some point during your life, you’ve been so engulfed by what you’re doing that you don’t notice anything else. Time seem to fly by, hours seem like minutes.

It’s a mental state that is highly enjoyable. A place with a feeling that there’s nothing more important than what you’re doing right now, you know where you’re going, and you see your progress on the way there.

And it has a name — flow.

The name flow was coined by Mihalyi Csíkscentmihályi (pronounced cheek-sent-me-high-ee). I had heard about the concept a long time ago, as probably you have too, and I read his book “Flow” several years ago.

But I thought it was merely a curious quirk of the mind. Something that sometimes happens during deep concentration, but nothing we had much influence or control over.

Boy was I wrong.

Psychologists, neuroscientists, and other resarches went to town examining all aspects of flow you can think of:

  • What’s going on in the brain during the flow state?
  • What triggers the flow state?
  • Can we induce it on demand?
  • What impact does the flow state have on our output? Our creativity? Our experience of life?

I’ve barely started to scratch the surface in my studies, there’s so much to learn!

These are the characteristics of the flow state:

Complete concentration on the task

You’re in a state of deep focus, where distractions melt away and all your attention is directed towards the activity.

Clarity of goals and immediate feedback

You know what you’re aiming for, and you receive immediate feedback along the way on how you’re doing.

Merging of action and awareness

This fusion of awareness with your actions means that you lose self-consciousness. Any inner critic or judge is dissolved, there’s no space for rumination.

A sense of control

You feel a sense of control over the task, competent and capable of handling the challenges presented to you. Some people describe this as “effortless effort”

Time distortion

Time is either sped up, where hours feel like minutes, or slowed down, where minutes feel like hours.

Intrinsic reward

The activity is something you enjoy doing merely for the sake of doing it. The reward and satisfaction comes from the activity itself and not from external factors.

Challenge vs skill balance

Flow happens when there’s enough challenge to keep you engaged and not bored, but easy enough to not induce stress and anxiety. This means that to facilitate flow, the challenge level needs to continually rise at the same pace as our skills grow.

As I learnt more about the flow state, I started to worry that in an age where deep work becomes a scarce commodity, so would flow.

This mental state, which is a huge part of having an enjoyable life, risk becoming an endangered species.

Think back to the last time you experienced something like this. What did you do? What was the activity?

When was the last time you were in the flow state?
If you really think about it?

Perhaps you haven’t really experienced it for years, or even since you were a child?

I have my thoughts on what the primary enemies of flow look like, and I will share more about that in the future.

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