Mindfulness and the State of Flow
In a chaotic world full of distractions and noise, can we find a state of inner peace and enhanced creativity? According to psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, we can increase our wellbeing, creativity, and productivity by entering a state of flow. And we can use mindfulness to help us get there.
As I’m about to go on hiatus, I’ve continued exploring what I want to do with my time over the summer and an old memory popped into my mind about my earlier writing experiences. I regularly entered a state of flow, writing page after page with no sense of time, feeling a range of emotions from content to excited. I want that again.
The state of flow, also known as being "in the zone," refers to a mental state in which we are fully immersed and deeply focused on a task or activity, to the point where we lose track of time and our surroundings. It’s characterized by intense concentration, a feeling of being completely engaged and in control of the task at hand, and a sense of enjoyment and fulfillment in the process of performing the activity. I loved being in flow and realized I haven’t visited that bliss for at least three years.
In a state of flow, we often experience a heightened sense of creativity, productivity, and performance, and may feel a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction upon completing the task. This state is often associated with activities such as sports, music, art, writing, and other challenging but enjoyable tasks.
I don’t know if I’ve lost the ability or just forgotten how to get there, but I wondered if mindfulness could help me find my way back to flow. Mindfulness and flow are both related to a state of focused awareness, but they are not the same. In fact, while mindfulness involves being fully present and aware of one's thoughts, feelings, and surroundings in the present moment, flow is a state of deep concentration and engagement in a task, often resulting in a loss of self-awareness, so they can be seen as opposite states.
Mindfulness practices can, however, help prepare the mind for entering a state of flow. By practicing mindfulness, we can learn, or re-learn, to quiet the mind, reduce distractions, and focus our attention on the task at hand. This can help us enter a state of flow more easily and sustain it for longer periods.
Additionally, mindfulness practices such as meditation and deep breathing can help reduce anxiety and increase feelings of calm, which can also be beneficial for achieving a state of flow. By calming the mind and reducing stress, we may be able to better concentrate and engage in the task, leading to a more successful experience in achieving flow.
If you’ve ever been in a state of flow, you probably know the benefits of it, but for those of you who have yet to experience it, it’s pretty fascinating just how beneficial it can be. Since flow involves a deep level of concentration and complete absorption in the task at hand, attention becomes laser-focused, allowing us to ignore distractions and immerse ourselves fully in the activity. This heightened focus can lead to improved performance and productivity.
Flow states often bring about a heightened level of performance. As we’re fully engaged and utilizing our skills to the best of our ability, we experience increased efficiency, creativity, and effectiveness in completing tasks or pursuing goals.
Flow is also often associated with a sense of joy, fulfillment, and intrinsic satisfaction. When we're in flow, we're engaged in an activity for the sake of the activity itself, finding it inherently rewarding. The experience of flow can be deeply enjoyable and can contribute to overall well-being and happiness.
Flow states are characterized by a loss of self-consciousness and a sense of time distortion. Hours can pass by without us even realizing it when we're in flow. Back when I was able to enter a flow state fairly regularly, I would be shocked at the time when I finally returned to a more conscious state. I could write for ten hours straight, but it would feel like only a couple of hours might have passed. I remember one evening sitting down to write, thinking I’d stop and go to bed at 10 and instead was totally surprised to see that the sun was rising. This timelessness can be beneficial as it allows us to disconnect from worries, pressures, and stressors, providing a temporary respite and relief.
Flow states can enhance the learning process and our skill development. When we're fully engaged and challenged in an activity, we're more likely to acquire new skills, deepen existing ones, and consolidate our knowledge. Flow promotes a state of optimal performance, which can accelerate the learning curve and facilitate mastery.
As I have personally experienced, flow states are often associated with positive emotions such as happiness, fulfillment, and a sense of achievement. Engaging in activities that promote flow cannot only contribute to overall emotional well-being, but also increase self-confidence, and foster a positive mindset.
Flow experiences can also generate intrinsic motivation and a desire to continue engaging in the activity. The inherent enjoyment and satisfaction derived from flow can fuel passion, persistence, and drive to pursue goals and engage in activities that bring us fulfillment.
Considering all of this, it seems like we might all want to be in a constant state of flow, but of course, that’s not the world most of us live in. We are bombarded with distractions and most struggle to hold their concentration for any length of time. And of course, there’s the problem of time. I am going to definitely have to use mindfulness practices to get my mind into a state of calm to have any hope of getting into flow and that means carving out the time necessary to do that. Right now, my mind feels quite scattered, so I don’t know if it will take me 10 minutes or an hour, but the desire to reach a state of flow, especially to finish my book, is definitely strong enough to motivate me to do so.
Even if you’re not planning on writing a book, there are many advantages to entering a state of flow. The brain undergoes a variety of changes when in this state that can enhance focus, creativity, and performance, which could be beneficial for everything from preparing for a speech to writing an important report to designing a new landscape to performing on stage.
The prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for decision-making, planning, and working memory, becomes highly activated during a flow state, which further helps improve focus and cognitive control. Additionally, the default mode network, which is responsible for mind-wandering and self-referential thought, becomes less active during a flow state. This reduced activity can help reduce distractions and increase focus on the task at hand. The amygdala, which is responsible for processing emotions and stress, also becomes less active during a flow state. This reduced activity can help reduce anxiety and stress, allowing again for greater focus and cognitive control.
During a flow state, the brain releases higher levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward, which can enhance motivation, focus, and enjoyment of the task.
There is also greater connectivity between different brain regions involved in attention, working memory, and sensory processing during a flow state. This increased connectivity can enhance creativity, problem-solving, and overall cognitive function.
Hopefully you’re sold on getting into flow now, so how do we do it? First, it’s important to keep in mind that entering a state of flow can be different for everyone and may depend on the activity or task you’re trying to perform. In the past, I’ve enjoyed being in flow when writing, pottery wheel throwing, playing the piano and even gardening. So first choose a task or activity that you enjoy and that is challenging enough to require your full attention and focus, but not so difficult that it becomes overwhelming. Simply choose something you love to do.
Next, create an environment that is free from distractions and interruptions. Turn off your phone or put it on silent mode, close unnecessary tabs on your computer, and find a quiet space to work in. Set clear goals for yourself and establish a plan for how you will accomplish them. Having a clear objective can help you stay focused and motivated.
Practice mindfulness techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or visualization to help calm your mind and stay focused on the task at hand. Try to stay present and fully engaged in the task. Avoid thinking about past failures or future worries, and instead focus on the present moment and the task in front of you.
While there is no specific meditation that is guaranteed to help you get into a state of flow, there are mindfulness meditations that can be helpful in preparing the mind for a flow state. You can practice one of these meditations before you begin or if you notice that you’re unable to stay focused on the activity you’re working on. A breath awareness meditation involves focusing your attention on your breath and noticing any sensations that arise. This practice can help quiet the mind and increase focus, making it easier to enter a state of flow.
The body scan meditation involves focusing your attention on different parts of your body, noticing any sensations that arise. This practice can help you become more aware of your body and reduce physical tension, which can be helpful in achieving a state of flow.
Visualization meditation involves imagining a specific scenario or task in vivid detail. This practice can help you prepare mentally for a task or activity, making it easier to enter a state of flow when you begin. A loving-kindness meditation involves sending loving-kindness and positive thoughts to yourself and others. This practice can help reduce stress and increase feelings of calm and positivity, which can be beneficial in achieving a state of flow. You can find guided meditations for any of these on our YouTube Channel if you need support.
Once your mind is settled and calm, and you’ve started the task that will lead you to flow, it’s important to continually challenge yourself by setting slightly higher goals or increasing the difficulty of the task as you progress. This can help you stay engaged and motivated. And most importantly, try to enjoy the process of the activity or task you are performing, rather than just focusing on the end result. Enjoying the process can also help you stay motivated and engaged.
Remember, achieving a state of flow takes practice and patience. It may take some time to find the right task and environment that works best for you, but keep trying and adjusting until you find what works. Overall, being in a state of flow can have numerous benefits for cognitive performance, emotional well-being, skill development, and personal growth. It can lead to increased productivity, enjoyment, and a sense of fulfillment in various areas of life. That all certainly aligns with my pursuit of redefining who I want to be in the new world. How about you?
Before I sign off for a while and get into my own state of flow, I again want to thank you for listening and more importantly, for practicing mindfulness which I truly believe can change the direction we’re all heading in. We’re approaching 2 and a half million downloads which greatly inspires me and gives me hope that we can make the world a better place.
This podcast is part of the Airwave Media podcast network. Visit AirwaveMedia.com to listen and subscribe to other great shows like The Daily Meditation Podcast, Everything Everywhere and Movie Therapy. We’d deeply appreciate your support at patreon.com/amindfulmoment. Our podcast is now available to view on our YouTube Channel, so be sure to follow us there and on Instagram @amindfulmomentpodcast. Visit our website, amindfulmoment.com to access podcasts, scripts and book recommendations.
A Mindful Moment is written and hosted by Teresa McKee and/or Melissa Sims. The Spanish version is translated and hosted by Paola Theil. Intro music, Retreat, by Jason Farnham. Outro music, Morning Stroll by Josh Kirsch, Media Right Productions. Thank you for tuning in! This podcast is produced by Work2Live Productions.