Ever worked happily for hours straight without looking up? You were most probably in flow.
Flow state is a state of consciousness powered by intrinsic motivation… Basically, when we are completely absorbed in an activity for its own sake. It has been described as “experiencing a state of strong, alert, in effortless control, unselfconscious, and at the peak of their abilities”. According to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a pioneer on the study of happiness, he found that people experience genuine happiness when in this state of consciousness. Flow is the reason some people can write 6 books in a year, and others don’t write a single one.
In order to reach a state of flow, the task at hand must have certain properties: it must be challenging, require skill, have clear and immediate feedback, and have well-defined success or failure metrics. When these are fulfilled, the perfect balance between arousal and feeling in control is achieved. Because of this, athletes often find it easy to find flow since there is both risk and immediate feedback.
So what can help us get into a flow state? Firstly, it is vital that the task is set at the right level. The Chicago study found the better suited the challenge/skill ratio task, the more likely individuals were to reach a flow state. This can be easily altered if a task if too easily by adding elements that make it more challenging, and if its too challenging by making it easier. Another way to help get into flow state is by developing the ability to focus fully. Focus is like a muscle, the more we flex it the stronger it become. Hence, it will become easier to become absorbed in an activity. Lastly, science tells us that it takes 15-20 minutes to enter flow state. Every time we get distracted, that times get re-set. Therefore, the less we get distracted the nearer we can get to achieve flow.