4 Hacks to Get into the Flow Every Single Day
Psychologists have been long raving about the state of flow – a feeling of high consciousness and ultimate focus. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi discovered that people find a pursuit of happiness while being completely absorbed in an activity. Being in the state of flow involves feeling strong, alert, in control, and ultimately creative.
Flow equals happiness equals success.
And that’s exactly the state we’d all like to spend the rest of our (working) days in. Here’s the bad news: flow isn’t something you can simply call for, to experience it whenever you need to focus on an important task. If you’ve ever experienced the flow, you know that it just happens, taking over when you least expect it.
I guess I could call myself a flow addict – I truly get my best work done while being fascinated by something. And I’ve noticed that there are a few ideas and exercises that help me to achieve the state of flow even when it’s not catching me off guard.
Further reading: 6 Thought Exercises to Immediately Boost Your Brainpower
People write their best motivation letters while excited about the prospect of working with the new company. Writers do their best work when immersed in their most novel ideas. And managers are at their best when they’re excited to be leading a successful team to its next challenges.
Being excited about a cool prospect or simply by the task at hand is the golden key to achieving the flow. But isn’t excitement just as elusive as the state of flow?
Well, yes and no. You can get excited about many things that you have easy access to, but you still have to learn to do it. As a writer, I often find inspiration while reading other people’s work, especially business books. When opposed with many fascinating ideas, I feel compelled to apply these to my personal life. That’s when I get so excited that I experience the state of flow.
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What gets you excited? Is it a great book, raving about your previous achievements, or dreaming about your future goals? To enter the state of flow, do this thought exercise: think about something truly fascinates and motivates you. Continue thinking about it for three minutes without losing your focus. Next, transition the excitement over to your work. It doesn’t work 100% of the times, but it’s something you can improve over time, going from 10% success rate to 80%.
Need a good book? Start with these: 12 Must-read Books on Productivity to Beat Procrastination for Good
Which comes first – focus or flow? It’s kind of like the chicken-and-egg problem we’re dealing with. Being focused is one of the greatest benefits of being in the flow. But to get into the flow, one needs to focus all their energy and brain power on? a single task.
Look at it this way: you need to focus in order to get into the flow and getting there will boost your concentration even further. Easy as that! So whenever you start the thought exercise of getting excited, do it wholeheartedly, putting in your best effort.
Now focusing in a noisy office is a challenge that even the high-achievers tackle with on a daily basis. Psychologists suggest that you look at task completion as an accomplishment – I’ll end up better off than I am now. It’s called promotion focus – and research shows that when you have one, you’re more motivated by the prospect of a gain, making you more optimistic and eager to work.
Before you plunge head-first into a new task, think about why you’re doing it – what am I going to achieve by doing this? If the answer is “nothing”, you shouldn’t be doing the task anyway. But as you understand the long-reaching benefits of completing a bit of work, your mind’s more excited about the prospect and you’ll end up contributing better work. You’re more likely to get into the flow when excited and focused on the upcoming challenge.
Read more: 23 Smart Ways to Stay Focused at Work
When trying to reproduce the feeling of flow, I’ve noticed that tiny personal rituals can play a huge part in reaching my best self. Research shows that superstitious rituals enhance people’s confidence in their abilities, motivating higher effort and improving their performance.
Neuroscientific research shows that the legendary Haka, a Maori posture dance performed by the New Zealand rugby team before their matches stimulate mental flow states. I’m not suggesting that you should perform an aboriginal dance in the middle of your office cubicle, but you get the idea.
Finding a personal ritual that associates with success can lead to greater performance at work. It can be a small thing, like taking deep breaths for 1 minute before working on a task. Or pouring yourself a coffee before tackling the most demanding tasks. When preparing to write, I prefer reading personal advice articles by other authors, my favorites being Aja Frost and Kat Boogaard from The Muse.
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If nothing else works, coffee will.
And if you’re not a regular caffeine addict, that’s an even better news for you! Drinking coffee strategically throughout the day can reward you with multiple states of flow. Caffeine causes an uptick in adrenaline, the hormone that makes you feel more alert and energized; and dopamine, which plays a role in making you happy. And this is the exact perfect state for contributing your best work.
But not all caffeine is good for you. As you consume too much coffee (yes, 8 cups a day is too much), it will start to work in a counteractive way. According to Murray Carpenter, author of Caffeinated: How Our Daily Habit Helps, Hurts, and Hooks Us, “people will develop a tolerance to caffeine, but they’ll hit a point where they find their optimal dose with their tolerance.”
The less you drink coffee throughout the day, the more likely it is to work its magic when you most need it. Start looking at coffee as a strategic component of achieving the state of flow. I’ve found that drinking a huge ice caramel macchiato (mind the sugar overdose!) every afternoon makes me super alert and focused – in the flow. But I’m more than certain it wouldn’t have this lifting effect if I’d had 2 coffees already into the day. If you can’t feel the awakening benefit of caffeine anymore, draw back your coffee consumption and use it responsibly, only when you truly need it.
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Getting into the flow is something you can easily learn. Once you start to look at it strategically, you’ll be able to reproduce the state of ultimate focus and happiness every day, whatever the task at hand.