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The Flow State: The Key to Mastering Your World

The flowing of water can be completely mesmerizing. Like watching a campfire, flowing water is soothing, it can even induce a sort of trance-like state.

Such a feeling, near trance-like with a loss of sense of time, are just a few of the interesting characteristics of “flow state.” Flow, in this case, is psychological. It is a state of mental being, one that you may have experienced for yourself. Maybe you were playing a challenging game or working on a passion project—the feeling can arise while playing a sport, working on a project, or reading something interesting. The outside world is silenced as you dribble the soccer ball down the field. You might be working on an art piece and all of a sudden hours have passed without you realizing so. Outside obligations and stressors become obsolete as you take full control over your body and mind to perform .

Positive psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi describes flow as “a state of complete immersion in an activity.” One of his research subjects, a violinist musician, characterized the experience as “an ecstatic state to such a point that you feel as though you almost don’t exist.”

So why should flow state matter to you?

Reaching flow is a key to unlocking high performance in whatever it is that you aim to accomplish. It’s when we’re at our best, learning the most, completely content with the world. Related to a reduction in self-consciousness, studies have shown flow state to be directly linked to a sense of well-being and happiness over time (Bryce & Haworth, 2002).

With the power to harness flow state, you might be able to acquire fluency in a foreign language, excel at your sport, or create beautiful works of art that go beyond what you thought was possible.

How, then, can you find this place of flow?

Certain pretenses must be in place for flow to occur. First, a clear set of goals/a complete understanding of the task must be grasped to prevent the confusion that can pull us into frustration or distraction. The challenge at stake must be, in fact, challenging. True flow will not take place amidst activities that are boring, easy, or monotonous. And your abilities must be at a level that aligns well with the challenge. Flow state will not occur when you attempt to play a song or solve a problem that is far too complex for your skill level.

When conditions are ripe and flow state bubbles to life, our complex brains work their beautiful, neurological wizardry; erratic beta brain waves that characterize most of our day-to-day lives are replaced by smoother alpha brain waves, characteristic of creative states. In his book, Consciousness, and Cognition, neuroscientist Allen Deitrick studied such a process. He found that, in states of flow, the planning and multitasking cortex parts of the brain are relieved of their cognitive burden, “freeing us up temporarily from processes such as self-consciousness and self-talk, and leading us into a more relaxed and creative state.”

Start with something you love to do. Put away your phone. Figure out what it is you aim to accomplish and.. challenge yourself. Push your boundaries as you paint, run, drum, or write. Scratching the surface of a flow state, note what your body is feeling. Excitingly, with time and practice in accomplishing tasks that easily align us with this feeling, you will be able to begin bringing flow to other aspects of your life. Flow state is accessible in almost anything that pushes your abilities. From studying physics to mastering karate, actively pursuing flow will ramp up your world and take you to the limits of what you thought you were capable of. So before your next test/project lock into your flow state and reap the rewards.

Bryce, J., & Haworth, J. (2002). Wellbeing and flow in a sample of male and female office workers. Leisure Studies, 21(3-4), pp.249-263.Dietrich, A. (2004).

Neurocognitive mechanisms underlying the experience of flow. Consciousness and Cognition, 13(4), pp.746-761.

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