The world is chaotic. Your mind doesn’t have to be.
While it’s too soon to see the long-term effects the COVID-19 pandemic is having on our mental health, according to the World Health Organization, we do know that people all over the world are experiencing a significant increase in stress, worry, and fear.1 There has arguably never been a more important time to take charge of your mental health. Achieving flow state - or an optimal state of consciousness - may be just the ticket we all need to mentally thrive during this challenging time.
What is Flow State?
When was the last time you were so engaged in an activity that time flew by and the world around you seemed to stop for a moment? For some of us, this has happened on a long run, or during a focused session of work. Others may need to think all the way back to their childhood to remember a time when they felt this sense of timelessness.
Positive Psychologist Researchers Jeanne Nakamura and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describe flow state as a mental state in which we are immersed in a feeling of energized focus. Colloquially known as “being in the zone,” flow state happens when you are both energized and focused, aware and yet fully absorbed, and able achieve momentum effortlessly.
According to Nakamura and Csikszentmihalyi, there are six characteristics of this state of mind:
- Complete concentration on the present moment
- Alignment of awareness and action
- Loss of reflective self-consciousness, or independent momentum
- A sense that one has the power to control one’s actions or overcome any situation
- Timelessness, and
- Activity that is intrinsically rewarding - perhaps more so than the end result.2
Benefits of Achieving Flow State
What constitutes a good life? This is the question Nakamura and Csikszentmihalyi set out to answer in their research initially. What they found was that a good life is “one that is characterized by complete absorption in what one does.”3
This is arguably extremely difficult for most people. However, this powerful state of mind is accessible to anyone at any time - even, and perhaps, especially, during difficult times.
University of California researchers studied people under quarantine in China to learn the best ways to ward off stress and anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic. “It’s a bold statement, but flow seems to mitigate the negative effects of quarantine,” said Kate Sweeny, a psychology professor at University of California Riverside.4
In addition to increasing our happiness, a growing body of research shows that flow state can:
- Provide a sense of clarity on what’s important and positive
- Improve both physical and mental performance
- Increase your happiness
- Enhance your creativity, and
- Increase your productivity.5
How to Reach Flow State
So how can you achieve flow state?
Whether you are hoping to enhance your workouts, increase your work productivity, or just be more present and gain more clarity in your day-to-day activities, here’s how to hack your way into this enhanced state of mind and body performance whenever you’d like:
Pick a Biological Prime Time (PBT): What time of day do you have the most energy? To have the best chance of entering flow state, first identify when you naturally tend to be most alert and focused.6
Pick an action: Next, select an activity. This could be anything - from an endurance sport or work project to a hobby.
Unplug: We can’t control our outside environment fully. But by unplugging to the extent we can, we limit the amount of impact the outside world can have on our internal one.
Prepare your body: Support your efforts to achieve flow state by hydrating your body and nourishing yourself with premium fuel - foods that provide lasting energy, reduce inflammation and support optimal body functions.
Prepare your mind: Next, allow yourself a few moments to detach and unwind. If you need to, write a ‘worry list’ of everything that’s on your mind.7
Finally, focus on the journey, not the destination: Remember that achieving flow is not a one-time activity, but rather a process for living a bold life. Enjoy yourself! Try your best to lose yourself in what you are doing.
Repeat these steps as many times as you need until you hone in on what is standing between you and your ability to achieve flow state on a regular basis. Tweak these steps, and each time you’ll bring yourself closer to living a life of flow and happiness.
How BOLDR Can Help You Reach Flow State
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- World Health Organization: Mental Health & COVID-19
- The Concept of Flow
- The Concept of Flow
- UC Riverside: How Can You Beat the COVID-19 Blues? Find Your Flow
- Headspace: What Is Flow State, and What Are Its Benefits?
- A Life of Productivity: How to Calculate Your Biological Prime Time
- Medium: The Worry List