Have you ever experienced the feeling that you are so absorbed in some interesting work that time seems to stop, your physical senses are numbed, and you are in complete harmony, and the work is easily done as if by itself? In the spiritual and esoteric sphere, this state is called euphoria, or zen, and in psychology it is called the state of flow.
What is flow?
This state is well known to creative people - poets, composers, artists - when it seems that you are only a transmitter and the work of art just pours through you from somewhere above. Many athletes, too, experience a state of flow during a race or a game when the world around them ceases to exist. Any activity that we enjoy and that engages the maximum of our skills can bring us into this wonderful state, like a parallel reality. And the best part is that no psychotropic drugs are needed for this.
The state of flow has been called by different words since ancient times, but in modern psychology it was defined, singled out, and " named " by an American psychologist of Hungarian origin, Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, who studies, among other things, human happiness. He describes flow as a state when a person is engaged in activity for the sake of activity. In that moment, all issues and problems fall away; hunger and fatigue are forgotten. One action flows into another, attention is focused as much as possible, everything turns out in the best way, and there is a feeling of unity with the world, with the Universe.
Criteria for the Zen state
The state of flow is indicated by several basic elements, as highlighted by Chiksentmihai:
- A clear understanding of one's goal and a quick response to success or failure by correcting actions without unnecessary emotion.
- Full concentration on the present moment; no distracting thoughts.
- Full immersion into the activity. For example, a musician in a flow state does not separate himself from an instrument or from the music that he plays. All become one.
- Absence of thoughts about oneself in the process, and after leaving the state of the flow, appearance of a sense of growth above oneself.
- A feeling of control over the situation, no fear of failure.
- Distorted perception of time. It can last longer than usual or, on the contrary , it can fly by unnoticed.
- Enjoyment regardless of the result. It is the action itself that brings joy.
- There are virtually no emotions in the state of flow. But there is a sense of harmony and the rightness of what is happening. This state leads to growth above oneself in any sphere, so it is worth achieving for anyone who sets ambitious goals.
How to immerse yourself in the flow state
The state of flow may arise spontaneously, but if you set your mind to it, you can learn to immerse yourself in the flow. To enhance the effect, you can prepare your environment. A comfortable room, vision boards, success charts, and brainstorming notes will help you tune in.
Step 1: Before you begin, stop and take a few conscious deep breaths. Let your attention be completely focused on your breathing for 2–3 minutes.
Step 2: Be aware of the present moment. Listen to your physical sensations, smells, and sounds around you. Pretend that the past and the future do not exist.
Step 3: Slowly immerse yourself in your activity. Take your time and think of it as meditation.
Step 4: Use your skills at 100% and don't let your thoughts flow in other directions. Even if you're just washing dishes, pay attention to the smell of the soap, the bubbles, the noise of the water, and the cleanliness of the plates. Allow your activity to completely absorb you.
How not to lose the state
The state of flow can be lost if you don't fully engage. You get it if the activity is really interesting and inspires you. But if you "slack off" and stop using your skills to their full potential, soon the pleasure will disappear, and boredom and apathy may take its place. The same can happen if the project is too easy for you. In that case, you can maintain a state of flow by learning new things.
Another way to lose the flow is to compete with someone else. Ego and the state of flow are incompatible. You have to act for the sake of the action itself, not for the sake of the result. This is when the result will exceed all expectations.
Try to eliminate distractions. Of course, in the state of flow, we disconnect from the outside world and even from our own physical sensations, but at the beginning of the way, it's better to take care of your calmness and comfort. Don't be hungry, drink water, get some sleep, and rest. Try to ensure silence, ask your loved ones not to distract you if you work at home, or your colleagues if you are in the office, and put your phone on silent mode.