Can you recall a time when your work felt effortless?
Nothing distracts you. There’s no internal resistance. You are focused, energized, and immersed in the task at hand. You make connections seamlessly. Your creative output soars. Time stops. Your enjoyment in the moment rises.
Psychologist Abraham Maslow called this a peak experience. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi continued Maslow’s initial findings to develop the science of flow.
Flow is a mental and physical state of being. Everyone has access to flow states, but some people access them with greater frequency.
To access a state of flow more often, try the following
1) Play to Your Natural Strengths
Another psychologist, Martin Seligman, demonstrates that when people do the things they are naturally good at in their work, they are generally happier and experience more flow.
To determine your natural strengths, take a free scientifically validated survey to determine your top strengths on the VIA Institute on Character website.
Then, determine at least three to five ways you can access these strengths in your work.
2) Reduce External Distraction
Distraction is the primary culprit that steals our attention. Each time you are interrupted from a flow state, research suggests that it takes an average of 10 to 15 minutes to return to it.
Consider how often you get distracted in a given hour (for the average executive, it’s over eight times) and you can appreciate why flow can seem so rare.
When you’re working on a specific task, eliminate anything that can make noise and draw your attention. Close your email program. Put your phone on “airport mode.” Silence all notifications. Shut your door.
Establish a predetermined time parameter to work uninterrupted on a project that’s meaningful to you. You can’t eliminate distraction indefinitely, but everyone can go offline for an hour to focus on something important.
3) Find Your Center
Once you deal with external distraction, you’re still left with the biggest distraction of all: your own mind. When you’re in a state of flow, you can access more of your brain’s potential. You can focus because your mind isn’t ruminating in the past or projecting into the future; it is absorbed in whatever you are doing. You are fully present.
There are many centering exercises. Mindfulness meditation is a popular way of quieting your mind by observing your thoughts with nonjudgmental awareness.
One of my favorite methods is to put your attention on the bottom of your feet. Simply put your complete awareness on your feet for about 20 seconds. Observe any sensations you might feel. Notice if you feel more calm and focused.
Keeping both of your feet firmly on the ground as you work will help you maintain your focus for extended periods of time.
4) Adopt an Attitude of Open Readiness
Rigid thoughts and beliefs block our creativity; they stifle flow. Adopt what the Zen Buddhists call a Beginner’s Mind. Let go of preconceived notions. Surrender the need to control the next moment. Drop the false notion that you need to know all of the answers.
Then, stay ready and alert. Creating is an active art. Those who enter flow states on a frequent basis earn it by staying devote to their work.
Finally, don’t expect to enter a state of flow. Expectation and anticipation will only create resistance and frustration. Maintain a playful attitude. Experiment without expecting an outcome.
Flow happens at the intersection of effort and allowing. You’re in charge, but only to a degree. Embrace this ambiguity. And go create something great.
Scott Jeffrey writes at ScottJeffrey.com about productivity, creativity, energy, and how to create your best work. To get effective methods for enhancing your mental performance, join his free newsletter.