Have you ever found yourself so immersed in a project that you lost track of the time?
Have you ever spent hours deeply involved in an activity, followed by a huge sense of joy and accomplishment afterwards? If yes, you’ve experienced a hyper-focused and trance-like phenomenon known as flow state.
Flow state is typically associated with artists, athletes, chess players, and even surgeons. During their flow state, they can experience deep concentration, fulfillment, and joy.
Fortunately, you don’t have to be a professional artist or chess prodigy to access your flow state. In fact, flow state is no different from the feeling we've all experienced of “getting in the zone.” You feel focused, all cylinders firing, and everything is going smoothly.
And in this age of hyper-productivity and maximum efficiency, flow state reminds us that it’s good to get lost in something every now and then, and that it’s important to to set aside time for deep, creative work.
If you’ve been finding it hard to concentrate lately, you’re not alone. We live in stressful times and they’re not exactly compatible with creativity and flow. But there are simple and gentle ways you can tap into your creativity and get into the right mindset for flow state.
Below are tips and exercises you can do to prepare your mindset and environment to start getting into the zone.
How to tap into your flow state
Here are some ways that you can prepare your environment and your mindset to get into the zone. You can start by blocking off 30 minutes or one hour in your calendar--whatever time block seems achievable for you. Try not to pressure yourself to be productive or achieve mastery. Instead, try to view this time as giving yourself permission to get lost in your creative work.
1. Set up your space and tools
- If your work area is cluttered and giving you stress, make sure to organize it before settling into your activity. This could mean clearing your desk of any paperwork, throwing out the trash, and wiping your table.
- You could even try lighting a candle, having a cup of tea, or playing soothing music as a way to signal to your mind that it’s time to transition into the zone.
- You can also try thinking back to the last time you felt like you were in a flow state. What factors contributed to this state? Was it a certain time of day? Was it after doing a certain activity?
- Think about your ideal working environment. Are you the type of person who needs total silence? Or do you like a little white noise in the background?
- Do you prefer working in a brightly lit space or under a soft, ambient glow?
- Do you like fresh air and working in the outdoors? Or do you prefer a cozy, little nook?
- Do you have your favorite tools on hand? This could mean your favorite paintbrushes. Or a notepad for writing. Or headphones to listen to your favorite calming music.
These are just little things to consider when preparing your workspace. You don’t need a zen-like monastery or an artist’s studio to get into the zone, but if the right lighting or perfect notebook can help you relax and concentrate, try to incorporate those elements into your space.
2. Do an activity you enjoy
Good news: If you want to tap into a flow state, try doing an activity that you truly enjoy. Maybe it’s playing the violin or running in the park or working on a puzzle or painting your house.
Remember it doesn't have to be an "inspiring" activity to anyone but you; some people get into the flow when doing data entry or creating powerpoint slides. Whatever the activity is for you, it can be something that fulfills and energizes you.
As long as this activity taps into your creativity and brings you joy, then it can bring you the benefits of flow state.
3. Do an activity that challenges you
Experts say that it’s easier to engage your flow state if you do an activity that is both familiar to you and challenging. According to this BBC article:
“We are more likely to access the flow state when engaged in tasks we’ve already practiced. Think of the expert figure skater on the rink or the confident singer at the microphone. The level of difficulty should also be just right – not so easy that you find yourself bored, but not so hard that you get stressed.”
So if you’re a writer, maybe try challenging yourself by writing in a form or genre that’s new to you. Or try challenging yourself by performing a difficult section of a musical piece or running farther than the week before or knitting a new and complex pattern.
4. Mindfulness and flow state
Mindfulness is a companion to flow state. We feel more attentive and focused when we’re doing an activity that engages our creativity and soul.
And if you’re having trouble getting in the zone, mindfulness can help you focus and clear your mind of distraction, allowing you to get into the right mindset for flow. There are also plenty of emotional and physical benefits to practicing mindfulness, from lowering stress and anxiety, to cultivating more gratitude and happiness.
Here are some simple activities that you can do to start practicing mindfulness and flow. They don’t require expensive tools or classes and you can easily do them from the comforts of your home or even when you’re on your next walk.
- Coloring books. The act of coloring will help you remain focused on the task at hand, and keeping your hands busy will keep your anxious thoughts at bay. Here are two free coloring pages you can print out!
- Meditation. You can do a body scan or simple breathing exercises to ground you into the present moment and release tension.
- Meditative walks. The next time you go out for a walk, see if you can notice new things about your surroundings. Or try to quiet your active thoughts by appreciating the natural beauty that’s around you.
- Practicing gratitude. Find a few minutes out of your day to write down what you’re grateful for. When you’re feeling overwhelmed about the past or future, a gratitude practice brings you back to the present moment and helps you appreciate what you have now.
If you’d like even more tips on practicing mindfulness and tapping into your flow state, you can read our guide here.