How to enter the focused, fulfilling state of flow? Here are Savvy Psychologist's 10 tips to help you get started.
Tip #6: Flow isn’t instantaneous. Because flow requires skill, it requires the investment of time to hone your technique. Hours and hours of training and practice go into performing surgery, ice skating, or even mastering a video game. And, once you’ve built up your skills, you won’t instantly, say, pick up your guitar and enter flow—instead, expect to take some time to get warmed up.
Tip #7: Be alone, or at least with others focusing on the same thing. Because flow requires focus and time, your chances are best when you’re alone (or at least feel autonomous; for example, a concert pianist has an audience, but the performance is hers alone). Or, be part of a group doing the same activity—for example, you might encounter flow as the bassist in a jazz band, a player in a poker tournament, or as half of a beach volleyball team.
Tip #8: Be free of interruptions. Flow doesn’t do multitasking. So turn off your phone, close your email, and shut the door.
Tip #9: Remember that flow and happiness are different. The biggest misconception about flow is that it’s a state of exhilarating bliss. It’s more a state of immersion or absorption. But after the sonata is finished, the poem is written, or the ski run is over, we do feel happiness—or satisfaction, or meaning—in retrospect.
We can also, of course, be happy without experiencing flow: eating a fabulous dinner, joking around with friends, playing with your dog, or reading a great book in a sunny hammock.
Tip #10: Try increasing engagement in tedious tasks with microflow. True flow is peak engagement, but there are ways to get into flow lite, or “microflow” that increases engagement in boring tasks. Dr. Csikszentmihalyi writes that you can tweak tasks to create challenge, interest, or meaning by changing your mindset from “I have to do this” to that of a game or challenge.
In his book, Finding Flow, Csikszentmihalyi tells a story of a tumor biologist who loves his job with two exceptions: waiting around in airports and writing grant proposals. So, rather than trudging through these two tasks, he combines them to create a game of sorts. He starts dictating grant proposals while sitting at the gate or inching along in customs lines. He challenges himself to dictate as much as possible while waiting. He goes from feeling like both tasks are chores to feeling energized and challenged. His dictation game was engaging, stretched his skills, had clear rules, and offered immediate feedback. It wasn’t the complete engagement of flow, but it achieved the increased engagement of microflow.
So if you’re anxious, bored, or simply feeling disconnected, Csikszentmihalyi offers a way to get more from everyday life. From windsurfing to quilting to singing arias to rolling sushi, you’re invited to find the joy of complete engagement.
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1997). Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life. New York: Basic Books.