Many of us have been lucky enough to chance across an experience where everything just seems to flow, and perhaps even seems effortless. Unsurprisingly those times are really good for us – so how can we make them happen more often?

What is flow?

It’s some times called ‘peak performance’ or ‘optimum state’. Perhaps a more relatable description though is Ayrton Senna’s description of being ‘in the pipe’ – when he was driving for him there was just himself, the car, and the track.

What do you need to get into flow?

Senna’s experience as racing driver illustrates the requirements for any of us to get into a flow state

  • It should be a physical task
  • There should be immediate feedback on your performance, and the chance to correct mistakes
  • The task should be demanding at a particular level – a point just beyond your comfortable level of achievement
  • If the task is too easy it becomes simply relaxing
  • If the task is too difficult it becomes too stressful
  • An absence from interruption, with a specific time and perhaps location for the task

How do I know if I’m in a flow state?

Too much awareness of being in a flow state can actually get in the way of the experience. It’s often most apparent after the fact, but the signs are

  • time distortion – you’ve thought that you’ve been engaged in the activity for much less time than has actually passed . You might think you’ve spent a quarter of an hour on something when in fact it’s been nearly two hours
  • unawareness of physical needs – not thinking about a drink, or food, or the toilet throughout the task, especially for extended periods of time

What sort of activities could I do?

Flow activities need a physical element to them – typically they will be playing a sport or game; playing or practicing a musical instrument; or an artistic or creative pastime, such as drawing or painting.

Why is it good for me?

Flow states are good for us in two ways.

Firstly, because the task has to be stretching then time spent in flow states naturally increases the level of ability and achievement increase over time – otherwise the task becomes simply relaxing, or even boring.

secondly, these states of being benefit our mood and mental-health. They refresh and recharge us, and can be a tremendously powerful part of our self-care.

Are there any downsides?

As with anything there can be downsides to flow states, but these come from their potential over-use rather than the state of mind itself.

The enjoyability and progress that they afford can be alluring as well as rewarding. The key is not to let the activity form too large a part of your life, or for the flow state to become too large an element of your self-care.

For instance the flow state that comes from multiplayer on-line games isn’t a passport to endless hours online, or being able to neglect other activities.

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