Athletes will often talk about being ‘in the zone’, by which they mean achieving optimal performance, with body and mind operating to the full. That is when they get the best results. Similarly, psychologists have talked more broadly about finding ‘flow’, by which they mean getting to a state of mind where you are, to use the modern idiom, ‘cooking on gas’. It refers to feeling that things are ‘just right’ and you are achieving your best. This can apply to any aspect of life – not just athletics – where the conditions are right.
Flow happens when we are fully immersed in an activity, when we are free from distractions, interruptions or anything else that can stand in the way. When the state of ‘flow’ is reached, our concentration level is at its maximum, our creativity is enhanced and we produce our best work. Strange though it may sound, it is as if we have reached some sort of higher plane. By its very nature, it can only ever be a temporary state, but it is one that we can revisit whenever possible.
Have you ever been so fully engaged in an activity that everything else is blocked out? A situation where you feel things are going really well, you are making great progress and it all seems to be coming together. Time can pass very quickly and you are surprised at how long you have been engaged in that activity. That is ‘flow’. That is when you are in the zone – the zone of optimal creativity and effectiveness.
To achieve flow we need to be doing something we want to do and are committed to doing well. We need to give it our full attention and not be trying to do something else at the same time (like checking our email or phone texts!).
We also need to be free of distractions and interruptions. This can be very difficult in the modern ‘always on’ world. Open plan offices, hot desking and other features of contemporary working life can be major obstacles to achieving flow, so you may need to think carefully about how to create the right conditions that you will need. Just trying to achieve flow in the wrong place or the wrong circumstances is almost certainly doomed to failure. You will be wasting your time and may become cynical about ever achieving flow.
Of course, we cannot expect achieving flow to be an everyday occurrence, although creating the right circumstances to facilitate flow will help us to concentrate and achieve better results anyway. The closer we can get to flow conditions, the more productive we can be – and the more satisfaction we can gain from our activities.
You may find it helpful to think about what activities are most likely to achieve flow, what the things that really stimulate you are. If you match those activities with the right circumstances (no distractions, no interruptions and so on), then you are maximising the chances of achieving flow.
It can also help to think about the activities you are called upon to perform and consider what you could potentially do to make them more appealing and stimulating. There is no easy or simple formulas for this, but there is certainly much to be gained from giving these matters some careful thought.
There is also much to be gained from examining other people’s experiences of flow. What do other people do that enables them to achieve flow? Do they have any specific strategies, or does it just happen? Is there anything you can learn from what other people do that can increase your chances of getting ‘into the zone’ more often?