Brain Hacks

Focus 101: How to Find Your Flow and Live in the Now

No one knows how to focus anymore. We’re constantly distracted by a never-ending flurry of texts, emails, phone calls, and social media notifications. People feel like they have to be available 24/7, which makes it impossible to concentrate on the task at hand. Frustrating? Yes! Life gets a lot better when you start living in the present moment. Here’s how to find your flow.

What is flow?

Flow occurs when you become so absorbed in a task, chore, or activity that everything else ceases to exist.

You’re running on a nature trail: totally focused on the sensations of your stride, heart-rate, and breathing pattern.

You’re performing in a concert: completely aware of how your fingers feel when they strum the chords on your guitar.

You’re writing a novel or poem: entirely fixated on the  tone, meaning, and rhythm of the words you’re stringing together.

Certain activities are more conducive to flow than others. Creative and athletic endeavors are perfect, because you can’t excel without pushing yourself.

Flow occurs at the intersection of boredom and anxiety.

You’ve never danced in your entire life. A friend or lover drags you to an advanced dance class. The steps are so complicated that you can’t even comprehend what is happening.

Flow cannot be reached in situations like these. The challenge needs to fit your current skill-set. If you went to a beginner’s class, your odds of achieving a flow state would be much greater.

You’ve been dancing for YEARS. You take a friend or lover to a dance class for total beginners. The steps are so basic you could do them blindfolded without any instruction. You’re bored.

You’re not going to find flow in this scenario either. Again: the challenge must match your skills. You should be required to reach… but not so far that success feels like an impossible feat.

Flow provides you with a deep sense of enjoyment.

You spend hours texting and scrolling through social media updates… but do you truly enjoy it? I doubt it. Watch the facial expressions of people staring at their smartphones. They usually look sad.

Flow is enjoyable, because it feels good to rise to the occasion and excel at a difficult challenge. When we succeed, we grow into a more complex being. Insecurity is replaced with confidence.

You might not enjoy every second of running a marathon (especially after you cross mile #20). But your exhaustion will be replaced with exhilaration as soon as you cross the finish line.

Want more flow in your life? Follow these steps.

There are eight essential components of flow according to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of Flow: the Psychology of Optimal Experience. We’ve already discussed a few of them.

  1. You have a chance of completing the task.
  2. You are able to concentrate on the task.
  3. You have a clear and distinct goal to achieve.
  4. You receive immediate feedback about your progress.
  5. You forget about your everyday fears and frustrations.
  6. You feel in control of your actions.
  7. You do not feel conscious of your self.
  8. You become so engaged in the task that time ceases to exist.

Running isn’t a “flow” activity in itself. In fact, it can be monotonous without the right mindset. Aiming to run a specific distance within a set amount of time makes it seem more interesting.

If you’re a couch potato, don’t tell yourself: “I’m going to run ten miles everyday starting now.” That’s not realistic. Start with one mile and work up from there. Add more miles as you grow.

Flow can’t be achieved when your mind is elsewhere. Leave your phone at home (or in the car) so you won’t be distracted. No text or email is so urgent that it requires an instant response.

Invest in a digital watch with a stopwatch. They’re cheap. Run at the same location consistently. As you get experience, you’ll be able to tell whether you’re on track to beat your previous time.

Stressful day? Take a moment to meditate before you run. If you’re curious, check out these surprising benefits of meditation. If you’re in a hurry, a one minute meditation will do the trick.

Running might feel awkward to sedentary people. Hire a personal trainer to help you with your technique. If you don’t have the budget for that, there’s tons of how-to articles on the Internet.

You might not be interested in running. That’s okay. I’m merely demonstrating how to create more flow in your life. Running happens to be a great example. Just in case my reasoning isn’t obvious, I’ll explain.

Being realistic about your starting point gives you a chance to succeed (#1). Leaving your phone at home makes it easier to focus (#2). Aiming for a set amount of miles provides a goal to achieve (#3). Wearing a stopwatch gives you immediate feedback about your performance (#4).

Taking a moment to meditate calms your mind (#5). (Note: That might not be necessary since running can be meditative in itself.) Working on your technique improves your confidence and sense of control (#6 and #7). If you check all those items off, #8 will take care of itself. Neat, huh?

Writers could apply the same advice by silencing their phone and trying to type a set amount of words within an hour. Check the current word count every 10-15 minutes for timely feedback. Learn more about topics of interest to eliminate the amount of research and thinking required. Same concept, different execution. How can you add more flow to your day? Be creative.

There’s nothing magical about it. With practice, anyone can find their flow.

Tell me how you’re going to apply this advice in your life, because knowledge is worthless without application. Share this article with your friends so they can be more focused like you.

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