People don’t know how to focus anymore. They’re distracted by a constant flurry of texts, emails, phone calls, and social media notifications. You might feel the need to be available 24/7, which makes it impossible to concentrate. Want to be more productive? Read ahead and learn how to find your flow. It’s easier than you think…
What is flow?
Flow happens when you become so absorbed in a task 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 an article for a freelancing client: entirely fixated on the tone, meaning, and rhythm of the words you’re stringing together.
Flow is easier to reach in some situations than others. Creative and athletic endeavors are perfect, because you can’t excel without pushing yourself. If you’re forced to answer incoming calls on the fly, finding flow won’t be easy.
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.
Sadly, flow cannot be reached in situations like these. The challenge needs to fit your current skill-set. If you went to a beginner’s dance class, your odds of finding flow would increase.
You’ve danced professionally for YEARS. You take a 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 here either. Again: the challenge must match your existing skill-set. 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 fuel your Facebook addiction for countless hours… but do you really 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 nice 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.
- You have a chance of completing the task.
- You are able to concentrate on the task.
- You have a clear and distinct goal to achieve.
- You receive immediate feedback about your progress.
- You forget about your everyday fears and frustrations.
- You feel in control of your actions.
- You do not feel conscious of your self.
- 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.
Good luck finding flow while your mind is elsewhere. Leave your phone at home (or in the car) so you won’t lose your focus. No text or email is so urgent that it requires an instant reply.
Buy a digital watch with a timer. They’re cheap. And run at the same track or trail regularly. As you gain experience, it’ll get easier to predict whether or not you’re on pace to beat your previous record.
Stressful day? Take a moment to meditate before you run. If you’re curious, check out these surprising benefits of meditation. #4 is my favorite. If you’re in a rush, do a one minute meditation in the car.
Running might feel awkward to sedentary people. In that case, hire a personal trainer to assist with technique and exercise programming. If you don’t have the budget for that, there’s always free running advice on the Internet.
You might not be interested in running.
That’s okay. I’m merely demonstrating a practical way to find your flow. Running happens to be a great case study. On the off-chance my reasoning isn’t 100% obvious, I’ll explain…
If you begin with a realistic goal (i.e. “run or walk a mile on three days this week), you have a chance to succeed. (#1). Silencing your phone, turning it off, or leaving it at home will help you focus. (#2). To build a positive feedback loop, slowly and strategically raise the amount of miles ran per week (#3).
Checking your current time (or pace) on a digital watch provides immediate feedback about your performance (#4). Running can be a meditative activity in itself — so there might not be a real need to meditate — but if your mind gets “too busy,” take a few deep inhales and slow exhales before you begin.
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?
A freelance writer 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.
There’s nothing magical about it. With practice, anyone can find their flow.
Implementing this process is the easiest way to find flow in your personal and professional life. No excuses, please. To succeed as an entrepreneur or freelancer, you must learn how to focus.
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Read more articles by Daniel Wallen:
- Embrace the Struggle: How to Stay Optimistic During Tough Times
- 4 Signs You’re Addicted to Facebook (and How to Break the Habit for Good)
- Freelancing 101: How to Be Productive at Home (When You’d Rather Be Watching Netflix)