There is a moment when consciousness seems to quiet down – an ocean of harmony encapsulates your inner being and surrounds you with focus. This state is known as the flow.
Flow is an optimal state of consciousness – focus, mindfulness and challenge reach equilibrium. It is the deep embodiment we feel when writing a resume for your dream job, running in nature or losing the sense of time in a stimulating conversation.
“Enlightenment is the space between our thoughts,” said spiritual leader and author, Elkhart Tolle. Being in flow is an active form of meditation where mental time travel gravitates to the present – an alignment of internal and external oneness.
“Empty your mind, be formless shapeless – like water.” – Bruce Lee.
To access the state of flow we must empty the mind, we must become like water. With emptiness of consciousness, we find our best and most optimal selves. Like an empty cup, our mind opens to love, truth, happiness and purpose. My search for flow leads me to cultivate certain routines that help me get into this state of life-changing potential.
Access To Flow
Distractions internal or external disturb our state of flow. To overcome our distractions, we must become aware to see where our attention goes. Does it linger to our insecurities? Or does it get lost in external clutter? Never the less, we need focus to enter flow.
The human optimization legend Tim Ferriss, recommends journaling – writing the stream of consciousness to a piece of paper “to cage the monkey mind”. The simple act of handwriting your thoughts releases trapped anxieties that may bother us when we need to get sh*t done. I covered journaling in my very first blog post “The Power of Pen and Paper”. Growing up with two older brothers all cramped in one small house, it was hard to get anything productive done at home. My lifesaver, the library. Clean, minimal and quiet all the circumstances that induce a state of flow.
Flow-Through Clear Goal-Setting
When we set vague goals, procrastination prevails. When we provide the brain with a clear goal, our focus and energy are directed only towards a single task. Distractions are dismissed. Equilibrium finds emptiness. Within this state of uninterrupted concentration, we find flow and enjoy the process of achieving this goal. My post “On Habits”, I disused how setting a clear goal such as running a 100k ultra-marathon by 2020 lead to flow arising in all areas of my life due to the challenge and risk involved.
Skill to Challenge Ratio
“If challenges are too low, one gets back to flow by increasing them. If challenges are too great, one can return to the flow state by learning new skills.” said positive psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Ideally, you want to find the right balance of skill and challenge. I don’t think I could run 100 miles the task is simply too challenging for my current skill level. However running a 60k is where challenge slightly surpasses my current skill level, allowing me to access the upper right corner of this model. The progressive challenge compounds overtime. With consistent and persistence, effort mastery is obtained.
Think about the last time you were working on an assignment one day before the deadline. If you didn’t submit this work before the deadline, there would be consequences. With a clear goal to finish this assignment, you enter a state of hyper-productivity and get to work. You lose track of time. Your conscious mind leaves the past or future behind. Complete focus is on the one task. Before the deadline, you hit submit and feel this deep sense of relaxation.
Unfortunately or fortunately we have all been in this situation many times. The task was challenging, but we had the skills required to complete it. The risk, clear goal, challenge and skill ratio got me into a state of flow.
Creating a Mental Cue
Each time I want to get into the flow state, I use a breathing technique called the 4-7-8. This practice takes place right before an activity that demands flow. It clears the mind of conscious clutter and focuses the mind to the absolute now. This is how its performed:
- Inhale in through your nose (4 seconds)
- Keep the air in your belly (7 seconds)
- Exhale through your mouth (8 seconds)
This cycle is considered one repetition. Perform four to eight cycles, twice a day. It only takes 30 seconds of your precious time, it one of the easiest habits to implement, but causes one of the most profound of changes to daily conscious.
Flow often occurs when you are passionate and engaged in an activity. I truly enjoy the process of researching and writing in own my unique way. It is the challenge between comprehension and articulation. With my full undivided attention and I feel a deep embodiment, where my thoughts find their way to my fingertips. When I’m in this state, there’s nothing else like it everything just seems to flow.