“5 PM already?! Where did the time go?”
If you’ve ever said that after a long and intense day, that is probably you were working in a flow state, aka “in the zone.” Flow state is a concept in positive psychology developed by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi. It means you are fully focused or immersed in an activity to the point where you lose your sense of time. To achieve flow state, you essentially have to engage your skills to the point where you’re not bored, but also not challenge yourself to the point that you feel anxious and overwhelmed.
So how exactly can you induce the flow state and how can you this habitually?
Improve your Focus Habits
Focus habits are one of the six main types of habits. Focus habits are about how you zone-in on tasks and how you best learn. By optimizing your focus habits you can achieve a flow state which can drastically increase your productivity.
1) Find Your Workspace Triggers
Just like any other cue, certain work-spaces (i.e. physical spaces) can inspire more productivity for certain tasks.
For example, if you have to write an essay, you might be more productive brainstorming and creating an outline while sitting on your couch. But once you need to write the the full essay, you might be more productive at a desk in an office setting. I found that to be the case for me – when I do more creative work I sit on my couch, and when I need to get down to business (so to speak) I gravitate towards my standing desk.
This happens because over time you create habitual associations between work-spaces and different types of work. So when you enter a particular work space, it will cue you into engage in a particular type of work.
So if you find you’re having trouble engaging in your work, try putting yourself in a different environment.
2) Visualize yourself doing the work
There’s a reason my motto in life is “use your mind to retrain your brain” – see, our thoughts can actually change and strengthen different connections in your brain.
In the 1990s, Dr. Alvaro Pascual-Leone of the Harvard Medical School began to study and develop brain maps through a process called transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). Pascual-Leone found that mental practice alone was sufficient for improving skillsets. In one experiment he taught 2 groups of people, who never studied piano, a sequence of notes, showing them which fingers to move and letting them hear the notes as they were played. Then for 2 hours a day, for 5 days, one groups engaged in mental practice, meaning they imagined both playing the sequence and hearing it played, while the other group engaged in physical practice.
At the end of the 5 days, Pascual-Leone found that both groups learned how to play the piece and the group who engaged in mental practice alone produced the same physical changes in the motor system of the brain as actually the groups who had physical practice.
This is significant because by simply imagining yourself engaging in an activity, you create a new reality for yourself; according to your brain, this activity is no longer an imagined thought but rather a reality created in the material composition of your brain.
So if you want to get something done and you’re having trouble getting engaged, try visualizing yourself going through all the details of the activity first. Not only will doing this repetitively create changes in your brain, it will give you more confidence to physically do the activity, because you’ll feel like you’ve already done in before.
[By the way, if you guys haven’t read the first episode of #RetrainYourBrain Tips, click here to check it out]
3) Engage Your Relevant Skills and Increase the Challenge
Remember that achieving a flow state is all about balancing skill and challenge.
So if you want to increase your engagement in an activity, do something that you actually enjoy. And if you have to do something you don’t enjoy because it was assigned to you at school or work, find a way to integrate something you enjoy into the task at hand. That means, if you don’t enjoy reading, read something you’re interested about. Or if you don’t enjoy working retail but you love cleaning, focus on creating a tidy workspace (like I do at work hehe).
You can also increase your engagement by increasing or decreasing the challenge. Remember you do not want to be bored but you also don’t want to be anxious. So as you engage in an activity, ask yourself how you it’s making you feel. If you need more stimulation, create tiny challenges to motivate you to complete the activity or simply increase the difficulty level. I do this at work by making “focuses of the day” or healthy competitions between co-workers such as who can sell the most product. Or rather, if you’re anxious, do reduce the difficulty level of your activity until you find your sweet spot.
I hope you found these 3 tips helpful! If you learned something new today, don’t forget to share this post with 1 friend.
I hope you all have a great day and don’t forget to make this the year of you!
Disclaimer: I am not a medical or mental health professional. Any information and content on my website is not a substitute for professional health advice.