What is the Flow State and How Can You Get There?

Alex Wecht ’24

Opinion Editor

Many of us face teeming schedules on a daily basis, so it’s very tempting to let procrastination and otiosity win out over productivity whenever we get a breather or a chance to chill out. Productivity and time management are among the most important skills a highly successful person can have.

For many of us, those really focused work sessions where you are so productive you could write a novel only come once in a while—or so we think. In fact, there exists far greater potential within each of us than we tend to perceive.

I want to focus on a particular state of mind: when you’re in a world of all-consuming and interdisciplinary thinking with unwavering focus. Candidly, it’s what I find to be the most beautiful mental state one may achieve in intellectual life. This state I speak of is the “flow state.” Per Wikipedia, it is “the mental state in which a person performing some activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.”

In some facet of life or another, we have all experienced flow, some more than others. A host of scholars, athletes, religious figures, and others seek a state of flow in all waking hours of the day in order to inhabit the best version of their lives. Whether it be work, reading, discourse, exercising, sports, painting, fly fishing, or what have you, the experience is enhanced ten-fold if you enter the flow state (often unknowingly referred to as “the zone”).

So how do we tap into this state of mind more often, given that most of us only enter our zone for at best a few short hours, or maybe a few minutes, in a typical day? Typically, it takes about 10-15 minutes of doing something before you reach the flow state. David Goggins, known by some as the toughest man on this earth, often asserts that most people only reach 40% of their potential because they avoid uncomfortable situations. I’ve found that if you can make it past that initial doubt in your mind (the 40%), there really is 60% of potential that’s yours for the taking. When you pass the 40% marker you’ve entered the zone, and the next 25% or so is like clockwork. I attribute this phenomenon to the flow state. Once you can “get out of your head,” and let your mind and body do what they do best, you’ll find a peaceful, intuitive, and active equilibrium. Human resilience is analogous to a murky glass of water: if allowed to reach stillness, the murky glass of water becomes clear. Your state of mind creates your experience, not the other way around, so stay in the game and find your flow.

As renowned neuroscientist Andrew Huberman emphasizes, there is a “download phase” shortly after waking that many people unknowingly neglect. In the morning, one should allow oneself to sort through one’s own mind before ingesting someone else’s space-time-sensory relationship. If you allow your conscious brain to digest what it achieved during sleep before entering someone else’s world—going on your phone first thing in the morning, for example—you’ll in turn be more effective throughout the day. A life focused only on exteroceptive stimuli is not optimally conducive to personal growth. Ultimately, you must know yourself in order to maximize productivity and eventually increase the time you can spend in the flow state. 

By making an effort to be cognizant of the moments in which you feel most productive and focused, you can start to schedule your work during those periods of day when you’re most active mentally. Ultimately though, you can’t force flow. You will find yourself in a flow state when you have let your brain do the honing in.

Another key to unlocking the flow state is eliminating external distractions. For some, this may be listening to instrumental music, for others it may be not making eye contact with others, and for others it could be sitting in the middle of a large crowd. You get the point—everyone’s mind works differently.

Note, in some activities it will be either easier or harder to enter the flow state. This is natural; some activities spark more mental resistance than others. Remember, we are naturally built to avoid uncomfortable situations. However, the more often you break through the 40% marker, the more parts of the day you’ll find yourself in this precious mental state.

I don’t like running. In fact, running sucks, but I get excited before a six-mile run because I know that, at some point, I’ll be more focused on what I want to think about than on the discomfort I’m in. Sitting down to a daunting textbook assignment is not fun, but, chances are, the latter portion will come easier than the beginning. My point here is, if you want to be in the zone more often, start becoming aware of the time when you are in it, and try to begin by first taking on the parts of the task that aren’t so appealing.

To conclude, I urge you to never waste your best moments, as they are truly intuitional, meaningful, and beneficial. The connections you make during these moments are what make you who you are. The productivity that you find in these moments is not to be wasted. The conversations and relationships that foster your flow state are not to be taken for granted. These moments are precious. This overall sense of clarity is moving. I’ll leave you with a quote from Delia Owens: “Nobody’s come close to filling their brains. We’re all like giraffes not using their necks to reach the higher leaves.”

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