Did you know that you are easily capable of a state of mind where you can be incredibly productive and feel amazing? Flow is the state you enter when you’re totally absorbed in what you are doing; it’s a mental state of being totally in the present, where the mind is blissfully undistracted by the past and the future and where time means nothing. It’s a frame of mind that many of us wish to find, where you can finally relax and enjoy a hobby, sport or activity without feeling any of the usual stresses that so often intrude into what should be a moment of enjoyment. This is what is meant by a flow state of mind. Children seem to effortlessly find this state of mind, when they play or when they are absorbed in a beloved hobby, but as we age, adults seem to lose the ability to slip easily into this relaxed mode.
I recently took up playing guitar. I played quite a lot when I was younger but seemed to find less and less time for it as the responsibilities of adulthood took hold. I always intended to play again so I kept the guitar safely in its case, dusting it off once or twice a year but never really getting back into the habit of playing regularly. Stress had been building, work had been taking precedence over most things and I knew it was time to really throw myself into a hobby that would help me unwind. So I got the guitar out, put some new strings on it, and made a commitment to playing again. I remembered fondly playing for hours when I was young, working on new tunes, practicing old ones to perfection, and I looked forward to that feeling of complete absorption.
But here’s the thing, I found that I just couldn’t access that elusive state of flow. I’d sit down and start playing and something else would pop into my head; a chore I hadn’t completed, a light I’d left on or a window that needed opening or closing, a conversation I’d had earlier in the day, work or chores that I hadn’t finished. My mind would wander constantly and I found it almost impossible to do what I had intended, to play and be in a little world of complete relaxation. So what had changed?
I believe the answer is that I had changed. Not in my core, not the person I truly am, but my habits had changed hugely compared to when I was younger. I’m not talking about my physical habits so much as my mental ones. I had simply not been in the habit of accessing the state of flow. It is, after all, a habit like anything else and when we become stressed over a period of time, our minds can adopt the habit of finding things to worry about.
The solution was actually very simple: keep trying. And that’s exactly what I did. And slowly but surely I found that I would get more absorbed into the actual action of playing, of reading the music, of finding the right touch and the right dynamics for the piece I was playing, and, above all, simply enjoying music again. The more time I spent, the more I found I could quickly access flow and be in the present with the music I was playing. And the feeling was incredible, a wave of deeply satisfying relaxation that I remembered from my youth. The weight on my shoulders of all the small and mostly unimportant stuff with which I had been preoccupied began to melt away and I floated off on a wonderful cloud of peace and relaxation.
Flow often happens purely by accident but that doesn’t mean that you can’t intentionally move into that state of mind by using tried and tested methods. Remember to turn off your phone, remove all distractions as far as possible and be patient with yourself. These methods will work over time if you practice and use them regularly:
How To Enter A Flow State Of Mind
1. Do something you love (or think you will love)
If you already know that you love painting, singing, knitting, pottery or some other sport or pastime then that can be a good place to start. Arts and crafts are often associated with relaxation and attaining the flow state but other activities are good to try too. If you don’t already have any hobbies that relax you then try some out. Many of these things can be started quite cheaply and easily and you might find that they bring you peace of mind and a gateway to flow.
Many people use meditation as the ultimate way to find flow state. It can be a deeply relaxing and rewarding habit to adopt and, as a keen meditator myself, I definitely recommend it. Like with my experience with the guitar, it does take patience, but setting small goals and working up from shorter to longer sessions will definitely bear fruit, bringing you into a blissful state of flow over time. Guided meditations can be a great way to start and may even become your go-to method as you gain experience, as many of them bring a wealth of experience and information from experienced meditators along with each session. Finding a quiet place with few distractions will definitely help at the beginning, although some people report that they can slip into flow even in a crowded and noisy situation if they have become accustomed to it and find the session engrossing enough.
People also report that sports, especially running, hiking and cycling are excellent and easy ways to enter a flow state of mind. The key seems to be that the activity is challenging enough to keep the mind busy, but not so challenging as to cause stress. Light, concerted attention on your posture and technique, for example, can make the difference between a sports session being OK and it being a deeply pleasurable and rewarding session in the flow state.
This doesn’t happen for everyone and it doesn’t necessarily occur in every activity, but some work can induce a flow state. It depends on the activity itself but also how you do it and how you apply your mind. It needs to be something that is challenging enough to engross your mind fully, not too challenging so as to stress you, and interesting enough so you don’t get bored. This is different for everyone of course. I’ve found that ‘boring’ or repetitive jobs in the garden, such things as mowing the lawn or pulling up weeds, can either be incredibly relaxing, bringing me into a flow state, or very stressful, causing me to be in a worse mood than before I started.
The difference for me is if I allow my mind to wander or if I focus my attention. If I let the repetitive work release my mind to dwell on discontented thoughts then I don’t reach flow or any kind of peace. If I concentrate firmly but in a relaxed way on what I’m doing, using mindfulness techniques to really focus, then I can very quickly drop into a relaxed flow state. When this happens, the time flies, the work gets done and I feel brilliant both during and after. Finding a way to do your work, whatever that may be, in a more mindful way could make all the difference between a stressful chore and a peaceful, fulfilling session of relaxation.
5. Find your BPT (Biological Peak Time)
Flow may be difficult to achieve when you are tired or sleepy. Although it should be done in a relaxed way with a ‘light touch’, it still requires energy, focus and concentration. So, at least to start with, try your activities and techniques at a time of day when your mind feels fresh, during your biological peak time or BPT. This can be different for everyone; many people find first thing in the morning is a good time but perhaps you’re someone who has energy and focus later in the day. Experiment, and don’t give up if it doesn’t always work. Try a different time of day or take a rest and come back later. You’ll soon find what works for you.
6. Background music, noise or pure silence
This is something else to experiment with. I find background music helps me into a flow state but only if it’s songs that I know well or music that is purely instrumental – new songs that I’m not familiar with are too distracting. If I choose the right music, it can quickly relax me, help me focus and improve my concentration. Some people prefer silence (which may be difficult to find but ear plugs or defenders can help, if safe and appropriate) or certain sounds such as white noise, the sea, the whir of a fan, the tinkling of windchimes or other things such as Tibetan singing bowls. Try out some different music and sounds at different volumes and see how you get on. Noise-cancelling headphones can also be helpful in some circumstances.
7. Eat at the right time
Being hungry or malnourished will not help your concentration so make sure you are eating regular healthy meals. Have a small healthy snack if you need it before you begin your session of flow. I find a rumbling stomach to be too much of a distraction, as is being uncomfortably full. That said, once I’m in flow state, I can sometimes forget to eat!
8. Stay hydrated
Similarly, make sure you drink plenty of water and hydrating drinks. The brain is made up primarily of water and dehydration affects our cognitive faculties very quickly. Few of us drink enough throughout the day so a glass of water is seldom a bad idea and usually helps with concentration.
The consumption of caffeine is contentious and some people should clearly avoid it for health reasons. On the other hand, a small amount of caffeine from coffee or tea has been shown to boost productivity and focus and, if used judiciously, can help attain a state of sustained concentration. I tend to avoid caffeine completely and then have one cup maybe once or twice a week when I really need an extra boost of energy. A cup of tea or coffee just before I do an activity for which I want to attain a flow state has definitely been helpful on occasion. It’s entirely up to you, but bear in mind that this might be helpful from time to time.
Once you are in flow state of mind, you can stay there for as long as you hold your relaxed concentration. Be sure to look after your eyes and body by taking breaks from close-up work and stretching and getting exercise if your activity is seated.
I hope these nine tips and my own personal experience will help you find your own relaxed flow state. If it doesn’t happen quickly or easily for you then please don’t give up. Try the tips with the adjustments suggested and be sure to practice regularly for a few weeks. I’m sure you can succeed with just a little time and patience!
If you’ve enjoyed reading this article on entering a flow state of mind, please share. Thanks for reading!