One of life’s best feelings is being in your flow state, that ‘zone’ when you are your most productive, creative, efficient and enjoying yourself. When in your flow, there is no need to ‘dig deep’ and plough on because what you’re doing becomes easy! And getting things done well always leaves us feeling great, because we have achieved something.
Some people can snap out of bed and feel this way, with amazing energy and clarity (I rarely do), but unfortunately many people struggle to get the good feelings flowing, and instead procrastinate whilst trying to chase the elusive mind zone of efficiency.
Procrastination comes in many forms, social media, unnecessary emails, tv, anything that takes us away from what we actually want to do! And the problem here is that we are waiting to find this feeling and expecting our flow to just happen. Whilst it can (sometimes) appear like magic, often it’s the actions and mindset we create that helps us gain our flow.
Our Brain In Flow
Whilst neuroscience hasn’t completely figured it out what “flow” is yet, research recognises it is as a distinct mental state, which arises when the level of challenge of the task and the level of skill of the person are in balance.
Working on a task that is engaging — but not so difficult as to be frustrating — lets our brains relax in an unusual way. When we are engaged in effortful focus, the brain’s central executive network (CEN) is engaged.
When our mind is fully engaged in the task at hand, our mind is actually more free and creative in other parts of our brain, which then makes connections, mulls things over, makes sense of things, solve problems and becomes organised.
Furthermore, although you are focussed (at whatever kind of task or job), flow begins to become pleasurable as dopamine is released helping you feel more relaxed, optimistic, energized, and determined.
A 10 year study on productivity and being in the flow with consultancy firm McKinsey & Company found that when top executives were ‘in the flow’ they were 5 times more productive than when not in flow.
Similarly, Jamie Wheals TED Talk Hacking the Genome of FLOW that if you were in flow when working one day per week, you could theoretically take off the rest of the week off and still keep pace with what you need to!
So how do we get into our own flow? How do we get mentally into the feel good zone of getting things done? The truth is there is no 1 specific action that will get you into flow, and it may be that it’s a bit of trial and error with what works for YOU as an individual.
Below I’m sharing some of the most powerful and effective techniques that I (and many of my clients) have found helpful for mentally preparing and feeling good about flowing into effectiveness, whether it’s for work, getting the house tidied up or managing a regular task.
Breathing For Full Body Flow
Step 1: Breathe slowly to down to your stomach, and fill up your belly. Try to allow your shoulders and chest to remain mostly still. Spend about 3-4 seconds filling up your belly.
Step 2: After you maxed out your belly with air, then fill up the rest of your lungs by breathing into your upper chest and raising your shoulders. You’ll notice that you get much more capacity in your lungs this way. Spend another 3-4 seconds filling up these upper parts.
Step 3: Hold your breath for about 2-3 seconds.
Step 4: Let out all of your breath in about 5 – 8 seconds.
Step 5: Repeat that for three full cycles.
After you try this breathing technique, ask yourself the following:
How do you feel?
Are you a little light-headed?
Do your muscles feel a little looser?
Is your mind a little clearer and less cluttered?
If yes, then you’re moving in the right track! Not only is your body
more prepared, but this form of Meditation provides your brain the time and space to subconsciously adjust, prepare and get clear for what’s ahead.
Set Clear Aims & Times
Having clear goals or outcomes can help you block the time and space you need to get things done. Leaving tasks with an open ended timeline usually means it won’t actually happen, and what you want to achieve is lost in black hole of ‘maybe, at some point’ leaving you feeling fatigued and frustrated.
Depending on what your looking to do whilst in flow, you can always set a time limit on doing things. Giving yourself clear boundaries (10 minutes? or 1 hour set aside) can help you combat feelings of overwhelm. It means your acknowledging that you may not get it all done, but you will give something your best for that dedicated time – and you will be amazed at how productive you can be when in flow even in short bursts.
The brain can’t stay in flow forever, but can achieve that sate of being for around 90 minutes to 2 hours, so remember that expectations should be realistic!
Multi-tasking is a myth! Your brain can only focus on one thing at a time and when we think we are multitasking we are actually forcing our brain to switch between two or more things at a rapid pace.
This puts a large cognitive load on our brain, and drains our energy. So get into your flow by being mindful of what your doing, and allowing some things to wait till later whilst you refocus - you can read more on our Single Tasking blog.
Make It A Challenge
Our brains like an achievable challenge, nothing too demanding or tricky because it leaves us feeling defeated, but easy enough we gain satisfaction when completed! So when it comes to the flow state, we are looking to for something with a bit of effort or challenge to keep our brain engaged.
As mentioned above, you can use limited times to spur action, or find a personal goal or challenge that motivates us towards completion, maybe even play a favourite song to start with, or set up a reward to look forward to when finished. Ultimately a task that is boring will never help us achieve a flow state, so find the challenge to make it interesting!
Go With The Flow
Being mindful is all about having an awareness of self, and sometimes its being aware or mindful of our state of being, our responses to people or maybe mindful of our boundaries, self care or needs. I also recommend being mindful of your flow, whenever you achieve.
And really notice it, ponder it, talk about it with someone. Begin to notice those days or times when you have felt great and have been in the zone. In many ways this is about knowing yourself better!
Consciously recognising what it feels like for you, the actions you took, what you needed to ignore and more to feel the flow will absolutely help you into those good vibes in the future.
Still looking for better flow and more energy?
Check out our online course 3 Days To Better Energy now, and look forward to feeling energised, productive and focussed!
Love & Light Jennifer
Wheals, J. 2014,Hacking the GENOME of Flow: Jamie Wheal at TEDxVeniceBeach (online) Available from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WqAtG77JjdM (Accessed 9 January 2023)
Cleveland Clinic, Dopamine (online) Available from https://cle.clinic/3GBiqBH (Accessed 10 January 2023)
Lindon, D. Topps, M. Bakker, A. 2021, The Neuroscience of the Flow State: Involvement of the Locus Coeruleus Norepinephrine System (online) https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2021.645498 (Accessed 10 January 2023)
McKinsey & Company. 2021, On Point (online) Available from
https://www.mckinsey.com/~/media/mckinsey/email/newsletters/2021-10-29a-onpoint.html (Accessed 10 January 2023)