It’s called flow. That state of being present but unaware of the passage of time, unaware of your body. Your focus is on your objective. There’s complete immersion and excitement.
Ten minutes. That’s how long I’ve been staring into my screen trying to find the right words to begin this post. With every word I string together, I find myself inching closer to flow. With every highlight and delete, I feel myself falling further away.
This is the fundamental problem of reaching flow. We’ve all tasted it, but rarely are we able to reach it consistently. Flow is perhaps the most frustrating example of an inverse relationship – the harder we try, the more difficult it becomes.
As I write this post, I’m not in a state of flow. Likely due to my cognizance of the topic at hand or maybe it’s just an off day. But, I do believe we can influence the environment around us to increase the likelihood of reaching flow more consistently – subconsciously encouraging flow to come to us, in a sense.
It’s an appealing concept. A concept that I’ve become quite infatuated with.
Like any good nerd, I’ve been tweaking, testing, and altering my environments in an attempt to create the optimal environment for flow. Hence, this post. I wanted to share how I’ve altered certain things to make flow come around more often, most of which, I hope, becomes applicable to your quest.
Audial: I never used to put too much weight on the audial impact on flow. Flipping around through different genres of music is second-nature, but I’ve found that it can have a negative impact. In fact, there’s certain genres of music that make it impossible for me to reach flow; namely rap, pop, and rock. However, ambient music, and more commonly, electronic music seems to have the most profound impact on helping me reach flow. Two of my favorite examples of this is Bonobo’s Black Sands and Daft Punk’s TRON Legacy. When I look at the commonalities amongst these and other flow-enducing audio, they’re all very light on lyrics. Without a lyrical component to the audio, it slips into the background while toning out the distractions around you.
Physical: Sometimes I sit, other times I stand. Oddly enough, I’ve reached flow both standing and sitting. If I were a betting man, I’d say that I more commonly reach flow while standing. Posture aside, the more important physical component to reaching flow is attentiveness. When I sit, I’m not as engaged. I sink into my chair and my shoulders become soft. Everything is much foggier. When I stand, I’m alert. Flow becomes more tangible. Whether you sit, stand, or slouch, attentiveness is what you’re looking for. Once you enter flow, the physical becomes completely passive.
Mental: Every time I’ve reached flow, I’ve entered my working session with two things: clear goals of what I wanted to achieve during that period and a challenging task at hand. Often, those two things are one in the same. As human beings, we thrive on accomplishment and feed off doing things that are meaningful. Without these things, we’ll often find ourselves aimlessly poking around the web for hours at a time. Which brings me to the second portion of the mental state, which is limiting distractions. I’ve used the Pomodoro methodology to help in removing social networking and other time-wasting sites for blocks at a time. One simple derailment can set you back to the beginning of your progression toward flow.
Environmental: When I look around, I like to see other people. I’m not sure why, but I’ve always found that the movement of others – either through physical movement or simply sitting and working – has created the best environment for me to reach flow. It doesn’t distract me, it actually feeds into my focus. For me, coffee shops or co-working spaces provide this. The audial component mentioned prior makes it a reasonable option as an environment for reaching flow, without distraction. More than just the movement of others, though, is the refreshment of scenery. It’s different than the office and the home, spurring a fresh sense of creativity, newness, and enjoyment. Not only that, but these places that live outside of our daily life, the coffee shop, in my case, remove the temptation of distractions that often show themselves in the form of errands, chores, or Breaking Bad.
There’s no silver bullet when it comes to reaching flow, but it is, by all means, possible to increase the frequency that you reach it. These are the four components I’ve discovered that contribute most consequently towards flow, so try to find your sweet spot within each. But continue the quest, flow is very much a tangible and influenceable state.
And when you reach it, your best work becomes possible.
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