The flow state of mind (also known as being in the zone) is a mental state we all wish we could achieve. It doesn’t matter if we’re at work or doing something creative.

The flow experience brings you into the present through mindfulness. Your thoughts aren’t floating around to distract you. You aren’t worried about bills or the kids. You’re just here, right now.

That sense of feeling gives you a boost at work and elsewhere in your life. But not only that, the flow state of mind gives you a different type of happiness.

We’re going to cover the psychology behind the flow state of mind. We’ll learn how it works and the benefits.

Plus, we’re going to discuss great ways to get into that flow state of mind. The next time you’re struggling, you may be able to fix your focus.

What is Flow?

So, you want a clearer definition of the flow state of mind?

It’s when you’re so involved in your present activity that you’re unaware of the thoughts in your head. Or what’s going on around you. Hours can fly by while you’re in this state.

It’s often seen as a state of mind that only artists, musicians, and writers fall in. But that’s not true at all.

Autotelic personalities find themselves in this state more often than others.

It’s in this state that we’re the most productive and sometimes even the happiest.

Autotelic Personalities and Flow State of Mind

An autotelic personality is the concept behind a person’s ability to find a flow and the high rate of flow they go into.

People with autotelic personalities also have low neuroticism and high conscientiousness.

An autotelic personality, according to Mihaly Csikszentmihaly, is someone who does the task to do it. They do a task for the love they have for it, instead of for a deeper reason.

Csikszentmihaly created the concept of the flow state of mind. He is referred to as a “positive psychologist”.

Now, the state has always been there but he created some of the bigger ideas behind it.

The Basics of Flow State of Mind

Csikszentmihaly began studying Flow Theory in the 1960s with Jacob Getzels.

They found the flow state of mind is always brought out by goals and the feedback from the task.

It starts when you begin a task that’s perfect for your skills, natural or learned. The task isn’t too easy for you but it’s not too hard either. Then you receive instant feedback from your task or project.

It’s this combination that creates the ultimate state for a perfect flow.

Everyone has a type of flow. There are several types, from the Deep Thinker to the Hard Charger.

You can take a quiz to find out your flow type over at the Flow Genome Project.

Nine Universal Flow Factors

There are nine universal factors to a flow state of mind.

1. Challenge-skill balance

2. Action-awareness merging

3. Clear goals

4. Unambiguous feedback

5. Concentration on the task at hand

6. Sense of control

7. Loss of self-consciousness

8. Transformation of time

9. Autotelic experience

Challenge-Skill Balance

The challenge-skill balance involves your skill level on the task.

For you to go into a flow state of mind, a task can’t be too difficult. When you work on something that’s beyond your skill level, you get anxious. You get frustrated. You might even get deterred from the task altogether.

The task can’t be too easy either. When a task is too easy, you get bored. You get distracted by outside sources. You’d rather scroll through social media than work on the task at hand.

There needs to be a good skill/level balance for the task you’re doing. It needs to be intriguing and challenging. And you need to have an idea of what you’re doing, too.

Action-Awareness Merging

On a normal day and in a normal state of mind, our minds are all over the place. You’re thinking about what you have to do tomorrow, or you’re thinking about what happened the day before.

Your mind is never in the present, except when you’re in a flow state of mind. You’re in the present and focused on what you’re doing.

Clear Goals

Sometimes it can be difficult to know what your goals are.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s your goals at work and you don’t know what the perfect promotion would be, or you’re not sure if you’re ready to get a mortgage on a home.

But when you’re working on a task that gets you into the flow, you know what your goals are. You know what the end game is. You’re focused on getting to that finish line.

Unambiguous Feedback

You’re getting constant and positive feedback when you’re in the flow state of mind. You don’t have to look to outside sources for any feedback.

The biggest bonus is that the feedback is positive.

Concentration on the Task at Hand

Concentration is important for getting into the flow. You need a high concentration on the task you’re working on.

That strong focus helps you zone everything out around you. You’re focused on the task and in a flow state of mind.

Sense of Control

There are moments when you might feel like you’re in a state of flow. But you don’t feel like you have control. Those moments aren’t flow.

When you’re in a state of flow, you know you have a sense of control. If you need to switch tasks or switch something around in your project, you can.

Loss of Self-Consciousness

In the flow, you lose all self-consciousness. Don’t worry, this is one of many benefits from being in a flow state of mind.

Like we stated earlier, you lose that ego that’s always talking to you. That ego that tells you all the things you perceive bad about yourself. Or that worry about what others think of you.

All those comments disappear and your self-consciousness melts away.

Transformation of Time

When you’re in the flow, time doesn’t exist the same way it does normally.

There are times when you look at the clock and it’s been two hours. And it felt like fifteen minutes.

Or time runs slow. You feel like you had extra time but it’s only that distorted reality.

Autotelic Experience

The flow state of mind turns into an autotelic experience. This means the task you’re working on becomes a task you’re doing for the joy of it.

You’re not doing it for money, even if you get paid for it. You’re only doing it because you enjoy what you’re doing.

Your Brain During the Flow State of Mind

So, what happens in the brain during a state of mind of flow?

Well, the neuroscience behind the flow state of mind is still being researched. Neurocognitive researcher Arne Dietrich is a big influence in this area.

It’s believed the activity in your prefrontal cortex decreases during this process. Your prefrontal cortex is the part of your brain you use for your higher cognitive functions.

These functions include memory, self-reflection, and working memory to name a few.

As you’re going through flow, the decreased activity creates a loss of self-consciousness. It also creates quiets your inner critic.

This term is referred to as “transient hypofrontality.” Since your prefrontal cortex has quieted down, other areas of your brain can take over.

Ways to Get into a Flow State of Mind

There are ways to get yourself into a flow state of mind. There are different types of triggers and even more actual triggers.

The types of triggers include:

  • Psychological triggers
  • Environmental triggers
  • Social triggers
  • Creativity triggers

Psychological Triggers

The psychological triggers are the same as some of the nine universal flow factors. These are internal triggers.

  • You need intense concentration on your task. You can’t allow yourself to get distracted by outside sources, from your cell phone to your family.
  • You need to know your goals, and those goals need to be clear.
  • Immediate feedback is important. Your task must give you positive feedback. You also need to know what to do next when you’re done with one aspect.
  • The task you’re working on needs to be within your skill level. It can’t be too difficult or even too easy.

Environmental Triggers

An environmental trigger deals with what’s surrounding you. It’s about what’s around you that can trigger you into a flow state of mind.

  • A sense of danger in our environment makes our concentration intense. The type of threat varies from person to person. It doesn’t have to be a threat of physical harm.
  • Environments that are new and different challenge us in a positive way. So, your focus increases.
  • Deep embodiment is a major environmental trigger. This relates to your sense of control over what you’re doing physically. It’s about your physical movements to achieve your task and your goal.

Social Triggers

Social triggers create a flow state of mind for a group of people, from a class project to a work assignment.

  • There needs to be a serious focus among all members of the group. You have to all be in the same state of mind.
  • Like with the psychological triggers, you need a clear goal. But this clear goal needs to be the same across the board. Everyone needs to be on the same level.
  • There has to be communication between all the members of the group. Not only do you need to have the same goals, but you need to be able to communicate between all of you. Without communication, there won’t be much working on the task. So, there won’t be that flow between you all.
  • Jumping off communication, you need to be able to understand each other without words. You know what each other needs, sometimes before they even need it.
  • You should be able to compensate for each other when it comes to skill level. What one person can’t do, another can pitch in. You also need to do equal work.
  • An unpredictable environment and risk make for a flow state of mind. The entire group needs to feel this.
  • Like when you’re working alone, you need a sense of control in your group. Everyone needs to have a part of that control.
  • Listen to what’s happening in the present.
  • Be positive and agreeable. An argument only ruins the focus and the flow state of mind.

Creativity Trigger

The creative trigger is as it sounds. It’s about triggering creativity to go into a flow state of mind.

When you get into a flow state of mind, you trigger your creative side. Your creative side triggers a state of flow.

When you’re working on a creative project that you enjoy, getting into the flow is so much easier. As is staying in that flow state of mind.

Final Thoughts

The concept behind the flow state of mind is intriguing. The research on it has been going on for decades. The ideas behind the flow branch out into other areas.

Give the flow state of mind a try. Check out our triggers. We promise you, getting into the flow is worth it.

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