Flow States: How to Get in The Zone

When was the last time you were so absorbed in what you were doing that time stopped, other to-dos melted away, and nothing else seemed to matter?

Athletes call it being “in the zone,” and musicians call it being “in the groove”; it’s the phenomenon of trance-like immersion into the activity at hand, of being so engaged that the time flies by. Known formally as flow states, “getting in the zone” is a concept we have been exploring in my Happiness Studies.

Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the original identifier of flow states, describes the sensation to Wired magazine by saying, “Ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”

Research suggests that in order to find your flow, you should focus on activities that you are passionate about AND where you have a level of competency. The action can’t be too automatic and easy, there has to be a level of challenge to keep you focused. However, it also should not be too intimidating or beyond your abilities. Most importantly, no multi-tasking is allowed; this requires single-tasking. Finding that sweet spot where your passion and skill intersect is critical.

My husband, Marty, is an avid painter. He says that when he paints a complex piece that speaks to him emotionally, he is more likely to be “in the zone,” like the one he just finished, of a young father walking in the woods holding his young son’s hand. It was a challenging and time-consuming piece, which he enjoyed, and it tells a story he was inspired by and motivated to share. The scene emotionally speaks to Marty, and he believes it will appeal to other viewers too. Again, we have the intersection of passion and competency.

When “in the flow,” you have the potential to become productive in accomplishing something great like writing music, solving a math problem, preparing a presentation, or playing a sport. As VeryWellMind reporter Kendra Cherry puts it, entering a flow state “is associated with increased happiness, higher intrinsic motivation, greater creativity, and better emotional regulation, among other positive effects.”

There are many benefits to spending time in flow states. Those who have described their sensations of being in the zone, say they’ve felt complete concentration, serenity, clarity, and intrinsic motivation.

What could you achieve if you found your sweet spot and lived some portion of your life “in the zone”? What are your passions? Where do you have a cross-over in your skill set?

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Kim Martin