Unlocking the flow state

In the summer of 2006, in Colorado, I saw this lone rock-climber high up there, hanging from a massive rock formation.

I had no idea how he got there or would climb down. Any mistake would have been his last.

Why do people seek out such extreme danger? They seem addicted, but to what?

Answer: “The flow state.”

We get addicted to things that give extreme pleasure, and the flow state can feel ecstatic.

At its core, flow is astonishingly simple — it is such a deep absorption in a task that our mind loses track of everything else, including the passage of time.

In the flow state, our brain’s default-mode network quietens down, and mind-wandering stops. Dopamine level shoots up, heightening focus and motivation. Since the task takes all our attention, we forget about ourselves and our daily annoyances (e.g., the pending bills, emails).

All this adds up to an amazing feeling of being ‘in the zone’ or ‘blissed out’.

However, a word of caution — a lot of people have overhyped the idea, making it sound almost mystical.

Here is a straightforward recipe for flow:

1. Pick a task that is challenging, but not beyond your ability.
2. Set a compelling goal for an hour or two you will work on the task.
3. If you are good at the task you can sense if your work is going in the right direction — it is called ‘feedback’.
4. Throw away your smartphone.
5. Set the timer. Start your work.

Quite likely, you will get into flow. As I write this piece, I am in a flow state 🙂

We don’t have to keep chasing happiness. We can create it, every day, with flow.

– Rajan


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