A while back I started painting and I experienced something I’ve never experienced before.
I bought a pack of basic oil paint about a week prior and one day I decided to start on a larger canvas, by painting the bottom layer – a simple grey tone. I set everything up on the floor, put some music on, poured me a glass of red wine (that’s a key ingredient when creating grand art) and started. I was just going to put a quick layer of paint so that it would dry and be prepared for the main motif sometime during the next few days.
It didn’t play out as planned.
Suddenly, I “woke up” from what could only be described as some kind of a trance. I had been sitting on the floor for almost two hours, with my paint and brushes – only using the one grey nuance.
I had mixed the black and white colors on the palette. I had watched the brush pick up the paint. I had watched the subtle lines in the paint being left on the canvas. I had painted and re-painted each square centimeter on the canvas. With the same color.
My body was filled with energy. I felt this extremely calm and happiness inside of me.
I realized I had found my flow state.
Being in the “zone” or to find the flow is something a lot of people are talking about. Especially the gurus online.
But what is it?
And why is it good?
And how the h*ck do I get into it again?!
What is the Flow and why should you find it?
The Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (puh!) defines it in his book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.
“Flow – a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience is so enjoyable that people will continue to do it even at great costs, for the sheer sake of doing it”
The flow state lets you focus solely on one task with every molecule of your body. All your creativity goes into that paper, piano or dance floor like the laser beam from the Death Start (but instead of destroying, it is creating).
According to the psychologist with the crazy last name; when you find your flow state, there’s a sense of ecstasy and you lose your sense of self.
Being in the flow will remove that inner voice that otherwise might constantly tell you that what you are doing is not good enough. Because the flow state will make you lose track of time and be completely focused on the present moment, you won’t worry about what “people might think” or if they will like what you are doing or not. You will be creating exactly what you want to create – and that is how new stuff is invented.
Being in the flow will make the activity itself the reward – just doing it will make you feel fulfilled.
How do you get into a Flow State?
The good news are, finding your flow state isn’t hard.
The bad news; everything and everyone is trying to keep you from finding it. Because if you are in a flow state, you won’t scroll among your Instagram photos. You won’t google new stuff to buy. You won’t kill time binging Netflix series. You won’t listen to their newest album. You won’t send funny cat pictures to friends.
But if you’ve come this far, I’m sure you are determined to fight to find your flow. Follow these steps:
1. Be sure to have the right skills
Getting into the flow demands that you actually have the skills to do what you are trying to do. You probably won’t get into the state while trying to learn something new. If you find out that you are fumbling because of lack of skills, it is time to improve them.
The whole idea of finding a flow is to let your entire body use what it knows to create. If you’re constantly thinking about what to do and how to do it, it will cut the flow.
Don’t worry too much about if you have the skills you need. The more you practice finding your flow, the more you will realize your limits and where to build your skills.
2. Remove all distraction
This is crucial. Just like when meditating, a beeping text message or flashing TV screen will instantly yank you out of your state. Turn off your phone, lock the door, shut off the TV.
(The only thing I allow when trying to get into a flow state is music. But not any kind of music. The main reason (at least that’s what I think) for me getting into the flow that first time was a playlist that my girlfriend sent me. It consisted of a very deep and spiritual kind of music, often used during rave parties in the forest. The music waves got deep into my body and woke something up. Find something without lyrics.)
3. Do an emotional body check
When starting meditation, I learned to do a body scan at the beginning of the session. It is very simple – basically, you just turn your focus inwards, to your own body and start being aware of how it feels. You might feel happiness and a calm. But just as well there could be anxiety and stress.
If you want to get into your flow state, you need to be able to set worries and negative feelings aside – those could make it hard to focus on your task. If you are stressed or anxious, it might help to meditate or just sit and breathe for a while.
Some people find it very helpful to write down their thoughts – or to-do’s that you are trying to keep in your head for the future. Put it on a piece of paper, put it aside and you’ll know that it will be there when you are ready.
Don’t worry if your mind is too distracted for you to find a flow at the first try, just practice as often as you can. Just like a muscle you’re able to train it to become better.
4. Set a clear goal
You don’t want to spend time figuring out what to do. That should be set before you start. You want to be able to focus all your energy on creating. Make sure you know what you set out to do and how to know if you are succeeding.
Think about your skills, and set goals according to those.
5. Set aside enough time
Not only does it take a while (10 – 20 minutes) to get into the flow, but when you are there you never want to leave again. It takes some planning, but make sure there’s nothing that will need your attention in quite some time.
6. Don’t sweat it!
Being in a flow state is all about not worrying about the physical world. So don’t ruin it by worrying whether or not you will find a flow. Sometimes it takes a few tries – enjoy the journey. You don’t have to prove anything to anyone, it is simply something you do for you and you only.
Good luck, and let me know how you are doing!