3 Steps to Finding Your Flow

Although we usually assume that a state of deep concentration is hard to achieve—and getting harder, as interruptions from our smartphones mount—the truth is that we can access this wonderful state much more easily than we may realize. Here’s how.

1. Clear mental clutter.

What is going on in your mind that will keep you from your sweet spot?

Take a quick look at your task list, and decide what you will do today and when you will do it. When our subconscious mind doesn’t know when we will complete a task, it will often interrupt our flow state with intrusive reminders about what else we need to do. Research shows that our unconscious isn’t actually nagging us to do the task at hand but rather to make a plan to get it done. So scheduling a task can make a huge difference in our ability to focus on something else.

2. Build yourself a fortress against interruption.

If you can’t concentrate, you can’t be in your sweet spot. Period. That’s because if you keep getting interrupted, you can’t achieve the state of deep concentration you need for flow. Even if you like the interruptions—such as when you get funny texts from a friend. Even if the interruptions are good for your work—like a colleague stopping by to answer a question. If you take one thing away from this article, let it be this:

No focus, no flow.

Anything that might distract or tempt you away from your task needs to be taken care of before you drop into The Zone. Think of yourself as going on a road trip: What will make you pull over before you reach your destination? Will you need to plug your computer in? Get a tissue? Adjust the thermostat? Something as small as an itchy tag on the back of your shirt can weaken your focus if you are tempted to go to the bathroom to cut it off. Here is what I have to do before I find flow: Clear my desk of anything that might distract me. Remove yesterday’s coffee cup, close books, put pens away, stack papers into a deceptively neat pile. Take care of them now rather than when they will break your state of concentration.

3. Prepare your brain to go into a deep state of focus.

This doesn’t require any sci-fi technology that sends a probe or special rays into your brain. Instead, it just takes a few simple, very ordinary steps.

Have a small snack. Concentration is very taxing for our brain. Research shows that our focus and stamina tend to improve when our blood sugar is on the rise. According to one study. Drinking water corrects trouble focusing. We aren’t sure why, but one theory is that it’s the brain’s way of getting us to pay attention to our basic survival needs rather than big thoughts and ambitions. Put on some music that you’ve chosen as ideal for getting into your sweet spot. Star athletes have long understood the power music has to raise our energy and focus our attention—as well as to block out distractions. Exhale deeply for a minute or so. Our breathing profoundly affects our nervous system and blood flow in our brain—and, therefore, our performance. Taking some nice deep breaths signals to our brain that we are safe, allowing us to access mental resources we can’t when our breathing is shallow (which our brain takes as a sign that we are in a state of fight or flight).