Achieving Flow

“Everything vanishes around me, and works are born as if out of the void. Ripe, graphic fruits fall off. My hand has become the obedient instrument of a remote will.” – Paul Klee, Artist

What Klee described in this quote is a perfect example of what psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls flow. Total immersion in a task, a feeling of complete concentration, and losing track of the outside world are all common characteristics of this state of mind.

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Obviously reaching this state of flow is something many of us would like to accomplish on a regular basis. Fortunately, flow isn’t something restricted to just elite athletes, artists, and performers. You can achieve this state during a number of activities such as at work, while engaging in exercise, or while working on a hobby. So what exactly does it take to achieve a state of flow?

Your skills need to be well-matched to the task. According to Csikszentmihalyi, flow is most likely to occur when your skill level is perfectly aligned to the challenge that the activity presents. So a runner might experience flow during a marathon that he or she is well-prepared for, or a chess-player might reach this state during a game that presents the perfect challenge.

In some cases, striving for something that challenges your existing skills can lead to a state of flow. A slight stretching of your skills, or attempting something that is a little more advanced than your current abilities, can also foster a flow state. For a dancer, this might involve attempting a move that presents a bit of a challenge. For a graphic designer, it might involve taking on a project that requires utilising a new type of software.

Have clear goals. You need to have a specific purpose for focusing on the task, such as winning an athletic contest, playing a particular piece of music, or finishing a work project.