Finding An Entrance to Flow

Flow occurs near the summit of ability, the level of mastery. It is the practiced, confident skier—not the awkward, nervous one—who “flows” down the mountain. Practiced moves require much less brain effort than those being learned. With mastery, skills are well-rehearsed and neural circuits efficient. So one key to experiencing flow is to engage in activities at which you already excel; another is to pursue activities to which you are naturally drawn. Identify your competencies and preferred learning styles. Play to your strengths. Then practice, practice, practice.

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Give yourself a challenge. Choose something that is hard enough to stretch your abilities but not so hard that you get discouraged. Put another way—select a task at which you are skilled and engage in it at a level slightly above your ability.

Moving into flow requires discipline. Start by focusing sharp attention on the task. Concentrate. Stay in the present moment and try not to be concerned about how you are performing. Agitation and anxiety prevent flow, so using stress reduction techniques, such as meditation and deep breathing, may help. Try playing baroque music softly in the background. The tempo of baroque music (60-70 beats per minute) is identical to alpha brain waves and has been shown in research to induce a state of relaxed alertness.

It’s easy to get hooked on flow. Once you’ve been there, you’ll want to return. The desire to re-experience this blissful state can provide the motivation to get better and better at something, perfect your skills, take on greater challenges. I can’t think of a better, more intrinsic motivator. To flow. . . you have to grow.