Concentration, Flow & The Goldilocks Zone

In our culture we think that concentration is difficult, effortful, tense and no fun at all. Something that you have to work very hard to do against your will. Psychological research into what concentration is really like, however, paints a very different picture.

In sports this state is called “being in the zone.” In psychology, it’s called “peak experience.” In meditation practice, it’s called “being concentrated.”

To read more go the Concentration Series by Michael Taft – Huffington Post

Hungarian scientist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi looked at people in a state of high concentration, and he found that they were calm, relaxed, open and felt very good. They wanted to continue concentrating as long as they could, and they wanted to return to it as often as possible. Even if the activity had no external meaning (like a puzzle or a game), it was worth doing for its own sake. If the state went deeper, time seemed to slow down or stop, and all sense of self disappeared, with only the sense of the activity remaining.

A typical example of a flow state would be a crossword puzzle enthusiast filling in the squares. She becomes very calm, very relaxed, and yet, is extremely alert and engaged in the process. Her mind is searching for the answers to the clues, and blots out everything else happening around her.

It is easy for her to concentrate on the puzzle because she really likes doing it. Other examples of common flow states include things like exercising, playing games, playing a musical instrument or gardening. Anything that requires some skill to do.

Then there is the Goldilocks zone for the flow state;

A condition of not too hard and not too easy, but just right. If you’re involved in a task that falls into your Goldilocks zone, then flow is possible. The secret, then, to good concentration, is to learn how to make any task you are doing just the right level of difficulty for you.

Finding the Goldilocks Zone

If something feels too hard to concentrate on, break it up into much smaller pieces . Then concentrate on just one of those small pieces. If that is still too hard, break that piece into smaller pieces, and concentrate on one of those. If you keep breaking it down like that, eventually you’ll reach the Goldilocks level where it’s just the right amount of difficulty.

If something feels too easy to concentrate on, do the opposite. Increase the size or complexity of what you’re doing. Add pieces or dimensions to it until you start to feel that you’re actually doing some mental weightlifting. Now you’re in the Goldilocks zone.