Nakamura & Csikszentmihalyi (2001) suggested the optimal conditions for entering flow are the challenge-skills balance, clear goals and unambiguous feedback.

With this in mind, Sawyer (2007) and later, Kotler (2014) expanded on these dimensions of flow, suggesting that these are in fact just some of the ways in which we can trigger a flow state.

According to Kotler, flow can only arise when all of our attention is focused in the present moment and in order to focus our attention on the present we may need complete exercises to help trigger a flow state by guiding our attention to the here and now.

These flow state triggers suggested by Kotler can be divided into four categories:

  • Social: the collective flow or group flow happens when people enter a flow state together e.g. within a sports team.
  • Creative: thinking differently about the challenges you face and approaching them from a different perspective.
  • Environmental: external qualities in the environment that drive people deeper into ‘the zone’.
  • Psychological: internal triggers that create more flow.

Here we will examine these categories in more detail and suggest some exercises you can put into action in order to focus your attention and trigger a flow state.

A List of Activities Known to Induce Flow

By this point, you are probably getting the hang of the concept of flow and the conditions in which a flow state can flourish. There are many activities that by their very nature compel an individual to focus their full attention on a task and present opportunities for all skill levels to be challenged yet achieve set goals. The following are just some of the activities you can embrace in order to induce flow in all aspects of your day-to-day life.

  • Swimming requires focus and practice, whether you are a novice or an adept swimmer, it opens you up to new challenges. If you are new to swimming or out of practice you might try setting smaller goals that challenge your skills, like swimming a full length. If you are a more experienced swimmer try to set a new personal best or complete more lengths than you’ve managed before.
  • Table tennis is a great activity to induce flow, much like swimming a player needs to be fully immersed and focused – if you can find an opponent who matches your skill level you will both avoid the negative impact of boredom and frustration.
  • Tai Chi is often referred to as meditation in motion and is known to enhance overall well-being and encourage a relaxed state (Sandlund & Norlander, 2000). Through physical action and the achievement of a meditative state our concentration is focused and our minds clear from distractions. Tai Chi grounds you in the moment and teaches you to control external interference, it is also ideal for people who prefer low impact activities.
  • Cycling and running (especially over long distances) are great activities to induce flow, intense focus on technique and pacing means that mental strength, physical strength, and physical ability is important.
  • Mountaineering and rock climbing can be considered extreme sports, there is a certain amount of danger involved, but in the spirit of flow, there’s no reward without a little bit of risk. While straying out of your comfort zone is an excellent way to enter a flow state, it is important to remember safety! Taking risks doesn’t mean putting your life at risk, it is enough to bring yourself outside of the mundane and into something challenging instead.
  • Osho Dynamic Meditation is an intense form of active meditation in which you must be continuously alert and aware throughout. Each meditation lasts for one hour and requires you to keep your eyes closed throughout, this forces you to concentrate fully on your movements and into a state of deep embodiment.
  • Cooking and baking are excellent ways to induce flow, once again, you must concentrate and focus your attention on the moment – allow yourself to be lost ‘in the zone’ and whip up some cupcakes!
  • If you are finding it difficult to induce flow, why not consider the Pomodoro technique? While this doesn’t work for everyone, those of us with a propensity for procrastination may find it a useful way to achieve focus in short bursts. The premise of this technique is simple: set a timer – usually for 25 minutes – and focus solely on your task intensely during that time. When the timer is up you should have a five-minute break before you set another timer. While some may find that this technique obstructs flow state through interruption, for others it helps gain focus and loosen up (Van Passel & Eggink, 2013).

These are just some of the activities you can get involved in that can help to induce a flow state; the important thing is to participate in an activity that suits your needs. In reality almost any activity you find intrinsically rewarding and that requires full engagement can guide you on the path to your flow state.Takeaway Massage

Given the myriad benefits of achieving flow state across a broad range of contexts, including music, sport, art, and work, developing techniques to achieve flow affords us an exciting opportunity to work towards reaching our full potential and optimal levels of well-being.

You might already be familiar with the flow state but under a different name, i.e., ‘in the zone’ or ‘on form’. By clearly defining flow state it helps us to better understand the prerequisites for flow and in turn, identify methods by which we can enter the flow state and push ourselves to achieve our maximum potential.

1. Social Triggers

Flow state is more than just an individual phenomenon. Van den Hout, Davis & Weggeman (2018) noted the potential for group flow to enhance a team’s effectiveness, productivity, performance, and capabilities.

Social triggers are effective in shaping our social conditions and encouraging group flow. Intense concentration, clear group goals, and communication (including close listening) were encapsulated by the conditions proposed by Nakamura & Csikszentmihalyi (2001) namely the challenge-skills balance, clear goals, and unambiguous feedback.

Kotler suggested that familiarity and equal participation – more specifically equal skill levels within the group – negate problems that may arise from disparity in team members’ abilities and ensures each member is on the same page.

An element of risk pushes our abilities further and acts as a means of focusing concentration, “There can be no genuine creativity without failure, which means in turn there can be no group flow without the risk of failure.” (Sawyer, 2007. p10).

Additional social flow state triggers include the blending of egos. In a group flow state, there is no room for a domineering ego, each member must merge their needs into those of the group while retaining their sense of control.

Finally, always say yes! In reality, this shouldn’t be taken literally rather it should be understood in terms of encouraging group interactions that are positive rather than argumentative in order to create momentum and amplify team ideas and actions.

Social Exercises:

  • Try making your group interactions more positive; a positive approach can encourage a feeling of togetherness. Say “Yes” to that new challenge and revel in it.
  • If you feel your skill level isn’t where it should be in relation to a task – practice! With familiarity comes confidence.
  • Take calculated risks and push your abilities to the very limit.
  • Be aware of the group goals, familiarize yourself with what is expected of you from others and focus on playing your part as best you can.
  • Speak up! If you are hesitant to voice your opinion or convey an idea – go for it. The elevated risk level of taking yourself out of your comfort zone is an effective flow trigger.
  • Listen! Try to engage fully in the moment by giving companions your undivided attention.

2. Creative Triggers

Kotler suggested that creativity can trigger flow and in turn, flow increases creativity in a positive feedback loop. We are hardwired to recognize patterns and are attracted to taking risks – combining the skill of linking new ideas with the confidence to present these ideas to others is liberating and a great way to trigger a flow state.

Creative Exercises:

  • Try taking a different approach when tackling a new challenge, really stretch your imagination, think outside the box and look at problems from a different angle than you would normally.
  • Raise the bar for yourself – allow yourself to believe you can do better. When you achieve your latest goal, set another!
  • Take a risk and trust that you will succeed – when you take a chance and it pays off, you encourage more of the same. Successfully tackling a problem nurtures your confidence, allowing you to believe in your abilities.
  • Immerse yourself in situations that would ordinarily be outside of your comfort zone, the unfamiliar encourages us to see things from a different perspective and come up with solutions we may not have previously considered.

Environmental Triggers

When an activity or task has some perceived physical, mental, social, or emotional risk (high consequences), it is important to navigate the potential risk and understand that consequences are relative.

Oftentimes, with risk comes reward – consider a mountaineer successfully scaling a dangerous summit, the elevated levels of risk drives him/her to their limit and deeper into a state of flow. Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone (but not so much that your challenge-skills balance is upset) will help you focus and achieve flow.

Likewise, a rich environment and deep embodiment (total physical awareness) in an activity can capture our attention through novelty, unpredictability, and complexity, whereby we learn through doing and by engaging multiple sensory streams at once. Routine may be the cornerstone of productivity, but it is not the cornerstone of flow (Kotler, 2014). The following exercises can help to foster an environment in which you are challenged to the point of reaching a flow state.

Environmental Exercises:

  • Immerse yourself in new experiences and environments – unpredictable situations make us pay more attention to what is happening in the moment. Why not try playing a new sport or joining a social group either online or within your local community?
  • Take part in activities that have high consequences for you personally – whether they are emotional, intellectual or social risks, try pushing yourself to achieve things you never thought possible. Never took part in a marathon before? Sign up! Too intimidated to speak up in that meeting? Clear your throat and go for it!
  • Take a walk – remove yourself from the familiar and immerse yourself in nature. Be mindful of your own body and movements to encourage complete physical awareness.

Psychological Triggers

We can trigger a flow state with psychological (or internal) prompts that hone our focus and allow for greater concentration in the moment.

Kotler (2014) suggested that flow requires extended periods of intensely focused attentionclear individual goals and immediate feedback so that we better understand what is expected of us (and if we have been successful), and a balance between your skills and the challenge. When engaging these psychological triggers, we lessen the potential extraneous factors that may impede flow.

Psychological Exercises:

  • Consider your skill level and set clear personal goals – take a few moments to think about what is to be done, try writing them down if it helps cement your objectives and get them clear in your mind.
  • Create your own personal mission statement – consider your abilities and targets and ask yourself, “What do I want to achieve?”
  • Don’t look for external validation instead rely on your own internal validation, the goals you have set and achieved are enough to legitimize your success.

A List of Activities Known to Induce Flow

By this point, you are probably getting the hang of the concept of flow and the conditions in which a flow state can flourish. There are many activities that by their very nature compel an individual to focus their full attention on a task and present opportunities for all skill levels to be challenged yet achieve set goals. The following are just some of the activities you can embrace in order to induce flow in all aspects of your day-to-day life.

  • Swimming requires focus and practice, whether you are a novice or an adept swimmer, it opens you up to new challenges. If you are new to swimming or out of practice you might try setting smaller goals that challenge your skills, like swimming a full length. If you are a more experienced swimmer try to set a new personal best or complete more lengths than you’ve managed before.
  • Table tennis is a great activity to induce flow, much like swimming a player needs to be fully immersed and focused – if you can find an opponent who matches your skill level you will both avoid the negative impact of boredom and frustration.
  • Tai Chi is often referred to as meditation in motion and is known to enhance overall well-being and encourage a relaxed state (Sandlund & Norlander, 2000). Through physical action and the achievement of a meditative state our concentration is focused and our minds clear from distractions. Tai Chi grounds you in the moment and teaches you to control external interference, it is also ideal for people who prefer low impact activities.
  • Cycling and running (especially over long distances) are great activities to induce flow, intense focus on technique and pacing means that mental strength, physical strength, and physical ability is important.
  • Mountaineering and rock climbing can be considered extreme sports, there is a certain amount of danger involved, but in the spirit of flow, there’s no reward without a little bit of risk. While straying out of your comfort zone is an excellent way to enter a flow state, it is important to remember safety! Taking risks doesn’t mean putting your life at risk, it is enough to bring yourself outside of the mundane and into something challenging instead.
  • Osho Dynamic Meditation is an intense form of active meditation in which you must be continuously alert and aware throughout. Each meditation lasts for one hour and requires you to keep your eyes closed throughout, this forces you to concentrate fully on your movements and into a state of deep embodiment.
  • Cooking and baking are excellent ways to induce flow, once again, you must concentrate and focus your attention on the moment – allow yourself to be lost ‘in the zone’ and whip up some cupcakes!
  • If you are finding it difficult to induce flow, why not consider the Pomodoro technique? While this doesn’t work for everyone, those of us with a propensity for procrastination may find it a useful way to achieve focus in short bursts. The premise of this technique is simple: set a timer – usually for 25 minutes – and focus solely on your task intensely during that time. When the timer is up you should have a five-minute break before you set another timer. While some may find that this technique obstructs flow state through interruption, for others it helps gain focus and loosen up (Van Passel & Eggink, 2013).

These are just some of the activities you can get involved in that can help to induce a flow state; the important thing is to participate in an activity that suits your needs. In reality almost any activity you find intrinsically rewarding and that requires full engagement can guide you on the path to your flow state.

Takeaway Massage

Given the myriad benefits of achieving flow state across a broad range of contexts, including music, sport, art, and work, developing techniques to achieve flow affords us an exciting opportunity to work towards reaching our full potential and optimal levels of well-being.

You might already be familiar with the flow state but under a different name, i.e., ‘in the zone’ or ‘on form’. By clearly defining flow state it helps us to better understand the prerequisites for flow and in turn, identify methods by which we can enter the flow state and push ourselves to achieve our maximum potential.

I do hope that this blog will help you. If you want to receive weekly Newletter on FLOW, just register yourself at the landing page of this website and enter your best email.

Best,
Marco Giannecchini.