Have you ever been in a situation, maybe it was work or play, possibly a sport, where time seemingly ceased to exist? Where nothing existed but what you were doing in that moment, and your performance was unlike anything you’d experienced before?
I remember reading about Michael Jordan ‘being in the zone’, when I was in high school, and not really understanding what that meant. I thought I’d been there, but I really hadn’t. Finally, after a few years spent boxing in the amateurs I was walking into the ring for what would be my final fight.
In any combat sport there will be the necessary nerves that get the adrenaline flowing, but on this day I was just there, present.
The fella I was fighting lied about being a southpaw, but I didn’t care. He came in over weight, but again, I didn’t care. I was there to fight. While I was there to win, it wasn’t about the victory, it was about the joy of performing, of fighting, of being in that ring and trying to figure out my opponent or just dictate what I wanted to happen regardless of what he threw at me.
During that fight I had a true flow experience.
In the flow state nothing exists but the moment. You perform optimally. You’re happy and present and fully in whatever it is you’re doing.
Guys like Michael Jordan have mastered this state. His trainer, Tim Grover, said that Michael spends the entire game, every game in that state. You can see it. Nothing phases him. He has a move to counteract any move by the opposing team. Watching Jordan play basksetball was a beautiful thing.
In his book, Flow, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi set out to figure out what made people happy. He didn’t find a certain set of surroundings or even basic needs that people needed, or an amount of money or fame or even achievement. His discovery was flow, that state where everything else in the world, all of your worries, fears, uncertainties, and insecurities fade, and you’re simply doing what you love to do.
This is the optimal state.
It’s a state that makes you happier, but it also yields real results in the form of better work that’s even done faster.
I won that fight. I was loose, in the moment, and I had a great time. It seemed to last hours, but it was only a 4 round fight. Time went away and life took its place.
The trick has been creating that flow state in my work, that’s where the magic happens. It truly is something you can create, it’s something you practice and get better at.
You’ll be happier, less stressed, and you’ll achieve more as a result.
How to Create the Flow State
First, there have to be a few characteristics of what you’re doing for this state to exist:
1. You have to care about what you’re doing. If you don’t care about what you’re doing you won’t perform your best. There is the angle of caring about everything you do, wanting to be great in whatever it is you’re doing. If you have that mindset, you’re good to go. You’re going to find it easier to create such a sate.
2. Enjoy what you’re doing. It shouldn’t be pure ease and fun, but challenging and enjoyable. Happiness isn’t found where responsibility doesn’t exist. We need focus and direction, we need to both care about the thing we’re doing, want to be great at it, and love it. It can be anything from fixing cars to punching people in the face. The focus of the activity is personal, but you have to enjoy it, not always, but the task has to make you happy.
3. It has to be challenging, but not impossible. When something’s too difficult we won’t find as much joy in it. This usually happens when you’re doing something for the first time. You’re not going to have a whole lot of fun playing hockey with NHLers if you don’t even know how to skate. It’ll just suck. That’s why, if you’re picking up a new hobby, break through the initial stages. You’ll create flow in something that’s challenging, but also that you’re good at. This is also why it can take years to find this state.
They say it takes 10,000 hours of purposeful practice to become a master. I’d say it may even be more than that. Masters have flow state. Amateurs struggle to focus.
I just started shooting handguns. I suck. But I know that as I practice more, I’ll find that state where I know what made me miss or what made me hit the target. I’ll find flow.
Next… Create the Atmosphere
Michael Jordan wouldn’t get distracted by anything when he played basketball. Not everyone can do that. Most of us, to create flow, need to control our surroundings. That said, that doesn’t mean keep things absolutely quiet.
Nassim Taleb notes in Skin in the Game that noise can make you focus better. When you have an opposing force to fight against you can force yourself to focus even more. He applied this to public speaking.
Every public speaking course tells you to have a loud, assertive voice. He noticed that by speaking quietly people would lean in and pay more attention. They’d shush people who weren’t paying attention. What you really want is an audience leaning in, not leaning back.
Author, Steven King, writes with loud rock music on full blast. You do you. But sometimes a distraction can remove distractions.
Distractions like your phone shouldn’t, however, be anywhere near you when you’re trying to create this state. As I’m writing this article, trying to create such a state, I save adding links or any research I have to do until after the article is written. My phone’s upstairs, connected by bluetooth to the speaker on the TV blasting country music. My desk is clear. As is my mind. There’s one thing open on my computer and the internet is shut off.
This ability to focus takes practice.
I typically set a timer for 45 minutes and focus for the entire time. It started with 10 minutes. Then 20. What you’ll realize is that true focus is a difficult thing when you’ve trained yourself for the past decade to pick up the phone or search on Google whatever crosses your mind. Practice focusing. Practicing being better, being successful.
What does all of this get you?
According to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, happiness.
The more you study philosophy, especially the applicable ones, the ones that have lasted a minimum of 1,000 years, is that we spend a majority of our time caring about things we shouldn’t care about. Our attention is on things that it ought not to be. We lack meaning, purpose, and joy from what we do because we’re rarely actually in what we’re doing. Flow changes that.
Get more done.
Feel more pride in the work you do.
Get better at what you do.
Live a better life.
It’s that simple.
How to Focus Quickly and For Longer Periods
There are nutrients that help you focus. They help you get dialed in quicker, focus longer, and even increase creativity.
For years I’ve tested different ingredients and combinations of ingredients to help me both focus better, for longer periods, but also to enhance creativity and aid in the flow process. Of all of the ingredients I’ve tried, the very best ones are in Man Brain (learn more here).
These ingredients help you get dialed in right away, and they help you get in that state for longer periods. If you care about your work, heck, your hobbies, and want to be present for longer periods, Man Brain can be your greatest ally.