Enter into a realm of the mind where the external world ceases to exist. All other responsibilities are no longer a concern and the illusion of time becomes irrelevant. We’ve all been to this unique place. It is a powerful force in our lives and one we should work to master.
This place is the flow state and while we have all experienced it at one time or another, it often comes when we least expect it and stays for an undetermined amount of time. In addition, it tends to fixate itself onto random objects of focus rather than those we choose.
However, while in this state we can accomplish incredible things without fatigue slowing us down. The kind of period where you begin working on something only to finally look at the clock and realize WAY MORE time has passed than you thought.
So, can we get better at controlling and understanding this mind space? Will we ever master this mode of unbreakable concentration and harness its power to achieve our goals and dreams? I believe so, and through this post will attempt to take a closer look at the flow state and give you some techniques for how to enter a flow state when desired.
Momentum: Newton Didn’t Lead us Astray
An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.
This is Newton’s first law of motion and although it refers primarily to how the physical forces of the universe act on matter, I find that this idea carries over into many more aspects of life.
Let’s apply this concept to the flow state. In a state of flow, you are working toward something, you are MOVING toward a goal of some kind. According to the first law, you will stay moving toward this goal unless acted upon by an unbalanced force. Does this not sound like a state of flow? When you’re just so in the zone chipping away at something that nothing can stop you.
Then an unbalanced force arrives. Maybe it’s something small like hunger or the need to go to the bathroom. Or perhaps it’s something more substantial such as an external event that demands your attention or the biological need for sleep. Whatever it is, every flow state comes to an end sooner or later as there are lots of unbalanced forces in our complex lives.
Momentum affects our lives in many other ways as well. One of these is through habit building which is a longer-term version of this principle. When forming new habits missing even a single day during the early stages can derail someone’s entire efforts.
However, the longer one does complete a new habit consecutively the easier it will be to return to the habit when something goes awry and we are forced to skip whatever the activity that day was.
The more MOMENTUM you have built up the STRONGER the unbalanced force has to be to bring you back to a state of rest. Get it?
The more I think about this law and apply it to different scenarios in life the more correlations I find. I’m always amazed when you can take a rule that at its base level is as simple as a ball sitting on a table until someone pushes it, and draw so many more intricate observations from it.
Overcoming the State of Rest
So how do we go from the state of rest we all begin each day into a super productive state of flow? We must simply master the first law and how it applies to us day by day, and even minute by minute.
As effortless as it is to resist the urge to pee a little longer when engrossed in a passion fueled project, it is just as easy to find ourselves stuck in a state of rest.
As we know, an object at rest stays at rest unless acted upon by an unbalanced force. So these unbalanced forces in our lives aren’t only what slows our momentum down, they are also what push us to do great things!
However, in the same way, that it is harder to break a habit the longer it is practiced, it is also harder to get ourselves moving the longer we’ve been at rest.
“Just five more minutes,” you tell yourself when you don’t want to get out of bed yet. “I’ll just watch one more episode before starting my essay”. And one episode becomes two, and then three, and then holycrapwhathappenedits2am….!
The sooner we realize this the faster we can get ourselves moving in the right direction and the easier it will be. Even if it’s something as simple as getting up and making our bed, setting up our workspace, or making some coffee, just do something and do it soon, and when you’re finished with that quickly move on to a more important task.
Don’t give your mind the chance to stack excuses and you’ll find it much easier to move through the day.
The first law can work for us or against us, but being aware of this we can start to work toward controlling that momentum balance.
The most important thing to remember is that the resistance we will experience when trying to get moving will almost always be in the form of mental excuses and thoughts that will keep us stationary.
If we can identify when we are making these excuses or deals with ourselves (5 more minutes, one more episode, etc…) then we can hopefully use willpower to overcome them.
It’s hard to give specific advice on how to achieve this without it sounding like I’m saying “just do it”. It’s kind of something you have to think about as you’re going through the day and become aware of.
Eventually, you’ll get a feel for your own inner balance and slowly become better at managing it. While you’re taking the time to feel it out though try some of these tricks to overcome the mental hurdle and get snowballing in the right direction.
Visualizing Flow – The Art of Mental Framing
Mental framing is something that is constantly occurring in our brains. It’s how we make sense of everything really. No matter how you observe a situation, you are doing so with a specific viewpoint. You draw an opinion based on valuing certain aspects higher than others. The classic example of this is whether the glass is half full or half empty.
Although it’s a concept we’ve all heard before, the amount of time we really take in seeing how it applies to our lives is often lower than it should be. Framing has drastic effects on our experience of life and the cognitive state we find ourselves in.
As I mentioned in the previous section getting yourself moving each day is very much a mental battle. Recognizing this it would make sense that being able to control our frame, or at least be aware of it, will help us easier achieve a state of flow.
Do we just have a mountain of work ahead that is going to be miserable? Or are we slowly building something great and working toward our goals and dreams? The choice is yours.
I find that when I’m dreading some work I need to get done visualizing myself in the state of flow helps me overcome that resistance.
I imagine myself working hard in an unbreakable focus, and try to recreate that feeling I get when I am in the zone. I know that getting started is the hardest part, and reminding myself of that unstoppable sensation you get when “feeling the flow” helps me defeat any anxiety I may have about it.
There’s a lot of powerful stuff here if you experiment. See what works in your brain and how you can think about things from a different perspective, and be wary of when you are making something out to be a bigger deal than it really is.
“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself—and you are the easiest person to fool.” – Richard P. Feynman.
Another popular way of re-framing work is to break it down into tiny pieces. Instead of viewing the ENTIRETY of a project or task, break it down into small manageable chunks.
Rome wasn’t built in a day as they say.
Using this technique writing a 10,000-word research paper becomes “just write 300 words today”. 300 words is a much less terrifying thought than 10,000 words and makes it much easier to get started rather than put it off until it really does become 10,000 words in a day.
This idea relates perfectly to my next point, which is quickly becoming one of my go-to tools for productivity: The Pomodoro technique.
Alright, let me explain a little. For starters, no this technique doesn’t directly involve tomatoes. Sorry to disappoint.
The Pomodoro Technique is a system devised by Francesco Cirillo. Pomodoro means tomato in Italian. The technique itself is a time management system and was given its name because of the tomato-themed kitchen timer Cirillo used when inventing this method.
There now that you’re up to speed, let’s get into the details.
This technique involves setting a timer for twenty-five minutes and working intently on whatever the task is for that time period. Once that time is up you permit yourself a five-minute break before starting the timer for another 25 minutes.
One of these full cycles is referred to as a “pomodoro”. A blank notepad is often kept nearby to record any distractions during the focus period so they can be addressed during the break.
This has become extremely valuable to me for overcoming the initial resistance to starting a task. No matter how big the task is, you only have to work on it for twenty-five minutes before you get a break.
Having this in mind makes it MUCH easier to get started on those larger-than-life projects that seem insurmountable.
Many find that after they’ve begun a pomodoro they don’t feel the desire to take a break once the twenty-five minutes is up. In this way, it is often used exclusively to trick our minds and overcome that initial resistance we all experience. As I’ve said, getting started is always the hardest part.
Adjust the times slightly to see what works the best for you. Personally, I prefer having my focus session for twenty minutes with a ten-minute break at the end.
I don’t always take the break, but ten minutes always sounds better to me than five which further pushes me to just begin working.
I use an app called Tide to record my pomodoro sessions. Any old timer will do, however, Tide is designed specifically for the Pomodoro Technique and has many customization options to tweak it to your personal style.
I could easily spend hours listing more ways to trick ourselves into being more productive, but I don’t think that would be the most PRODUCTIVE use of my time. I think the best ways for each of us are unique and found by experimenting and researching (as always). Our minds are extremely complex and nobody knows us better than ourselves.
This post is really here to open your mind to the way our brains can manipulate us negatively and keep us from our goals and dreams. It is the Solitary Mind Space way to critically assess our own thought processes and find unique tactics that help us understand our OWN mental landscape a little better. There is infinite depth to each of our minds.
I hope my viewpoint on the flow state has demystified some of the workings of our brain to you or at least has given you some food for thought. Let me know what tricks you’ve come up with or realizations you’ve had. Have a day full of mindful flow, and remember, don’t fool yourself out of accomplishing amazing things!