What Is a Flow State?

Flow state is the optimal state of one’s consciousness and is closely linked to high performance. The simplest definition would be that a flow state is the state of mind when the person is so focused on the task that everything else ceases to exist for the moment.

In a sense, a flow state is similar to a meditative state, when no distractions are able to interrupt the meditator’s concentration and focus.

Jobwise, a flow state is desirable because it guarantees the best results by boosting awareness and ensuring high performance.

A Brief History of the Term

The term “flow state” is not new. In fact, it has been used in different contexts for over 50 years, usually referring to sports. The term was defined by Hungarian-American psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi in 1975, in his seminal work “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.”

Csíkszentmihályi argues that people are happiest when in a “state of flow,” which he defines as a state of complete absorption and concentration. Specifically, this state of mind is an optimal state of intrinsic motivation, meaning that the person is completely immersed in whatever they are doing at the moment.

Flow state also goes by a couple of other names, including “in the groove,” “in the zone,” “peak experience” or “hyperfocus,” to name a few.

Flow State Characteristics

How do you define whether you’re witnessing a flow state? There are many occurrences when people are motivated to perform better, but not all of them fall into this category.
For starters, a flow state combines a set of unique characteristics that are rarely coupled on a regular basis. Here are the most important of them:

· Selflessness - possibly the first immediately recognizable characteristic of a flow state. When you notice that your sense of self has disappeared and your actions feel natural, you’re witnessing a flow state.
· Timelessness - in the flow state, people’s perception of time is altered. The past and the future cease to exist; the only thing present is the “now.”
· Effortlessness - all frustrations simply vanish into thin air.
· Awareness and actions consolidate - simply put, you become one with the task. The actions you perform feel natural and don’t call for any additional resources.
· Complete control - you are certain that you control the situation. Nothing can stop you or change the situation.
· Intrinsic motivation boost - the activity you are performing has a purpose in itself.

Flow State Triggers

A person is in a flow state whenever they feel they’re at their best and nothing can interrupt their focus. Csíkszentmihályi has discovered that there are 10 triggers to flow state, the five most notable ones are as follows:

1. Intense concentration - dividing one’s full attention to the task at hand and not allowing any interruptions. In short, this is a state of complete absorption.
2. Keeping clear goals in mind - they refer to the actual goals related to the task (no New Year’s resolutions of the like) that are achievable.
3. A balance of skills triggered by a challenge - the challenge adds additional boosts triggering one’s skills thereby. The person is out of the comfort zone, aiming to live up to the challenge without snapping in the process.
4. Triggered sense of curiosity, passion and purpose - the state is known to induce high dopamine levels responsible for increased performance and happiness.
5. Enhanced pattern recognition and creative problem-solving - the trigger which propels one forward to achieve high performance.

How to Enter a Flow State

Listing the flow state triggers is nice and all, but how does that help one achieve this state of mind? Good question! The key lies in knowing your triggers and recognizing when they occur.

For example, think about the last time you were “in the groove,” then ask yourself:
· When did it happen?
· What did you do?
· What did you do immediately before?
· Where were you?

Going one step further, you may also define the triggers that appear to be most effective. E.g.:
· Which triggers occur on a regular basis?
· Which triggers give you an immediate boost?
· Which triggers you rely on when you want to achieve high performance?

The Flow Cycle

Based on the research of Harvard Cardiologist Herbert Benson, the most common misconception about the flow state is that it is black or white - it’s either on or off. This is not true, since there are actually varying degrees of the state.

Benson argues that there are four stages of the flow cycle: struggle, release, flow and recovery.

1. Struggle - is the feeling similar to when you try something for the first time and something always feels amiss. This phase is used for obtaining the necessary information needed for tackling the task. For working people, it can be research, for an athlete - intense training, etc.
2. Release - in this phase, you are letting go of all the struggles. In practical terms, it usually means taking a break. To achieve a flow state, struggles need to be interrupted.
3. Flow - after the release, you go back to the task and you immediately tap in.
4. Recovery - flow state uses a lot of body resources. Because the time will stop and you won’t be aware of hunger or thirst, it is only natural that following the state, you need to recover. Should you fail to do so, you will burn out.


Judging by everything we’ve learned so far, everyone can train their brain and body to reach a flow state. It is important, however, to remember the release and recovery phases to avoid burnout. Think about the matter in these terms: high performance calls for a specific mindset, in every aspect of life. If you train your brain little by little, you will be able to control the flow. Again, it’s similar to meditation. The more you meditate, the more organized your thoughts and actions will be at all times.

Author's Bio: 

Angela Ash is an expert writer and editor, focusing on topics related to business, mental health, motivation and productivity.