When you lock into a state of Flow and happiness, you probably don’t know it. Usually, it happens when you’re so totally absorbed in a task that you lose track of time. Your attention is so focused that you don’t notice you’re hungry or your neck is crinked or someone is trying to talk to you. And when you finally come up for air you may feel a little disoriented, as if you’ve been somewhere far away.

I’ve been experiencing this a lot lately as I work on my first book, but the sensation was first described and labeled as “Flow” by prominent psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in the 1970s. It has become an influential concept in psychology, business, sports, and the arts, sometimes labeled as being “in the zone” or “in the groove.” Flow is an intensely pleasurable state, characterized by clear goals, powerful concentration, immediate and accurate feedback, and an ideal balance between your level of skill and the demands of the task.  

The Flow state is a compelling concept because so many of us have experienced it. But as a psychological construct it has two problems. First, how can you measure it? And second, is it actually connected to creativity and productivity?

Understanding Flow, happiness, productivity, and creativity

A recent study by psychology professor Kurt Gray and other contributors took clever approaches to answering those questions. For the measurement question, the authors developed a new metric, “Forward Flow,” that analyzed speech to measure how present thoughts diverged from past thoughts. 

Using this technique, they were able to answer the second question. They found that Flow predicts creativity across a variety of populations, as quantified by laboratory measures such as performance on a specific creative task and real-world measures like membership in creative professions. So it looks as if Flow is indeed a robust scientific construct that is both measurable and predictive. 

Discovering your own Flow state

It’s always exciting when something that resonates with our real-life experience turns out to be scientifically accurate as well. If your lifestyle provides regular opportunities to experience Flow, you’re a fortunate person and probably a creative one as well. If you’d like to be in Flow more often, here are some ways to get there:

  • Make sure you’re well-fed and well-rested.
  • Eliminate distractions.
  • Work on something you love and find important.
  • Set aside chunks of time.
  • Choose a task which is challenging for you but not impossible. 

If you’d like to know more about how to encourage Flow in yourself and your team, contact us at ggolden@gailgoldenconsulting.com.

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