How to Enter Flow State, Increase Your Ability to Concentrate, and Let Your Ego Fall Away : An Animated Primer

One needs hard­ly state that human beings desire things like wealth, pow­er, and love. But it does bear repeat­ing that, on a deep­er lev­el, we all desire flow. To say this is to repeat, in one form or anoth­er, the the­o­ries of the late psy­chol­o­gist Mihaly Csik­szent­mi­ha­lyi, author of Flow: The Psy­chol­o­gy of Opti­mal Expe­ri­ence. When we enter a flow state, Csik­szent­mi­ha­lyi once said in an inter­view, “the ego falls away,” and it is those words that open the ani­mat­ed TED-Ed les­son above. “A unique men­tal state of effort­less engage­ment,” says its nar­ra­tor, flow has been defined as “an altered state of con­scious­ness,” and those who enter it “feel so effort­less­ly engaged in a task that time seems to fly by.”

If you’re a nor­mal twen­ty-first-cen­tu­ry per­son, this may not sound like an espe­cial­ly famil­iar expe­ri­ence. In fact, you may well think of your work­ing life as more char­ac­ter­ized by “cycles of pro­cras­ti­na­tion, when it can feel impos­si­ble to start an activ­i­ty.”

Dur­ing flow, by con­trast, “it can feel dif­fi­cult to stop”; “feel­ings of wor­ry or self-judg­ment” are dimin­ished; a “sense of one­ness” can arise between your­self and your activ­i­ty. This state occurs when you do “intrin­si­cal­ly moti­vat­ing” work, and even more so when the dif­fi­cul­ty of that work match­es or just slight­ly exceeds your skill lev­el: “If a task is too easy, you may get dis­tract­ed or feel bored. If it’s too chal­leng­ing, you may become dis­cour­aged.”

To max­i­mize your own chances of find­ing flow, engage in “activ­i­ties that have clear goals and allow you to assess your progress along the way.” If pos­si­ble, do it in “a qui­et envi­ron­ment, free from dis­tract­ing nois­es or devices.” Before you start, “break your tasks into small, spe­cif­ic seg­ments that are easy to track and learn from,” and also “set clear end goals that are chal­leng­ing, but not frus­trat­ing­ly so.” Above all, “don’t focus too much on reach­ing flow; that sort of dis­trac­tion might just pre­vent you from find­ing it.” The talks by Flow Research Col­lec­tive founder Steven Kotler and by Cskizent­mi­ha­lyi him­self pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture can sup­ple­ment the TED-Ed les­son — and, per­haps, reas­sure you that the strange puck­ered expres­sions on the face of its char­ac­ters are not, in fact, a require­ment for enter­ing the flow state.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Cre­ativ­i­ty, Not Mon­ey, is the Key to Hap­pi­ness: Dis­cov­er Psy­chol­o­gist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s The­o­ry of “Flow”

How to Get into a Cre­ative “Flow State”: A Short Mas­ter­class

Albert Ein­stein Tells His Son The Key to Learn­ing & Hap­pi­ness is Los­ing Your­self in Cre­ativ­i­ty (or “Find­ing Flow”)

How to Enter a ‘Flow State’ on Com­mand: Peak Per­for­mance Mind Hack Explained in 7 Min­utes

The Phi­los­o­phy of “Flow”: A Brief Intro­duc­tion to Tao­ism

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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