In a TedTalk called Flow, the secret to happiness, psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi described a flow state as being “really involved in this completely engaging process of creating something new.”
A person immersed in a flow state may forget to eat, drink, or even break to use the restroom; they’re so enrapt in their work, they disassociate from their bodily needs.
Csikszentmihalyi explained it beautifully: “His body disappears, his identity disappears from his consciousness, because he doesn’t have enough attention, like none of us do, to really do well something that requires a lot of concentration, and at the same time to feel that he exists. So existence is temporarily suspended.”
For creatives—musicians, fine artists, writers, and the like—flow states can produce such ecstasy, it can compel them to devote their lives to their craft, even if it means living in poverty.
Flow state expert Lisa Erickson says that flow state is another way to talk about an entirely more powerful, potent, and sensual way of being. “We have this whole other life current available to us that has been suppressed,” she said. “Flow state is biohacking into that current.”
It’s difficult to get into a flow state—especially right now
I was always a masterful multitasker, impervious to the malaise of context switching. I could transition easily from answering emails or running a meeting to doing deep, focused work for hours. Getting into a flow state where I felt “in the zone” was as natural as breathing the air. My thoughts poured out of me like water from a firehose.
Prince Ghosh, Co-Founder of Workbench Technologies, has a similar story. “The thing about being a founder is you do everything,” he said. “Putting out fires, writing internal memos, investor updates. There’s a ton of context switching that happens all the time—you get numb to it.”
Then COVID came rumbling in and upended our world, leaving waves of destruction that impacted everything—including our ability to focus in a deep, meaningful way.
I struggled to stay calm and focused amidst the anxiety and uneasiness that comes with living through a once-in-a-lifetime global pandemic. I became a “work-from-home-mom-teacher” against my will, and the term context switching took on a whole new meaning.
For Ghosh, it’s been a while since he’s been able to achieve a flow state: “The pandemic has made it harder and harder to do. In this world, we’re glued to our screens 24/7. You have to find ways to disconnect.”
For creatives and business people alike, stress and anxiety are a dam that prevents creativity from flowing out freely.
How to get into a flow state to do deep work
We’ve outlined strategies to help you combat anxiety and stress to achieve a flow state.
Practice time blocking
Cal Newport’s book Deep Work is a great source of tips for getting into a flow state. Published four years before the COVID pandemic, Newport’s advice seems more applicable now than ever.
One concept in his book is time blocking: the act of carving out blocks of time for projects in advance. As Newport wrote on his blog, “[Time blocking] generates a massive amount of productivity. A 40-hour time-blocked work week, I estimate, produces the same amount of output as a 60+ hour work week pursued without structure.”
Take an anti-anxiety supplement
When combined, certain ingredients have an entourage effect that can combat anxiety and provide a sense of calm and well-being.
Our EXHALE tincture combines multiple all natural ingredients which were specially formulated to ward off the negative physiological effects of stress while promoting the production of GABA, a neurotransmitter that relaxes the nervous system. Holy basil and L-Theanine combine with the highest quality broad-spectrum CBD to become a natural remedy for anxiety that can help you achieve a flow state.
Do a reflection exercise
Megan Bowen, Chief Customer Officer at Refine Labs, said being able to reflect on your past success can help you recreate it.
"Reflect on three moments when you felt you were in a flow state, and write down as much as you can about what was happening during those times to identify your genius,” Bowen said.
Create a nourishing environment
Erickson said, “In my experience, the shortcut to shifting into the flow is a trifecta: change physiologically, extreme focalization, and my favorite nourishing environment.”
Erickson uses essential oils to create a nourishing environment, but it looks different from person to person.
For me, a nourishing environment is one where I can concentrate. And that requires white noise. I use A Soft Murmur to create a soothing mix of ambient sounds like fire, rain, and ocean.
For Ghosh, it requires silence and zero distractions. “My best work starts when I have a to-do list written out in front of me,” he said. “Then I close out everything but the one thing I need to do. I will shut off the music and try to focus on one thing at a time.”
Resisting the urge to multi-task is key to achieving a flow state
You may be able to multi-task, however, experts agree to resist the urge if you want to get in a flow state to produce your best work. As Ghosh noted, multi-tasking comes with the burden of not doing any single thing well.