6 Keys to Reaching a State of Flow and Be More Creative
Do you need to boost your creativity? Would you like to also strengthen your attention span? In that case, the keys to reach a state of flow state stand out as the best strategies to improve your productivity. What’s more, we’re talking about a mental process that’s capable of optimizing your state of mind and allowing you to feel a tendency toward positive emotions while you work.
It was the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi who popularized the term “flow”, thanks to his famous book Flow and the Foundations of Positive Psychology, first published in 1990. That work taught us that active concentration is an exceptional mechanism for all areas of our lives. In the following article, we’ll teach you how to achieve that beneficial experience.
“People who learn to control internal experience will be able to determine the quality of their lives, and this is what can bring us closer to happiness.”
– Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (Flow, 1990) –
Keys to reaching a state of flow and increasing your creativity
“Flow in life”, “being in a flow state”, “flow in relationships”… Surely you’ve heard this type of phrase on multiple occasions every day. However, what do they mean? What is their origin and true purpose? The state of flow is defined as the human being’s ability to be fully involved in a task without wandering off and, in turn, experiencing a sense of well-being.
Also, it’s a type of mental approach that science has studied for a long time. Works such as the one published in Frontiers in Psychology highlight that this cognitive competence is quite beneficial for our performance. It’s a type of experience that increases the release of basal norepinephrine, thus achieving greater arousal, interest, and concentration.
Below, we’ll describe the strategies that help you to reach this state.
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1. Set challenging goals according to your abilities
The first of the keys to reaching a state of flow and being more creative is to focus on your goals. If you set yourself goals that are routine, unattractive, or even beyond your abilities, you won’t reach this state. You’ll feel unmotivated and even frustrated.
As indicated in research such as that disclosed in Frontiers in Psychology, the state of flow is reached with the sensation of having left the routines of daily life towards a different reality. Setting clear and exciting goals is an essential step. We suggest some simple guidelines in this regard:
- Clarify your skills and set goals linked to them
- Try to make your goals challenging, but also realistic
- Break down your goals into small steps to work on on a day-to-day basis
- Draw a work plan and be disciplined
- Review your goals every so often to make sure they keep motivating you
2. Focus on one task at a time
If there’s a voracious and destructive enemy when it comes to your productivity and creative thinking, it’s multitasking. An article in the journal Cerebrum emphasizes that when doing several things at once, the brain slows down and concentration worsens. This is because those areas linked to focus, such as the frontoparietal and dorsal attention control networks, have limited capabilities.
Consequently, if you want to boost your flow state, keep in mind the following guidelines to help you focus:
- Perform a single task at a time.
- Focus all your attention on one goal.
- Disconnect notifications from your cell phone.
- Work in a quiet space where there are no environmental stimuli.
3. Give yourself positive feedback
Do you doubt yourself when carrying out a task? Are you often tormented by the annoying impostor syndrome? If so, it’ll be difficult for you to reach this valuable cognitive state, because one of the keys to reaching the flow state is to offer yourself positive reinforcement that increases your self-efficacy.
If you have problems in this regard, take note of how to improve your positive feedback:
- Enjoy the process
- Appreciate the effort you make
- Analyze your achievements and feel proud
- Feel how your skills allow you to advance
- Feel how time ceases to exist while you work
- Accompany your work with positive and empowering messages
- Revel in the rewarding emotions that come from doing something you love
4. The power of intrinsic motivation
Creativity and productivity benefit when you’re motivated by your confidence, inner satisfaction, and self-love. Therefore, to enhance your flow state, it’s essential that you be guided by endogenous factors and not so much by external reinforcements. In this regard, in Frontiers in Psychology, something interesting was pointed out that will undoubtedly invite you to reflect.
In this phenomenon described by Csikszentmihalyi, people carry out activities for no other reason than the activity itself; without extrinsic rewards. For this reason, among the keys to reaching the state of flow is this nuclear dimension that you can’t neglect.
In order for you to work on this dimension, we suggest the following recommendations:
- Guide yourself with your own goals and internal reinforcements
- Your creativity will expand if you don’t depend on external reinforcements
- The state of flow is, above all, enjoying while you work
- Don’t pay attention to criticism or unhelpful comments from your environment
- Don’t give excessive value to the economic aspect and try to enjoy the process
The worst enemies to reach the flow state are internal criticism, your high demand, and the need to receive external reinforcements. The most important thing is that you feel motivated and enjoy the process.
5. Don’t force yourself, trust, and let yourself go (flow)
It’s while you work, innovate, and focus on producing something creative that the term “flow” makes the most sense. This is because we’re facing a cognitive exercise in which the brain doesn’t feel stress, but is motivated, concentrated, and, in turn, releasing dopamine and endorphins. They’re rewarding experiences in which you always give your best.
On the other hand, works such as the one published in Behavioral Sciences stress that it’s not easy to achieve this experience. The challenge is to move from explicit (forced) to implicit (automatic) cognitive control. To do this, it’ll be useful to reflect on the following:
- Always trust your skills.
- Try to enjoy the process and let yourself go.
- Turn off negative thoughts and your inner critic.
- Remember that as long as the task is motivating, you’ll reach a state of flow.
- Reduce your self-demand; don’t be obsessed with being a Leonardo Da Vinci or a Steve Jobs.
- Focus your attention on the task and think that, at that moment, only you and that challenge.
6. Be aware of the “blockers” of the state of flow
Every cognitive process has its own blocking element or process that can boycott your performance. It’s important to remember that the flow state experience is a delicate state that, as we’ve said, is difficult to achieve. And the reason that not everyone can achieve it is because they don’t control a number of processes. Take note of those variables that you should take into account:
- The optimal flow experience isn’t achieved if you feel anxious or stressed.
- If the task is beyond your abilities, you won’t be able to achieve a state of flow.
- Distractions are the worst enemies of flow. Likewise, lack of motivation and fatigue also affect it.
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The benefits of being in a state of flow
When Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi introduced his theory on this concept, he described it as a tool to achieve happiness. In a way, when you manage to concentrate on a task or situation, your mind always offers its best. Thanks to this, you achieve goals, solve challenges, and your well-being is enhanced. It’s a concept as useful as it is interesting.
We’ll describe below what the main benefits of implementing the keys to reach a state of flow are:
- You strengthen your self-esteem
- You develop self-efficacy
- You manage to create more innovative ideas
- You improve your commitment to work
- You trust yourself more to achieve your goals
- You work with a greater feeling of happiness
- You tune in to your emotions and thoughts
- You improve concentration and apply it to all areas of your life
Fields of application
This cognitive experience is useful in many spheres of our society. Some examples of this are the following fields of application:
- Flow at work. That’s right, the keys described here act as tools of great importance to increase productivity and innovative thinking in all work settings.
- In educational fields. If, at present, the teaching of this experience developed by positive psychology were included in schools, we could enhance the creativity and performance of students.
- In the world of sports. Every athlete can improve their performance if they apply a more concentrated mental focus, in which, in turn, those positive emotions motivated by self-efficacy, confidence, and well-being are integrated.
- Flow in artistic activities. Surely you’ve guessed it. This experience is ideal to promote that creative mind that wishes to create art in all its forms, such as painting, writing, music, etc.
- Flow in personal well-being. This tool stands as an enriching mechanism to optimize the well-being of everyone. It’s a way of training the mind to focus on immediate reality, letting go, and feeling how the imagination expands and new ideas emerge.
Flow, an exercise that can improve your life
The keys to reaching a state of flow mentioned here can offer you the change you need in your life. Although it’s true that they’re almost always oriented towards the work sphere, as you’ve seen, they also have a great impact on the individual sphere. It consists of making your mind your ally so that all activity is rewarding for you.
Flowing with life thanks to a brain that regulates stress and enjoys the present is an ideal exercise. What’s more, it won’t only allow you to conquer new purposes, but your psychological health will also notice it. Why not try it?It might interest you...
All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.
- Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (2008) Fluir (Flow): una psicología de la felicidad. DeBolsillo
- Doyle, C. L. (2017). Creative flow as a unique cognitive process. Frontiers in Psychology, 8, 1-4. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01348/full
- Gold, J., & Ciorciari, J. (2020). A review on the role of the neuroscience of flow states in the modern world. Behavioral Sciences, 10(9), 1-18. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7551835/
- Madore, K. P., & Wagner, A. D. (2019). Multicosts of multitasking. Cerebrum: The Dana Forum on Brain Science, 2019, 1-8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7075496/
- Peifer, C., Wolters, G., Harmat, L., Heutte, J., Tan, J., Freire, T., Tavares, D., Fonte, C., Andersen, F. O., van den Hout, J., Šimleša, M., Pola, L., Ceja, L., & Triberti, S. (2022). A scoping review of flow research. Frontiers in Psychology, 13, 1-27. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2022.815665/full
- van der Linden, D., Tops, M., & Bakker, A. B. (2021). The neuroscience of the flow state: Involvement of the locus coeruleus norepinephrine system. Frontiers in Psychology, 12, 1-6. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2021.645498/full
- Visual Ananda. (2019, mayo 1). Fluir (Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi) – Resumen animado [video]
. Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=31rAbjYSECw