There is a growing body of evidence to show the powerful and life-enhancing effects that mindfulness and flow states offer us. That mindfulness can help us tap into our full potential by unlocking our ability to enter flow states. Through this blog, I want to share a basic understanding of both concepts, how they are similar and different and most importantly, how they support each other. I hope to inspire you to explore the incredible benefits of these states and discover how they can lead you to greater fulfilment and well-being.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a practice that involves nurturing a non-judgmental form of self-awareness. Meditation is a widely recognised method for cultivating mindfulness, among other techniques such as Reiki, Yoga or Tai Chi. The essence of mindfulness lies in our ability to notice when our attention drifts away from our present focus or the task at hand.
Mindfulness practice can help you to become more aware of your thoughts, feelings, and sensations in the present moment. This increased awareness can help you identify and address negative thought patterns and behaviours that may be causing stress or anxiety.
Additionally, mindfulness can help you cultivate greater acceptance and non-judgment towards yourself and others. This can help to reduce feelings of self-criticism and increase feelings of self-compassion and empathy.
Moreover, mindfulness has been shown to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, improve mood, and increase feelings of well-being and happiness. By cultivating a greater awareness and presence in our lives, we can learn to appreciate the small moments of joy and beauty often overlooked in our busy lives.
It is important to note that mindfulness is not a cure-all for all life’s problems. It is not a way to escape from reality or avoid difficult emotions. Instead, it is a way to face our challenges with greater clarity and acceptance and to live our lives with greater intention and purpose.
Mindfulness is an ancient practice that has been used for centuries to promote health and well-being and is now being embraced by modern science as a powerful tool for improving our mental and physical health. By incorporating mindfulness into our daily routines, we can improve our focus and concentration, reduce stress, and cultivate a greater sense of joy, connection, and happiness.
What Is A Flow State?
When we experience flow, we are wholly absorbed in our current activity. We lose all sense of time and experience a wonderful, seemingly effortless experience.
Entering a flow state requires an optimal balance of challenge, interest, and intrinsic motivation. We also need a clear intention or goal, a single focus that our mind, body and energy are directed towards.
There are several types of flow states, ranging between passive and active flow states. It is essential to create a balance of ebb and flow. Maintaining a constant active flow would be impossible, and according to Csikszentmihalyi, it would be detrimental to our health and well-being. An example of an active flow state would be the ‘Peak Performance’ flow state that athletes may achieve. In contrast, a more passive flow state would be one achieved through meditation or tai chi. Moving between active and passive flow states is vital to achieving long-term inner peace and happiness.
What are the different flow states we might want to cultivate?
1. Peak Performance Flow State: This type of flow state is characterised by high levels of challenge and skill. In this flow state, we experience a sense of control over the task and a loss of self-consciousness. Time seems to fly by, and we become fully immersed in the activity. This flow state is often experienced by athletes, musicians, and other high performers.
2. Creative Flow State: This flow state is characterised by high creativity and innovation. In this flow state, we experience a sense of inspiration and a feeling of being in the “zone.” We can generate new ideas and solutions without effort, and time seems to pass quickly. This flow state is often experienced by artists, writers, and other creative professionals.
3. Relaxation Flow State: This type of flow state is characterised by a sense of calm and relaxation. In this flow state, we experience a deep sense of peace and a feeling of being at ease. We can let go of stress and tension, and our mind is clear and focused. This flow state is often experienced by those practising mindfulness, meditation, or yoga.
4. Social Flow State: This type of flow state is characterised by a sense of connectedness and social interaction. In this flow state, we experience a feeling of being part of a group, and they are fully engaged in social activities. We can communicate effectively and connect with others on a deep level. This flow state is often experienced in social situations like parties or group activities.
By understanding the different flow states, we can learn to cultivate the type of flow state most appropriate for our needs and goals. Flow states can help us achieve our full potential and experience greater well-being, whether peak performance, creativity, relaxation, or social interaction.
What do they have in common, and how are they different?
Mindfulness, Meditation and Flow can be seen as related and have some things in common, but ultimately, they are different. However, they are all valuable contenders for increasing well-being, concentration, productivity, and performance.
What they have in common is a focused and concentrated state of being. We may also find that we lose all sense of time when practising meditation, mindfulness or being in a flow state. The main difference between meditation, mindfulness and flow is that the goal for the former two is to maintain a level of meta-awareness throughout the process. In contrast, when we access a flow state, we are so fully immersed in the activity that we lose all sense of self and the world around us.
The closest intersection would arrive when we practice mindfulness-in-flow. This is where we are both highly absorbed in an activity whilst maintaining an awareness of our experience and environment. For example, mindful walking, where we aim to become fully immersed in the experience while simultaneously being aware of that experience. Some meditation practices potentially create an actual flow state, where all sense of self is lost, and a sense of oneness prevails.
How mindfulness increases our ability to enter a flow state.
Mindfulness can help us focus on challenging tasks and situations while we are still developing the level of skill required to enter a flow state during that activity. If a skill is too difficult, it is impossible to enter a flow state, just as a skill or activity that is too easy tends to make distraction a likely disruption to flow. Again, mindfulness teaches us to maintain our focus rather than being pulled away by distracting forces such as pings on our phones or smartwatches.
If we find ourselves going in and out of flow states during a particular activity. Mindfulness training can help us maintain our focus or bring our attention back to the activity. It can also provide us with the wisdom to notice what it is that pulls us out of a flow state and what it is that can enable us to reach a state of flow more easily. Therefore, mindfulness enhances self-awareness, and through self-awareness, we can harness flow states more deliberately rather than crossing our fingers and hoping we find that flow.
What are the benefits of working with mindfulness and flow states?
Research has shown that attaining a mindful or a flow state can have measurable improvements in cognitive performance. We can experience improved attention, memory, and cognitive flexibility in a mindful state. We can experience enhanced performance, creativity, and learning in a flow state. Both mindfulness and flow states have been linked to better decision-making and problem-solving. Additionally, studies have shown that mindfulness and flow states can lead to changes in brain structure, such as increased grey matter in areas associated with attention and emotional regulation. Overall, while the benefits of mindfulness and flow states are subjective and can vary from person to person, evidence suggests they can positively impact cognitive performance.
We can’t be in a high-level flow state all the time. It’s simply not possible. We can, however, move between mindful states and various forms of flow states and, in doing so, create a meaningful, purpose-driven life. I want to restate here that this is not about magical thinking or spiritual bypassing. It doesn’t stop the proverbial s**t hitting the fan or make us impervious to hard times. It does create a fantastic foundation for greater self-awareness, self-mastery, and strength to deal with the hard times in the best ways possible and make the most of the opportunities and good times we might experience. Through these states, we have a greater sense of control over our lives and how we interact with the world and respond to our internal experiences of pain, emotion and thought.
Tips on improving your mindfulness practice and increasing opportunities for accessing flow.
1. Mindfulness as a habit
Start with a mindfulness exercise, explore different techniques, as some will be easier for you than others, and don’t set yourself up to fail by carrying out a mindfulness exercise far beyond your current ability. Any mindful practice is fundamentally about focusing on one task and noticing any thoughts, feelings or sensations that pull your attention away from that task. Notice that distraction and return your attention to the task. This can be a simple meditation where you focus on your breath or an activity such as walking the dog or cleaning your teeth. Start with a few minutes of focus and gradually build the time as you become more confident. Make this practice a daily habit.
2. Planning and Time Management
Give some thought to your day, week, and month ahead. Make a note of the events you consider easy, mundane or boring, then note events that are moderately challenging and interesting, and then the events or tasks you consider daunting, difficult or unpleasant. You can mark your tasks according to the above criteria using any formula you feel comfortable with; for example, you might assign a lightening emoji to indicate a low energy to suggest an easy, mundane task and two lightening emoji to show a moderate and exciting task, and three for an arduous, difficult task. No one looking over your shoulder will understand your reference but you.
When you see a task with one lightning strike or three, this is an excellent time to practice mindfulness. We can practice and strengthen our ability to maintain a mindful state for tasks with one lightning strike. For three lightning strikes, carrying out a meditation or a mindful activity before the task may help to put you in a calm, more centred and ready state to tackle that task. Equally, you may find generating more awareness of what feelings arise around the task and what skills you need to develop to turn that task into a two lightning strikes task helpful in your quest for personal development and mastery.
When you set up a system like the above, it has many uses. It highlights opportunities for mindfulness and personal growth. It also aids good time management because you can use those lightning strikes as a guide to what would be most productive, given your overall energy, mood, and available time.
3. An optimal state for flow
When we see two lightning strikes against a task, we want to maximise our chance of entering a flow state. This means creating an optimal internal and external environment.
We want to assess our internal state of being. How are we feeling today? How much energy do we have? What is the intention and purpose behind this task, and what feelings and thoughts arise when we consider this task? Do we want to address any of the internal states that occur before we begin this task? Is there a particular mindfulness exercise that could help us be more aligned internally with our intention and purpose for this task? Are there any worries or niggles related or unrelated to the task that we perhaps should address in some way before we begin?
The external environment is usually simple to address. Turn off your distractions, put your devices on silent for the anticipated or scheduled duration of the task and switch off any visual notifications and pop-ups. Find a space where you will not have other external distractions. Suppose you can set the space up to support the activity. In that case, this might be setting the mood that supports your desired flow state: performance, creativity, relaxation, or social. Changing your clothes to suit the activity better, anything that creates a more ideal environment for you to complete this task. Make sure you have readily available to you everything you might possibly need to fulfil this task. Nothing breaks a flow state more than being unable to find that crucial document with the necessary information.
4. Practice and Perseverance
The most important tip I can give you is the last one: go easy on yourself. Establishing mindful states and flow states takes time, practice, and perseverance. Imagine you are a mad scientist exploring these possibilities; whether it goes to plan or not, it is just another opportunity to learn and discover more about yourself and the changes you need to make to support your continued understanding and learning of these two states of being. Add in a daily practice of reflective journaling and write about your discoveries, and you are well on your way to self-mastery.
“All masterpiece work is achieved only when the mind is engaged in a flow state. It is a state where the brain wave frequencies are low like alpha, delta or theta. Divine music, art an things of lasting value gets created in this state. The brain when engaged like this flows smoothly into the task and effortlessly produces a superior piece of work. Flow is the ultimate state of super productivity…” – Wise River ©®™
I hope this gives you a sense of excitement for what could be possible and an excellent place to start if this is new to you or a boost of motivation to continue along this road if you’ve been here before. I want you to know that these things can be achieved by anyone, no matter your background. Mindfulness and flow states are two concepts that can bring joy and satisfaction to your life. By cultivating mindfulness through meditation and engaging in challenging activities that allow you to experience flow, you can achieve a deep sense of engagement and focus and enjoy a more fulfilling life.