One of the most satisfying and rewarding moments of my life is when I am in flow state. Being immersed in flow state gives rise to creativity, innovation and a feeling of incredible productivity. It’s the experience of being able to dive straight into our work without any procrastination or disruptions. A state of mind where the cogwheels in our brain appear to function perfectly. We come out of it achieving what we set out to do and possibly more.
After spending a long six years of my life studying in medical school and working on multiple personal projects outside of it, flow state is what I look forward to every day. However, although highly desired, it’s a state that I can find hard to achieve especially when I’m stressed or under pressure.
I’ve spent some time trying to work out what things can stimulate this flow state and here are seven tips that I’d like to share with you all!
1. Meditate and Practicing Mindfulness
Before attempting to do anything productive, I meditate and practice mindfulness. This is especially true if I feel like the task will be challenging or if my mind doesn’t feel fresh. Meditating has shown to improve our productivity, mood and stress levels which are all critical to immersing ourselves in flow state. Personally, I’ve experienced calmness and a feeling of zen after meditating and this allows me to be highly productive. Even after a meditation session, I try to practice mindfulness as much as possible. This means to free myself of any distractions as I work and to give my undivided attention to the task at hand.
2. Exercise or Go for a Walk
While exercise works up the body, it can relax our brains. I find that flow state is easier to achieve after completing my exercise routine. My body feels light, my mind feels refreshed and I feel like it’s easier to concentrate. Funnily enough, there are days where I skip the gym in the morning because I want to get more things done, however, I find that I end up being less productive. It doesn’t have to be a high-intensity exercise regime, simply going for a quick stroll around the neighbourhood (with your dog!) can lower the threshold to achieve flow state.
3. Stay Cool
This is actually a tip I learnt from my dearly-missed high school maths teacher. To get into flow state, it’s important to stay on the cooler side of the thermostat both in winter and summer. When we feel warm or hot, we become easily fatigued both mentally and physically. This means that it’s harder for us to focus. Of course, I’m not saying to precisely measure the room temperature every time or to install a thermostat in the house (we don’t have one!) but to just be mindful of the temperature of the room.
In winter, we tend to warm up with layering on clothes and turning on the heater. So it’s quite easy to overheat and disrupt our flow state without realising it. In summer, try cooling off with a shower or a cold drink and see how it helps you refresh your mind and productivity.
4. Find Your Tummy’s Flow State
For our minds to be in flow state, our tummy also has to be in flow state. More often than not, we focus best when we’re in that delicate window between feeling hungry and satiated. I’m sure many of us have struggled to work effectively through our rumbling bellies and hunger pains. Similarly, the after-lunch work slump and food comas can be explained by the activation of our parasympathetic nervous system as our bodies digest food. Personally, I find that attempting flow state 30 minutes after eating is the best way to go about it with snacks healthy and light enough to power me through but prevent me from entering a heavy state of satiety.
Also, I’ve found that food comas are virtually non-existent after switching to a whole foods plant-based diet! The high fibre content also keeps me fuller for longer!
5. White Noise/Study Music
This may vary amongst everyone but study music or white noise can help with flow state. Personally, I find study music useful for doing tasks that doesn’t need much mental effort. Otherwise, it can be quite distracting and pulls me out of my flow state when I’m trying to read or write. One strategy though, is to use relaxing study music or white noise to set the mood and calm your mind for 20-30 minutes and then to turn it off once you’re in flow state.
5. Read Something, Especially Your Own Work
Reading can help draw out our writing skills. This strategy is very useful if you’re trying to find a flow state to continuously write and avoid writer’s block. As much as we want to jump in and write a 3000 word essay, it’s important to read first even if we’ve done all our research beforehand. Although reading anything is okay, it’s best to read something that is similar to what you’ll be writing about in terms of topic and tone. This can also include your previous work. Personally, when I’m about to write a blog post, I read my older, published posts of the same topic to vibe the same persona.
6. To Do: Nothing
The first thing to do to achieve flow state is to ensure that there is nothing on your to-do list. More specifically, there is nothing pressing or urgent to do in the next two, three or even four hours. There is nothing worse than sitting down at your desk trying to work or study and there is this urge to do something else. For example, even though I like to write my articles in the morning, I always make sure to walk my two dogs beforehand because otherwise, they have this irritating (yet so lovable) habit of loitering around my study and hallway with their puppy-eyes and all. This means I can’t focus on what I’m doing because there is this other ‘pressing’ matter that I feel like needs to be done.