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As some of you might know, I was a professional volleyball player for 13 years and I went to the Olympic games with The Netherlands in Sydney. In my early days as a volleyball player, I experienced the flow state often. And lately, I’ve finally been able to get into a flow state of mind more often again. This is what I’ve learned and how I often manage to get into that flow.
You get into flow state of mind by becoming one with the activity you are performing. You achieve this through hyper-focus and having a very clear and defined outcome in mind, without ever feeling the need to accomplish it in a specific time frame.
What happens when you are in a flow state of mind?
I’m pretty sure you can remember when you were a little kid and you lost track of time while you were doing something that you enjoyed. Kids tend to enter the flow state of mind much easier than adults. They are still not trapped in the responsibilities and obligations that come with being an adult in this world. But entering the flow state of mind for the ordinary adult human being is not something easy to do. However, you can create an environment in which it will be more likely to happen for you.
Also, athletes and artists tend to know the flow state very well. I still remember so many games I played in my early years as a professional volleyball player. And I can assure you that being in the flow state of mind is such a great experience.
In this state of mind, you are hyper-focused, completely immersed in the activity, aware of everything but distracted by nothing. You are not actively thinking, you’re not guiding your thoughts, they just come to you. You have an extremely heightened sense of your surroundings. You observe everything and you are laser-focused on that what you are doing at that moment. Time seems to slow down and your actions follow as a natural response to this flow and the inner knowing that floats to the surface when you are in this kind of state.
At the same time, the awareness of time disappears completely. Three hours might seem just a few minutes for you after you get out of the flow state of mind. And since you have become one with time, your activity, and your thoughts, you have completely forgotten about your own identity and you have lost the need to confirm your identity in any possible way. This allows you to just be who you are instead of trying to be who you want other people to think you are.
Start with things you love to get into your flow state of mind
For those of you who are not athletes or artists, it is a bit more difficult to encounter yourself in a flow state of mind as often as you would like. But I found you can create an environment for yourself in which it’s much more likely to happen. First of all, you want to be doing something that you like doing, that you love doing. And something that comes naturally to you and that you have done and practiced a lot of times before.
Once you’ve learned how to trigger the flow state for yourself you can also try to make this happen while you’re doing things that you don’t like to do. But to start practicing and entering the flow state of mind I cannot recommend this to you because it’s much much more difficult. When you like doing something it’s so much easier to focus on the task, to enjoy the task, and to spend the time necessary to complete it.
Eliminate distractions to set yourself up for entering the flow state of mind
Then it’s important to prepare yourself. And depending on the task you want to complete and try to enter the flow state of mind you need to prepare your environment. Turn off your phone or put it on mute, close the door so your family, your friends, your partner, your pets cannot disturb you. Make sure that physically you feel fine and are ready for it, being hydrated, having enough energy, and try to be as comfortable as possible within the task that you want to complete. This will make it much easier for you to enter your flow.
When you gain more experience and have practiced a lot more and it becomes more natural for you to enter this state of mind, you will find you do not need to prepare your environment as much anymore.
I remember when I was a volleyball player, my concentration on the task ahead was so hyper-focused that even in the preparation of the games in the bus rides or even already in the hotel I would be completely in the zone. Many things would be happening around me, teammates would be playing cards on the bus, and fans would be waiting outside, many girls would be waiting for autographs and pictures, and it was just a fantastic feeling. I just let it all happen. I took the pictures with the fans and I signed the autographs but my hyper-focus never disappeared.
I remember one game that we had to play against Belgium and one of the girls that were helping out during the games to recover the balls told her friend “look at those eyes”, referring to me. And she was clearly not referring to how beautiful she thought my eyes were. It was very obvious that she was referring to the laser focus that she could see in my eyes.
This feeling of being fully aware of your surroundings and somehow being able to hear more than you normally do, capture more from your environment than you normally do, and still not being distracted and continuing to be as focused as you can ever be on the task to complete, is fantastic.
Have a clear goal to enter into the flow state of mind
One thing I think is essential to enable yourself to enter the flow state of mind is to have a very clearly defined objective. While you are in the flow you never think about the objective but your unconscious mind is programmed to work towards that goal.
When you start any task without a clear objective and without knowing exactly what you want to achieve you will just be running around in circles. While when you have a clear goal you can focus on the little things, on the small things that you need to do at exactly that moment. As a volleyball player, of course, the goal was very clear in the short-term it was to win the game in the long-term it was to win a championship or a cup. But while I was playing the games I never thought about the end goal it was always just about the next point. Being fully present in that particular moment, observe everything, and taking the right action following this inner knowing, this intuition, that would tell me exactly what to do in every action.
You should not expect to be able to enter in the state of flow without having practiced what you want to accomplish many many times before you achieve to enter in your flow state of mind. If you have not repeated the same task over and over again you have not become proficient and it will still require active thinking and guidance from your mind to accomplish the task.
They say that to become proficient in anything in life you need to have practiced at least 10,000 hours. And I think that might be true. So prepare to practice before you can naturally enter into your flow state of mind.
Deliberately create your flow state of mind by using time
Something else you can do to make it easier to enter into the flow state of mind is to set a specific amount of time to concentrate and focus on the activity.
For example, when I prepare these articles I divide the content that I want to create into different sections so that I don’t have to write a piece of anywhere between 1500 and 2000 words at once. But I can actually focus on smaller pieces of 250 to 400 words per section. Which makes it much easier to complete the task for every individual part.
It also is a tremendous help when you don’t feel like performing the activity or task that you want to do. Dividing the task into smaller pieces makes it much more attainable and makes it feel much easier to complete. This is also called the Pomodoro technique. Typically you divide your working time into 25 minutes of work and 5 minutes of distraction and rest. You can, of course, adjust this and make the 25 minutes longer or shorter depending on the needs you have at that moment.
For me, this is something that works extremely well. It keeps me fresh, focused, and gives me a boost that causes me to want to continue to work instead of feeling the dread of having to continue because I still need to complete so much.
Practice observation of thoughts to let them go and enter the flow state of mind
The last thing I want to recommend to you is not something you need to do while you are trying to enter the state of flow. It is more something to practice daily and something that can help you to make it easier once you want to enter into the flow state of mind. And this is simply to observe your thoughts without any interference from your side.
Observe your thoughts, look at them but don’t keep them. Don’t entertain yourself with your thoughts, don’t give them any second thoughts, just look at them and let them go. When you practice this more often and you get to master this little by little you will see it will help you tremendously when trying to enter into the flow state of mind.
These things have helped me a lot to now being able to consistently entering into the flow state of mind. And I recommend you to try it for yourself and see if it works and how you will boost your productivity and happiness while performing any activity.
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