Want to have more concentration? To be able to give more attention to the tasks that are most important so that you can achieve more success and happiness in your life? If yes – then continue reading.
The benefits of being able to focus are numerous. Not only will more be accomplished with less time but the efficiency also increases. It is the key component for improving the quality of our time which is the currency of life – we don’t want to waste it.
This mode of effectiveness and productivity isn’t something we can buy – instead it is within all of us. All we have to do is learn how to cultivate it.
What I’m talking about is „Flow“. This term was coined by the psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi (I’m not even going to try and pronounce that). Basically it is a mental state in which we are actively immersed by whatever we’re doing. We’re focused only at the task at hand and everything else (including the sense of time) loses its importance. It’s a condition of high performance and creativity. It enhances our physical and cognitive abilities. Imagine a wormhole that completely absorbs us and gives us superpowers.
In my opinion it is the peaking point of our existence. It is that moment when we are so immersed by our activities that we don’t care about anything external. It is presence at its finest.
Sounds great, right? Where do I sign up?
The thing with flow is that by nature we cannot experience it. If we lose our focus and notice ourselves in the midst of it we immediately get kicked out of it. In other words – it just happens. We all have probably felt it before – while working at something we look at the clock for a moment and magically hours have passed. It is like a time warp that removes our self-consciousness for a while.
Despite that there are several ways we can support the promotion of this state. The conditions of flow according to Csíkszentmihályi (not this time either) are as follows.
- One must be involved in an activity with a clear set of goals and progress.
- The task at hand must have clear and immediate feedback.
- One must have a good balance between the perceived challenges of the task at hand and their own perceived One must have confidence in one’s ability to complete the task at hand.
As we can see flow requires us to be challenged by whatever we’re doing and us trying to solve it. If the task is too difficult we will become frustrated. When it is too easy we will never be immersed by it.
Trying to enter flow can be looked as a ritual. Ancestral shamanic ceremonies were never short and brief but required a long time whether to summon the spirits or to arise certain internal states within the participants.
The key component to all of this is ATTENTION. If our mind tends to drift and doesn’t concentrate on one thing we will never be able to enter flow yet alone maintain it for long periods of time.
It happens over a long period of concentrated action. Multi-tasking doesn’t grant flow because we are never immersed by one thing.
Thus we need to focus our attention only at the task at hand. Completely filling our mind with it. It has to become all that we think of. There is no room for external distractions or the ritual will be interrupted and the process needs to be restarted. From the beginning.
How to enter FLOW.
This example will cover a task that requires creativity and is more mental than physical.
- Know the purpose of your activity. Ask yourself: „What am I trying to accomplish?“ Keep in mind that because of the creative and unpredictable nature of FLOW it might not coincide with what is achieved in the end. At least have a vague direction.
- Prepare yourself and the environment. Eliminate all type of distractions.
- Switch your phone to airplane mode.
- Plug yourself off the Internet.
- Lock the door so that you won’t be interrupted by other people.
- Close the curtains so that you won’t have the opportunity to look outside.
- Go to the bathroom beforehand.
- Play some sort of an audio file that promotes concentration. I tend to use regular alpha waves in my earphones so that I won’t hear my surroundings.
- Clear your workspace of distractions. Remove things you tend to play with (pencils, pictures, food, toys, electronics) whatever your weakness might be – you know it.
- Remove the presence of a clock. Cover it on your computer and in your room as well. This way you won’t be tempted to look at it.
- Create a work station that is as boring as possible. Mine is just facing a blank wall. This way what I’m focusing on becomes the most interesting thing and I want to concentrate just on that.
- Begin to work at it. Don’t expect for things to happen quickly. Just do your thing and warm up so to say. Start slow and steady.
- Don’t lose focus – don’t go to the bathroom, check the email or anything. Just keep working even if your life depends on it.
- Soon you will probably begin to feel pretty good. The task isn’t that hard as it used to be but it still requires effort. We are getting into the groove of things.
- The more time has passed the better we get. Things begin to flow…
- .. at one point you get zapped out of it. You look at the clock and time has passed without you even knowing it. You look at the work done and it’s quite amazing.
However we can never enter FLOW by force. There is no way to make it happen deliberately – sometimes it works and at others it doesn’t. Because of its spontaneity it arises in of itself… We can’t recognize when it does – it just does. The only thing we can do is promote its arrival.
Things that promote FLOW.
Like said above – we cannot predict FLOW. It is something that happens after a long period of concentrated action. We never know how much time or focus is needed. The expression of it is out of our control.
However what we can do is prepare ourselves for it when it does occur. There are several things we can do on a daily basis that can promote FLOW.
- Train our concentration.
- This means focusing only on one task at a time.
- Avoid multi-tasking which is teaching our mind to drift and be all over the place.
- Pick up something mindful and meditative. These practices make us more calmer and centered. They allow us to focus only on the present moment and increase our focus.
- Build up our abilities.
- If the challenge we are facing is too difficult we will be zapped out of FLOW because of the frustration of not making progress.
- We need to start from our level and build up from there.
- Try to challenge yourself in everything you do. Become better than previously each time.
- Enjoy the process of growth. It is the most important if you want it to be sustainable.
- Practice being immersed.
- Become absorbed with whatever you are doing. Ignore everything else but the task at hand.
- If you are reading a book then let yourself be consumed by it.
- If you are exercising then experience your motions to their fullest.
- In a conversation with other people really listen to them.
- In essence active immersion is the mixture of deliberate attention and being present. It is what makes FLOW what it is.
By now we have covered a whole lot about FLOW. We know that it is a mental state of active immersion and engagement with the task at hand. It is the moment in which we are completely absorbed with that one thing.
FLOW happens when we are working towards a goal of some sort. The process of getting there needs to be challenging but only to a certain extent. Too difficult and we will become frustrated. Too easy and we will never be absorbed by it.
The key component of entering this state is ATTENTION. We need to focus only on that one thing. Any distraction will impede our concentration. This is achievable by shaping our environment and conditions accordingly aswell as by training our mind.
We cannot predict FLOW or forcefully make it occur. It happens spontaneously in of itself. Sometimes we are more successful than at others. However deliberate practice will inevitably improve our access to it. This way it becomes a self-empowered state.
What FLOW gives us is much more than unexpected bursts of creativity and high performance.
If we are able to focus only on the most important thing the quality of our life improves.