What is ‘Flow State’ and how can we achieve it?

September 2020

Whether we’re working from home or increasingly returning to the office, those periods when time flies by unnoticed and we power through our tasks undisturbed are often when we are at our most productive. The latest in the Champs series of Wellness events with Fora looked at how we can foster and maintain these flow-like moments to boost our mental wellbeing and we work effectively.


As always, the event was interactive with the audience sharing their views on what constituted a flow-like state. A lack of distractions, a clear focus on the task at hand and an open mind ready and willing to learn were all mentioned. Ruth shared a definition from psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi:


“Flow is a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience is so enjoyable that people will continue to do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.”


Ruth emphasised the word ‘enjoyable’ as opposed to pleasurable. The enjoyment we get from working in the flow state is not a fleeting moment. Instead it is a happiness that comes from deep within – an intrinsic feeling. “Flow is neither good nor bad. It simply is,” said Ruth. Gambling, for example, can be regarded as having flow, keeping people totally absorbed in a task. There are several conditions that contribute to creating this mental state and the group discussed those elements that could be harnessed in a positive way.


The conditions that facilitate the flow experience include a structured activity with clear goals and immediate feedback. A balance between our skills and the challenge we’re undertaking is also important. Too great a challenge could trigger anxiety; too little could induce apathy. Complete concentration, and a sense of control also support flow states, highlighting how distractions within a working environment can disrupt our flow. The flow state can also transform our sense of time too. Ruth cited her marathon running as an example, where her sense of time fades with each mile she runs, allowing her to cover an additional hour or more without being fully conscious of the extra distance.


Autotelic personalities find it easier to experience such flow states as they are more focused on the intrinsic reward of doing a task. These personality traits were something covered in more detail earlier in the Champs series. However, anyone can achieve a state of flow even if it may require a bit of practice and self discipline. In many respects the key requirement is for a degree of inner harmony, drawing on many of the mental wellness topics that Ruth has discussed in previous presentations. She shared another quote from Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi:


“Happiness depends on inner harmony, not on the control we exert over external forces.”


For more information on our Thrive series with Champs, and to sign up for up-coming sessions, visit our what’s on page.