colorful peaceful river scene as a metaphor for flow

You know it once you are in the middle of it: It’s called Flow.

The concept of flow was popularized by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Jeanne Nakamura. It’s where you become fully immersed in whatever you are doing. The focus can be so intense that it often leads to a natural high, where everything just seems to be, well, flowing.

It’s when we are in flow that we are able to be our most creative and to do some really good strategic thinking.

You might think that we need to relax to get into the flow state, but that’s actually not true. Relaxation is super helpful before flow because it helps your brain wander, clear out, and synthesize ideas.

But flow should actually be a bit hard — that’s the magic of it.

I am reading a book I highly recommend called Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention and How to Think Deeply Again by Johann Hari.

He outlines three steps to getting into the flow state based on what he learned from Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi:

First, choose a clearly defined goal. What is it that you want to do? Flow demands monotasking on one goal only.  Distraction and attempts at multitasking kill flow.

Second, the topic and task have to be meaningful to you. You can only sustain your attention on things you care about. If you work on something that you really don’t care about, distraction will eventually win out and kill flow.

Third — and this is what many people miss, I think — what you pick needs to be something a little hard for you to do, at the edge of your abilities, but not exceeding them.  It’s this element of the challenge or puzzle that really engages your brain. That combined with caring out it is what generates that state of flow. If you pick something too easy, you’ll go on autopilot and get distracted. If you pick something too hard, the frustration and anxiety will get you.

You’ll know you are there when you feel entirely present and one with the work. You’ll usually lose track of time and when you do realize what time it is, you often don’t want to stop, because you are feeling so productive and good!

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s research shows that the more often you can reach flow, the better you will feel both physically and mentally. And yes, the better work you will produce for your nonprofit.