Getting into the State of Flow

Key Takeaways

  • Working in a state of flow means being able to effortlessly concentrate without distraction.
  • Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi first coined the term “state of flow” in the 1970s.
  • According to Dr. Csikszentmihalyi, there are five steps to cultivate this state of flow.

If you find yourself easily distracted when you’re trying to work, you’re not alone. With the advent of email, texts, and social media, it’s become more difficult than ever to focus our attention on one thing for any real length of time. Combating this state of distraction is the topic of the book Deep Work by author and professor Cal Newport.

The flip side of a state of distraction is a state of flow, a term coined in the 1970s by Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Being in a state of flow is key to being able to do deep work. According to Dr. Csikszentmihalyi, there are five steps to cultivating a state of flow.

The first step is to make your intentions clear. Clarity is needed before anything else, as you cannot expand from a place of complexity. You can only move forward if you’re clear on what you’re doing.

The second step is sticking to one goal at a time. This may sound incorrect, as you likely have a number of goals, and we’re often expected to multi-task. Well, the point here is that when you’re going into a deep state, you’re focusing on just one goal at a time, even if you have other goals waiting for you when you finish. Get through one thing, then move on to the next.

The third step is to practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is about being in the moment and being present. Be physically in a place where you can focus on your deep work – the geography, the people around you, aspects of your environment – they all make a difference.

The fourth step is developing an autotelic style. This means finding pleasure in the work and enjoying it as you go. Rather than perceiving it as a task you’re obligated to get through, view the work as a fulfilling challenge.

The fifth step is finding the balance between skill and challenge. If the work stretches just a bit beyond your skill level, that’s the level of challenge where flow occurs. Too little challenge, and the work becomes boring. Too much challenge, and the work becomes frustrating and anxiety-producing. Of course, these levels are different for everyone, and they vary depending on the type of work.

While it’s most common to see professional athletes and entertainers go into a state of flow, there are a lot of successful people outside of those professions who understand how to do this. You could find yourself “in the zone” by doing deep work, as suggested by Cal Newport – perhaps practicing it for an hour or two each day.

Another good resource for learning how do to this is Keith Cunningham’s book, The Road Less Stupid; he offers various exercises to help you understand the process. So, give these resources a look – they’re worthwhile if you’re looking for ways to better concentrate and progress through your work. Until next time, enjoy.




Gary Klaben serves as a Financial Advisor, and visionary for Coyle Financial Counsel. He has over 30 years of experience and is the author of Changing the Conversation, Wealth of Everything and co-author of The Business BattlefieldWhether advising his clients, mentoring his team, or coaching entrepreneurs, he is always simplifying complexity and motivating others to take the next action that’s right for them.

Learn more about The Coyle Process, approach designed to get your arms around the big picture, so you can make informed financial decisions. Ask Gary about The Coyle Process and schedule a complimentary consultation and start living the Good Life Managed Well™.
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All information is from sources deemed reliable, but no warranty is made to its accuracy or completeness.   This material is being provided for informational or educational purposes only, and does not take into account the investment objectives or financial situation of any client or prospective client.  The information is not intended as investment advice, and is not a recommendation to buy, sell, or invest in any particular investment or market segment.  Those seeking information regarding their particular investment needs should contact a financial professional.  Coyle, our employees, or our clients, may or may not be invested in any individual securities or market segments discussed in this material.  The opinions expressed were current as of the date of posting but are subject to change without notice due to market, political, or economic conditions. All investments involve risk, including loss of principal.  Past performance is not a guarantee of future results.

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