In 1992, Michael Jordan was playing in the NBA finals and his team was not doing well. It seemed like they could lose if they didn’t get their act together. His coach called a timeout and said something to Jordan that made him return to the game with intense focus and concentration.
Then something remarkable happened. Over the next 18 minutes, Jordan scored six 3-pointers. It set a record at the NBA.
His feat was incredible, but what was even more amazing was that he seemed to be surprised by his performance. Video clips of that game show him shrugging his shoulders after setting the record. What helped him channel the pressure of a championship final into a never-before-seen performance? He later said that he was “in the zone”.
Many athletes have described this state of being “in the zone”, where their craft comes naturally to them. Not just athletes, but musicians, artists, and gamers have often described being in an intense state of focus which helps them perform remarkably well. They’re ‘in the zone’ when they work with purpose and determination, without letting anything divert their attention. This is called being in a flow state of mind.
You’re in a flow state when your thoughts completely align with your actions. You’re fully absorbed in the task at hand and all your time is occupied by that singular purpose. For instance, when you play a game of chess, you’re entirely immersed in it. You spend your time considering your next move and anticipating your opponent’s moves.
Let’s understand flow psychology and how finding your purpose will help you embrace this state of mind.
What Is Flow Psychology?
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, professor of Psychology and Management at the University of Chicago, discovered the flow state of mind as an element of positive psychology. According to Csikszentmihalyi, a flow state is the complete utilization of your mental faculties. It’s a state where you’re wholly focused on the task in front of you; this is also where you’re at your most productive.
For instance, a professional hiker is in a flow state of mind when they have to tackle challenging terrain. They’re dedicated to approaching the top without being deterred by external roadblocks like altitude, accessibility and potential danger.
Flow psychology is concerned with the optimal utilization of your mental prowess. When you’re in a state of flow, you’re so focused on your work that you don’t think about anything else. According to research, this is possible only when you’re doing something you find challenging and worthwhile. According to Csikszentmihalyi’s theory, you achieve a flow state when your skill level and the task’s challenge level are aligned.
It’s important to discover your individual flow state to do well in your personal and professional life. Of course, this doesn’t mean that you should always be completely immersed in what you do. It’s okay to take a break at times. But when you do concentrate on what’s in front of you, you’ll do it really well. Now, let’s explore how finding your purpose can lead you to a flow state of mind.
How To Discover Your Purpose
Finding your purpose in life is one of the most fulfilling and satisfying things you can do. Our life’s purpose helps us work passionately, identify our values and amplify our strengths. Once we know what we want to do—and why—we can fully immerse ourselves in our work to achieve the desired results.
You may have found yourself wondering what your purpose in life is. Different people have different life purposes. For some, their purpose can be to become the CEO of a multinational, while for others it can be working toward a social cause. Your purpose may not always be related to your work or profession. Being happy and satisfied, having a family or helping people are also powerful goals that people aspire to.
You should remember that finding your purpose isn’t just about reaching the finish line. It’s also about appreciating all the effort and hard work you put in toward fulfilling your purpose. Here is Harappa’s three-step guide to identifying the different elements of your purpose:
Identify your passion
Identify your strengths
Identify your values
These three elements are based on the Japanese concept of ikigai, which roughly translates as a reason to live. It’s a life of fulfillment, values and purpose.
Ikigai involves striking a balance between your passion, strengths and values. You can ask yourself the following questions to think more clearly about what you like to do and what you’re passionate about:
What brings you joy or makes you feel alive?
What would you do if you didn’t have to worry about making money?
Which tasks put you in a state of flow?
Answering these questions will bring you closer to identifying your purpose.
How To Achieve A Flow State Of Mind
Many young readers go on to become writers, editors or publishers. Children who love cricket aspire to become India’s next Sachin Tendulkar or MS Dhoni. They can spend hours reading books or playing cricket without getting tired. One way to achieve a flow state is to rediscover your childhood passions. It’ll bring you one step closer to finding your purpose.
There are several other ways in which you can achieve a state of flow. In fact, being in a state of flow is not just for hobbies, artistic or athletic endeavors. You can be in a state of flow at the workplace too. Let’s look at some ways in which you can put yourself in a flow state at work:
Create A Schedule
A routine can help put you in a flow state because it conditions your brain to think in a certain way. You’ll slowly get into the habit of performing your tasks at the same time and in the same way. This practice is conducive to productivity because with each passing day your concentration will improve and you’ll learn to utilize your time efficiently.
Prioritize Your Tasks
Pick an important task to start your day with. You’re most productive when you’re working on something important. You’ll learn to slowly and steadily cancel out any external noise or distraction and focus solely on the task in front of you. It’s okay to multitask once in a while, but achieving a flow state requires giving your complete and undivided attention to one activity or task.
Choose A Relaxing Morning Activity
You may not be a morning person, but developing the habit of waking up early and meditating or going for a walk can boost your energy. It’ll take some getting used to, but it will help you increase your focus at work. You’ll find your senses heightened and your brain prepped to take on the day’s work.
Find A Conducive Place To Work
For some people, sitting in a quiet room does the trick, while others find it easier to concentrate in an office environment or with ambient noise. Although we can’t really go out and sit in a café because of COVID-19, you can find a corner in your house to help you focus. If you prefer ambient sounds, download music that helps fill the silence. Many people have decided to go on road trips and live the ‘van life’ for a change of scene. Do what works for you!
Put Your Phone On ‘Work Mode’
Smartphones have evolved to a point where you can put them on ‘work mode’. Work mode is where you can turn off social media notifications and text messages. This will help you concentrate on the task at hand without letting distractions interrupt your train of thought.
A flow state of mind is directly linked to finding your purpose. If you’re passionate about something, you’ll go to the ends of the world to get it done. People who work for social causes like animal welfare and child development work tirelessly and offer their help, time and resources without batting an eyelid.
You can find your state of flow and your purpose by building self-awareness and figuring out your values and beliefs. Not taking everything at face value is a great way to find answers to questions that are often overlooked.
Many of the concepts we’ve discussed here are part of Harappa Education’s Discovering Purpose course. Learn more about the concept of ‘Ikigai’ and how to find fulfillment and enjoyment in your work. Challenge norms, think of creative ways to solve a problem and get into the habit of revisiting your past experiences to discover what you love to do. Achieving a state of flow will help you realize your full potential in your personal and professional life.
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