Let It “Flow”: Being in a Flow State Can Benefit Your Recovery

A flow state, also known as being “in the zone,” is the mental state in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. 

Flow can be a tricky state to conceptualize. Because it is different for everyone, it may be hard to say when someone has reached true flow. For the psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, he described flow as “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.” 

For some, flow can come during sports while for others, during a hobby they enjoy. Whatever you love to do, you can try to channel flow through that activity. Flow can be described as when runners feel like they have a “high” while running. They don’t feel tired, and it’s almost like they’re floating. 

The Components of a Flow State

Csíkszentmihályi says that there are 10 components to flow:

  1. Clear goals that, while challenging, are still attainable
  2. Strong concentration and focused attention
  3. The activity is intrinsically rewarding
  4. Feelings of serenity; a loss of feelings of self-consciousness
  5. Timelessness; a distorted sense of time; feeling so focused on the present that you lose track of time passing
  6. Immediate feedback
  7. Knowing that the task is doable; a balance between skill level and the challenge presented
  8. Feelings of personal control over the situation and the outcome
  9. Lack of awareness of physical needs
  10. Complete focus on the activity itself

Not all of these components must be present to experience flow, but the more you have, the more likely flow will be. 

6 Ways to Help Produce a Flow State

There are several methods you can try to achieve a sense of flow:

1. Find a Challenge

Pick something that you enjoy doing, but that is slightly difficult. If you’re a marathon runner, you won’t reach the flow state with a jog around the block. Make sure you love what you’re doing, but also make sure that you’re pushing yourself a little bit. 

2. Develop Your Skills That Relate to the Challenge

Because your challenge may be difficult, you’re going to need to develop the skills necessary to complete the task. Don’t let yourself get bored or let your mind wander, which is toxic for flow. Don’t allow yourself to be overwhelmed either. That is the opposite end of the spectrum.

3. Set Goals

Without goals, you won’t be achieving anything. You want to set clear, SMART goals. SMART goals are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely. If you want to reach the flow state while running, this might be your goal: run 3 miles every day for 3 weeks, then reassess where you are. 

4. Focus Completely on What You’re Doing

You can not expect to reach the flow state if you are not fully paying attention to what you are doing. Don’t allow your mind to wander. Concentration is key for flow. 

5. Give Yourself Enough Time

Flow takes time, too. Don’t get discouraged if it takes a while to get into the flow state. Once you are in the flow state, don’t rush it or wish it away. Make the most of it.

6. Monitor Your Emotional State

If you’re struggling with getting into the flow state but have completed the above steps, monitor your emotional state. You might need to help to calm yourself down if you’re too anxious or pick yourself up if you’re lacking energy. 

Csíkszentmihályi explains that “Flow also happens when a person’s skills are fully involved in overcoming a challenge that is just about manageable, so it acts as a magnet for learning new skills and increasing challenges. If challenges are too low, one gets back to flow by increasing them. If challenges are too great, one can return to the flow state by learning new skills.”

The Various States of Flow

Flow is a process, it doesn’t just come to you when you least expect it. You have to practice the skills that will get you to that space of flow. You must push yourself to be the best version of yourself. 

The states of flow are:

Struggle Phase

During this phase, you must be willing to step out of your comfort zone. The struggle doesn’t feel good, and some people may not be willing to push themselves through the struggle to reach flow. 

Release Phase

After the struggle and once you have accepted it, the release phase comes. You begin to do the activity without realizing that you are struggling anymore. 

Flow State

The flow state is what some people call being “in the zone.” This is where you are productive and do things with the flow.

Brain Rewiring and Memory Consolidation Phase

After the activity has ended, you have a space to evaluate what just happened. This evaluation helps to further your future flow states. 

Add Flow to Your Recovery

Flow is something that many athletes claim to feel when they are performing at their best. Some baseball players have said that they don’t even feel the ball hitting the sweet spot on the bat when they score home runs. This is a perfect example of flow.

Giving yourself the time and space to experience flow for whatever activity you’re doing can be extremely beneficial for your recovery.

Burning Tree Lodge serves people who struggle with addiction, co-occurring disorders, and find themselves ready to accept help. Our specialists focus on meditation and holistic practices to help build a better recovery for you. We include your family and meet you where you are emotionally and spiritually to support your journey of healing.

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My name is John Bruna, co-founder of the Mindfulness in Recovery® Institute, and more importantly, a grateful member of the recovery community. I am incredibly fortunate to have found my recovery in 1984. Of course, I did not achieve continuous recovery through willpower or my own efforts, but through the guidance and caring support of countless others that selflessly taught me how to live through the 12 Steps.

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