Have you ever been so invested in what you are doing that the hours just seem to fly by? This state of mind is often referred as being in the “zone” or, as Hungarian-born psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi likes to call it, being in a state of flow.
Csikszentmihalyi defines flow as the state of mind where you are totally immersed in the task at hand. When you’re performing a task with just the optimal challenge-to-skill ratio, your brain puts a lot of processing effort into that task. Since your brain is only able to process a certain amount of information at once, this often causes you to lose your sense of time, your surroundings and your reflective self-consciousness. That’s the flow state in a nutshell. If you have ever been there, you know it’s a very pleasing and productive state to be in.
Getting yourself to the optimal situation which takes you to the flow state requires at least a few basic things. According to Csikszentmihalyi, these are:
- a challenge level not too low nor too high
- a skill level that meets the challenge level
- space which allows uninterrupted concentration
In practice, this means defining clear tasks for yourself and making them challenging enough. When you do challenging tasks, you’re also constantly developing yourself. Most of all you need to be able to focus – so turning off your mail, chats and endless notifications for a certain time of the day is a good start.
Lack of focus is modern luxury
A long long time ago, every day was a race for survival. We either hunted or gathered and if we didn’t, we died. This made us focus a lot more. We didn’t have much time to think about whether we were unhappy or not.
Very few things in the modern world require such intense concentration anymore. Focusing on one thing at a time is like swimming upstream in today’s digital world. This is probably one of the reasons unhappiness is increasing in modern societies – where fulfilment, ironically enough, is always promised to be within reach.
As we’re collectively losing our ability to focus in modern society we’re also losing our ability to achieve happiness.
Csikszentmihalyi describes flow essentially as a state of happiness. As we’re collectively losing our ability to focus in modern society, we’re also losing our ability to achieve happiness.