Enter a flow state to become joyfully in the moment when the world feels overwhelming


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Photo: Getty Images/Pekic

Do you ever feel so immersed in something you’re currently doing that the low-stakes goings-on in your life simply don’t matter, for once? You’re so body-and-soul focused on your Muay Thai class or your wine-and-paint session or your game of Tetris that the rest of the world fades away. If this isn’t resonating and you haven’t stopped multitasking since, like, 2015, pump the breaks, because it’s high time that you’re introduced to the glorious concept of a flow state of mind.

“As a concept coined by the field of positive psychology, a flow state is that space of joy and heightened focus that results from absolute immersion in a favored activity,” says clinical psychologist and author of Joy from Fear Carla Marie Manly, PhD. “Sometimes known as being ‘in the zone,’ a flow state creates a sense of oneness, with no division between the physical body, the mind, and the activity.”

Being “in the zone” is obviously great for productivity at work or nailing that hard-to-hold pose during yoga (ugh, handstand press). But it’s also a state of mind that can be blissful, therapeutic, and concentrated toward inner peace. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and even tap-dancing toward the threat burnout, here’s the 101-level advice you really do need for how to go with the flow (state).

How entering flow state of mind facilitates self care

Research shows that flow states can be helpful for reducing stress and anxiety, which makes sense since we’re not trying to do one thing while silently worrying about a laundry list of others. Rather, we are truly in the moment.

“The feel-good neurochemicals and positive state of being that result during flow states are incredibly beneficial for both physical and mental health.” —clinical psychologist Carla Marie Manly, PhD

“When we give our full attention to one enjoyable task, we allow the mind to stay in the present and become fully absorbed in something that feels tremendously enlivening.  It is in such states that we are, in many ways, our best selves,” says Dr. Manly. “The feel-good neurochemicals and positive state of being that result during flow states are incredibly beneficial for both physical and mental health.”

If that sounds equal parts great and elusive, that makes sense. So many of us have fingers constantly fidgeting on the keyboards of our phones and toggling between our 21 open browser windows, which is to say there are plenty of distractions pestering you on a day-to-day basis that can make entering flow difficult to manage. You, too, might have the ambition to write your novel. But the focus? Committing to monotasking like this requires diligence and, according to Dr. Manly, adhering to five basic principles can help.

5 steps to get into a flow state of mind

1. Know what you want to dive into

“Whether it’s riding a mountain bike, writing a book, or baking bread, know exactly what you want to focus on with all your body, heart, and mind,” says Dr. Manly.

It’s any activity you want, whether or not there’s an attached goal, which essentially means that the options are endless.

2. Create the space

This tip follows the same guiding principle that explains why I make my bed whenever I’m expecting a gentleman caller: You want to have energetic room to get what you need done.

“This means that you let go of other distractions and allow yourself to get ready to engage in ‘the one’ activity,” Dr. Manly says. “In short, attempts at multi-tasking will destroy flow, as will interruptions, such as friends stopping by.”

3. bring ample energy to the table

Resting up before you plan to tackle your flow activity can be helpful, especially if your intention is to meet a goal. “Make sure you’ve had a good night of sleep, since focus tends to be much easier when you’re well-rested,” Dr. Manly says.

4. Be nourished and hydrated

This is key because “flow can be disrupted by normal issues, such as strong hunger cravings,” Dr. Manly says. So fuel up, because ensuring you have energy stores is important for maintaining your flow.

5. Let go of everything, and allow yourself to dive deeply into your chosen activity

If all goes according to plan, you’ll naturally fall into the flow state and commit yourself to a task joyfully. Once you find a few processes or activities that can bring you into a flow state of mind, you’ll have a self-care reset button of sorts you can always call upon when life begins to feel overwhelming.

10 activity ideas to inspire a flow state of mind

Whether you’re looking for physical, psychological, or even personal-leaning ideas to get into a flow state of mind, you’re covered. For your consideration, check out 10 ideas below:

1. Crossword and number puzzles

No, they’re not just for your sudoku-obsessed dad. Rather, puzzles are great for everyone because they can help keep your memory sharp later in life. Treat yourself to a classic word or numbers game (depending on which section of the SAT you really thrived in).

2. Meditation

If you find yourself too in your own head when you try to meditate on your own, opting for a guided meditation with a soothing advisor and a few friends might just be the ticket.

3. Friendship bracelets

Yes, seriously—just take our associate beauty and fitness editor’s word for it. She’s a big fan of this summer-camp-approved practice, which can absolutely develop your sense of mindfulness.

4. Hair-braiding

Similarly meditative to friendship-bracelet-making, hair-braiding can hold the same mindfulness power.

5. Adult coloring books

Coloring in a really beautiful mandala can reduce anxiety and stress, but who says this activity needs to be specific to adults? To make babysitting your 5-year-old niece more bearable, getting out a Lisa Frank coloring book might well be a mood-boosting, flow-state-inducing move for you both.

6. Knitting

Knitting offers a whole slate of benefits: The occupational therapy keeps your brain busy, your hands nimble, and your loved ones in cozy outerwear, season after season.

7. Dancing

While you can always attend an actual dance class, taking center stage in front of your mirror when no else is home also counts.

8. Gardening

Those who lack a green thumb might find this premise overwhelming, so just start small. Even installing a window planter to ease into plant-motherhood can improve your concentration and your compassion.

9. Hula-Hooping

I personally swear by the calming monotony of this, and as an added bonus, the practice also offers the benefit of being amazing for strengthening your core.

10. Reading

Beautiful in its simplicity, getting lost in a good book provides for “mindful intention” that regulates the stressed parts of your mind by bringing your attention inward.

Join the 28-day ReNew Year plan for feelings here. And for another specific way to up-level yourself, learn how to toughen your emotional resilience

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