You may have heard the term “in the zone”. You may not fully understand what it means, but you may have experienced it – that moment when you are so involved and immersed into what you are doing that you lose all consciousness of your surroundings and the passage of time.
Then, afterwards, after seeing what you have accomplished while “in the zone”, you feel a profound sense of happiness and accomplishment with what you have done.
This is what being “in the zone” or, in psychological terms, in the FLOW STATE feels like.
But…just what is the FLOW STATE? And how can it help you with your studies?
The Flow State Defined
Wikipedia has the best definition for what the flow state is because it can be broken down into the very characteristics of this psychological experience – that it is a “mental state of operation wherein the person is performing an activity”:
1) With deep absorption and immersion in the activity
2) With full involvement in the activity
3) With a feeling of total and energized focus
4) With a feeling of enjoyment in the activity process
5) With a complete loss of one’s sense of space, surroundings and time
6) With a profound feeling of happiness and accomplishment after “waking up” from the flow state and upon seeing the result of the activity.
While many bloggers have gone on to write numerous articles on the flow state and its role in increasing productivity, they have missed the boat on what important thing – that the ultimate goal of the flow state is NOT increasing productivity, but improving one’s focus and capacity for meaningful deep work in order to achieve a happier and enjoyable life wherein one is in full and absolute control.
Now, you can experience flow while doing anything at a particular time, like while doing your homework, cleaning up the house, or taking a walk.
But the BEST flow experience is when you are made to face a challenge that is difficult AND which matches the level of skills that you presently have and/or forces you to develop new skills.
Let me give you an example.
You may have been given an assignment by your teacher to create a model depicting a scene in Australian history. While you become interested in this project because you love history, your artistic skills are mediocre at best. Nevertheless, you pick out your favorite historical moment, draw a crude diagram of your model, and gather the art materials that you need.
You might even grab a few art books that will teach you a few skills to help you in creating your model. When you actually start your project, your mind becomes so focused on each and every part of the model that nothing distracts you. You put together your little houses, make little clay people, animals and other figures.
Gradually, you lose all your worries and anxieties about your mediocre art skills and just create. Once you’re done with the model, there is such a deep feeling of joy and accomplishment not only at a job well done, but the creation of something that you thought you could not do.
As you can see, the flow state enables you to meet any challenge that comes your way. It gives you focus, eliminates distractions and worries, and puts you in absolute control.
Simply put, being in the zone enables you to develop complete and absolute control over your consciousness.
Here’s another thing that you should know about the flow state.
You may say that you enjoy watching TV, playing video games, and other forms of relaxation.
But, in truth, these are things that give you temporary and shallow pleasure. Not memorable or meaningful at all! If you will be true to yourself, you will find that the moments that you found the most enjoyable are those times when you faced challenges and difficulties in your life and met them with your own set of skills and determination.
The experience becomes even more meaningful if you succeeded in conquering these challenges.
Why Is The Flow Important?
You may be wondering why flow should matter to you? The main demand of flow is that you take a more active role in your life. This means building not only one’s skills but also self-confidence. It also means keeping your mind on the present, enjoying the present moment, rather than be distracted by worries and anxieties over an unknown future.
Just take a look at the advantages and benefits that flow can give you, not only as a student, but also in your overall life:
Allows you to have clear goals on what you want to achieve
Helps you to develop sharp focus, concentration, and control
Enables you to participate in activities that are intrinsically rewarding
Enables you to lose feelings of self-consciousness and replaces it with feelings of peace and serenity
Helps you to judge your progress and provide immediate feedback
Enables you to lose track of time and surroundings so that you are just focused and concentrated on the activity at hand
Enables you to align your skills with the goals of the task
Rids of you of all doubts and boosts your self-confidence that any task you work on is doable
Improves your performance in all activities
Increases your productivity
Encourages you to learn more and develop new skills
Getting Into the Flow State
As a student, you may think that getting into the zone is hard with all the classes that you’re attending, the homework that your teachers throw your way, household chores, and all other stuff that you need to get done.
Be thankful that there are ways to help you get into the flow state:
1) Make sure you eat healthy.
If there’s anything that can prevent you from getting in the zone it’s hunger. This does not mean that you should start bingeing on high sugar snacks, energy drinks, and chips. These junk foods are a big no no because they only boost your energy for a short time before crashing you down hard. Instead of processed foods, stock up on healthier alternatives like lean meats, veggies, fruits, seeds, and nuts.
2) Get rid of all the distractions.
Achieving flow is impossible with so many distractions around you. There’s only so much input that your brain can handle after all. To completely block out the world around you, put on your headphones. Set your cellphone into Airplane Mode. Set study blocks in your schedule wherein you can study in a place and time without any interruptions. And, by all means, hang that “Do Not Disturb” sign on your door and lock it.
3) Give the Pomodoro Technique a try.
The best thing about the Pomodoro Technique is that it trains you to work on a single task for a period of 25 to 30 uninterrupted minutes. It also helps you to hurdle that initial barrier of starting a task, and you know just how hard it is to begin anything. To help you with your initial attempts at the Pomodoro Technique, set a timer and remove all potential distractions. As soon as you master this technique, you will discover just how easy it is to get into the zone.
4) No Multitasking!
I’ve said it many times in previous articles. Your brain is incapable of parallel processing. Because of the cognitive switching penalty, or when you switch from the task you are doing to do another, it is difficult to go back to the task that you previously started. As a serial processor, it works best if you do tasks in a series, one at a time. If you want to get in the zone, just focus your attention on a single task.
5) Get enough good quality sleep
Sleep enables your body and your brain to recharge. The optimum is 8 hours of sleep every night. Lack of sleep makes you feel tired in the morning and it reduces your concentration in class. Make sure that your sleep is of good quality so that you don’t end up tossing and turning in your bed at night. Some ways to get better sleep include taking a hot bath before bed or practicing meditation.
Cultivating the Flow State While Studying
Let’s move on to how you can cultivate the flow state as a student in the various segments of school life:
1) Cultivating flow inside the classroom
Everyone knows just how brain numbing classes can be. Even with the most interesting of teachers, you may find yourself staring blankly at the blackboard and the writing on it (which look like hieroglyphics). So how can you apply flow in this situation?
If you find yourself nodding off in class, do “micro flow activities.” These small activities can help put you in the flow state, thus keeping you engaged and attentive in class. Examples of micro flow activities include the following:
Doodling or taking sketchnotes
Catch your teacher’s repeat words. Count the number of times your teacher repeats certain words. You might even discover that some of these repetitions may show up in future pop quizzes.
Do quiet pen tricks.
Try taking notes in a different language (especially if you are studying other languages like Spanish, Japanese or Chinese)
2) Cultivating Flow while Studying and Doing Homework
After class, your teacher may assign chapters for you to read in your textbook and homework. You may not want to study after sitting in a classroom for almost the whole day. While you may want to ask your teacher if you can borrow his/her Powerpoint slides for easy reading for next day’s class, it will not induce a flow state. Instead, you can jot down important notes on flashcards while reading your textbook.
For homework, rather than rush through them to get them over with, slow down and immerse yourself in the subject you are studying.
Another way to make homework more enjoyable is through what Csikszentmihalyi calls “gamification.” Simply put, this means making an interesting game out of your assignment. For example, when doing math homework, create a challenge wherein you solve a number of problems within a certain time. Another way is when you’re writing that essay or paper. Challenge yourself by reaching the word limit set by your teacher in a given amount of time.
3) Cultivating flow during Tests and Exams
Truth to tell, tests and exams are the best situations by which you can cultivate flow. Tests are intended to challenge your knowledge and your skills, so while in the middle of taking an exam, you may find yourself so absorbed and concentrated on answering that you lose all track of time.
To better cultivate flow during a test, observe proper time management. This can be done by answering all the easy questions first, giving you more time to think over the harder questions as well as write that essay at the end of the test.
4) Cultivating flow as a Working Student
Education these days is expensive. So, you might want to work after school to get the extra funds for books, school projects, and extracurricular activities. If you find yourself doing mundane jobs, like sorting mail in the school post office or working in the cafeteria, you can make it fun through gamification. For the example, you can make a game of checking senders’ addresses and counting how many came from which state. In the cafeteria, you can make a game of figuring out the food that your fellow students love the most based on what they order.
5) Cultivating flow during your Free Time
According to Csikszentmihalyi, people actually do not enjoy any free time that they have. Based on his research, activities like watching TV and playing video games will not induce a flow state because they are not challenging. Therefore, these relaxing activities need to be reshaped into something enjoyable.
Instead of binge watching the latest Netflix TV series, take breaks by watching game shows that test your knowledge like “Millionaire Hot Seat” or “Hard Quiz.” You can also play trivia computer games with your friends and see who answers the most questions.
Of course, your face doesn’t need to be glued to the TV screen or computer monitor to enjoy your free time. Read books on topics that interest you, learn different languages, or take up a hobby.
By cultivating flow not only while in school but also in your daily living, you will be able to lead a happier and more productive life.