Finding Your Flow: 9 Steps to Unlocking Your Inner Potential

Back in 2018, after two decades in the corporate grind, I was handed my walking papers. Truth be told, the monotonous office routine had worn me down. I felt like a hamster on a wheel. Yeah sure, I was doing a lot of things…but for what? It felt pointless. I secretly (maybe not as secretly as I thought) yearned for liberation from that Groundhog Day existence, and when a round of layoffs happened, that’s exactly what I got. 

While it was kind of scary, I had already been planning for an exit by working on my own side hustles. Once I got laid off, I decided that getting back into the corporate world wasn’t something I wanted to do. I decided it was time to work for myself. 

The idea of being my own boss and working from home seemed like nirvana. My wife and I started several businesses, and after a lot of hard work were earning a sustainable income working for ourselves. 

At first, everything was great. But as time passed I began to see a pattern. Even in this dream scenario, there were days when the walls of my home office started to feel like those of the corporate world I had left behind. The novelty wore off and a sense of routine crept in, threatening to dim the spark I felt when I first embarked on my own.

On good days, my creativity soared—words poured out when I wrote and tasks were a breeze. On other days the flow just wasn’t there and I felt stuck all over again.

That’s when I began to study the concept of “flow.” What was it that made some days feel like a dance, while others were a slog? I was determined to reclaim the passion and vitality that starting my own business initially sparked in me.

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view from behind of a man sitting at a desk with a laptop on it. Man's arms are raised in a victory gesture. Word "dream" is written in different fonts vertically on the wall in front of him

What is a Flow State?

Even if you’ve never heard of the term “flow” as it pertains to productivity, I’d guarantee that you’ve been in flow: those times when you lose yourself in an activity so completely that nothing else seems to matter. You’re so engrossed in the task at hand that everyday life’s distractions fade into the background. This is the essence of a flow state, a term popularized by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

Csikszentmihalyi defines “flow” as the feeling you get when your skill level perfectly matches the level of challenge you’re facing, creating an optimal experience of deep focus and enjoyment.

woman sitting at a table in a coffee shop with an open laptop, open binder, and cup of coffee on the table in front of her

Characteristics of Being in a Flow State

Being in flow is marked by several distinct characteristics, identified by Csikszentmihalyi, that make the experience both unique and universally desirable. In his book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Performance, Csikszentmihalyi defines the following characteristics of a flow state: 

Complete absorption in the activity  When in flow, you’re so engaged in what you’re doing that everything else fades away. The connection between thought and action tightens, leading to an optimal experience in which everyday life’s distractions disappear.

Inner clarity: The merging of action and awareness  Flow brings an unrivaled sense of clarity; you know exactly what needs to be done and receive immediate feedback on your performance. This clarity supports a feeling of control over your actions and outcomes.

The challenge of the task at hand perfectly matches your level of skill  This creates a balance that fosters engagement without feeling overwhelming. This balance enables the experience of flow, during which challenging tasks seem not only possible but enjoyable.

A sense of serenity  In flow, worries about self vanish, as does the sense of a harshly critical self-consciousness. Instead, time seems to distort as you grow beyond the ego’s boundaries.

Timelessness  Engrossed in flow, hours might pass like minutes. This distortion of the sense of time allows for deep work and creativity, as experienced when engaging in activities ranging from video games to creative tasks.

Intrinsic motivation  The activity itself becomes the reward. Whether it’s dancing to heavy metal music or mastering a video game, the joy and satisfaction derived from the activity are enough to propel you forward, making the pursuit of these activities worthwhile for their own sake.

Understanding these characteristics can help you identify and cultivate conditions that lead to flow in your own life, transforming how you work, create, and play. By seeking out and engaging in tasks that align with these principles, you can find your flow, enhance your well-being, and live a more engaged and fulfilling life.

What Happens to Your Brain in a Flow State?

Research has revealed fascinating changes in brain activity during flow. Areas responsible for self-criticism and doubt quiet down, while those involved in concentration and mental energy light up.

This shift not only boosts our sense of time but also enhances creativity and problem-solving skills, leading to a feeling of control over our actions.

How Long Can You Stay in a Flow State?

The duration of a flow state can vary. Some people, like chess players or artists, may remain in flow for hours, absorbed in creative tasks.

Others find shorter bursts during activities like video games or sports. The key is to find that balance between skill level and level of difficulty and maintain the sweet spot where engagement is maximized.

close up view of a chess board on which two people are playing a game

Benefits of Being in a Flow State

Engaging in a flow state has numerous benefits, including:

  • improved performance
  • enhanced well-being
  • a sense of living a meaningful life

When we’re in flow. extrinsic motivations fade away and we perform activities for the sheer joy they bring. This contributes to overall happiness and satisfaction in daily life.

My Experiments with Flow

When I think about the times I feel in flow, it’s usually when I’m in motion—roller skating (when I was a kid), shooting hoops, or pedaling away on my bike. That feeling of going downhill as fast as I could on my bike, without a care in the world? Something about the physical push and the rush of air around my body as I rode just amped up my happiness levels. 

In those moments, I was in flow. That awesome feeling when my body was cruising on autopilot and I was just living in the moment.

It’s not just about sports for me (even though I love physical activity). My classical guitar, which I’ve played on and off since I was a kid, does the trick too. Even though I don’t play as often now, every time I pick it up the challenge grips me and I’m all in, totally lost in the strings and notes.

closeup image of hands playing a classical guitar

With my basketball and roller skating days taking a backseat (because, let’s be real, I’m not exactly a spring chicken and I’d rather not spend precious time hanging out in the ER), I’ve had to scout out new ways to tap into that flow state. Hence my latest craze—virtual reality paintball. It gets me ducking and diving in my living room. The best part? I get to team up with others and do a little good-natured trash-talking, both of which totally hook me in.

I also joined a gym again recently which has really helped me find my flow state. Cranking up the 80s hair band metal while I’m on the treadmill gets me grooving! 

And then there’s my morning routine. Working from home could easily turn into a snooze-fest if I let myself laze around in bed, scrolling through my phone. That’s a surefire way to drain my mojo before my day even begins. But if I hustle out of bed, get cleaned up, and hit the ground running with some journaling and blasting some of my favorite music, it’s like flipping a switch. Suddenly, I’m powered up and ready to crush it.

These are the things I’ve discovered that get me into my flow. It’s different for everyone, but we all have things that just click for us.

Finding Your Flow in Everyday Life

Let’s break this all down into some actionable steps for bringing the state of flow into your everyday life to take you from feeling stuck and frustrated to feeling free and on fire!

Mindfulness Tune-Up  

Before you can catch the flow, you’ve got to learn to be present. Why? Because you have to have a really solid understanding of what makes you feel good and what makes you feel bad, so start with practicing being mindful. 

Meditating can sound super boring to a lot of people (including me). It took me a bit to build this habit but once I realized the benefit, it doesn’t seem like too much to ask of myself at all.  

Sometimes I’ll meditate in silence and other times I’ll do a guided meditation on my Calm app or listen to some positive vibe songs like Alanis Morrisette’s “Thank U,” which puts me in a state of deep gratitude. 

Meditation doesn’t have to look any particular way. Just be sure whatever it is you decide to do helps you feel present with how you are feeling. Even 5 minutes of morning mindfulness can help you tune in to your mind and body. 

Happiness Detective Work

What types of activities, experiences, or encounters really light up your day? Notice the who, what, and where that makes you feel happy. Jot it down, voice memo it, or use whatever capture method works for you to start building your happiness portfolio.

For me, taking some time to play with my pets (two dogs and two cats) puts me in a happy place. Spending time in nature with my wife and talking about a ridiculous episode of Judge Judy or something else we watched earlier always makes me laugh. 

Where Does The Time Go?

The activities and experiences you’re looking for in your “happiness detective work” aren’t necessarily things that have to send you into a state of over-the-moon joy. You’re just looking for those things that make you happy and help you lose track of time. When things just click and time flies, you’re in the neighborhood of flow. 

Alarm Yourself

Set random alarms throughout the day. When they go off, do a quick vibe check. What are you doing? How do you feel? If you’re grinning like you just won the lottery, you’re onto something. If you’ve got a scowl on your face, you’ll want to note that too. These types of experiences are equally important to note because you’ll want to avoid them as much as possible. 

Balance Challenge and Skill

To achieve a state of flow, you want to do stuff that’s just the right kind of hard. Not “pull your hair out” hard, but not “I can do this in my sleep” easy, either. 

If it feels too easy, it’s time to up the ante. Toss a curveball or two into your routine that makes you sit up and take notice. 

When I’m playing VR paintball, I’ll quickly get bored if I find myself in a match with a bunch of junior players. When this happens, I find another match with more experienced players to help me stay more focused and engaged. 

Feeling frazzled? If you’re more jittery than jazzed, ease up on the gas and hone your skills. Find mini-wins so that you can get back into the groove. 

Avoid Boredom

Couch potato mode—we’ve all been there. Sometimes, the highlight of your day is finding the remote. I briefly mentioned my affection for Judge Judy earlier. She’s awesome! However, after a couple of episodes, I’m feeling like I just ate a bag of potato chips. Sure, it was fun at the time but now, not so much. That’s apathy setting in, and you don’t want that.

Mindlessly scrolling through your phone (known as the “death scroll”) is another surefire way to get you out of flow. If you have trouble limiting your phone time, try setting a timer or put limits on certain apps. I set up my phone to tell me when I’ve surpassed an hour on Facebook for the day. Since I do some work on social media, that’s not all “death scroll” time but just having the awareness that my time is limited can keep me from mindlessly losing hours on the app and taking myself out of flow. 

Do the Happiness Hokey Pokey

Put your whole self in: look for activities that engage you both mentally and physically. Create, build, think, move

For example, back in my corporate days, I sometimes held one-on-one meetings with my team members while outside walking. I carried a small notebook in case I needed to write something down. Getting up and moving put us both in a great state. 

When your mind and body are both in on the action, flow is more likely to follow.

Soundtrack Your Flow

I saved the best for last because music is one of my FAVORITE go-to’s for getting into flow. Whether it’s 80s metal or bubblegum pop, if it gets your head nodding and toes tapping, you’re on the right track. 

And, if you’re a musician like me, you already know how playing your favorite tunes on your favorite instrument can get you into flow, so why not try it next time you’re feeling off your game and need to get yourself back in the zone?

image of Vickie Velasquez playing guitar with Nancy Wilson from the band Heart

And there you have it: your roadmap to riding the flow wave. Keep it handy, give it a go, and watch those ordinary moments turn into “Hell, yeah!” highlights.

Flow is more than a psychological state; it’s a pathway to discovering your potential and enhancing your quality of life. Whether through video games, dancing, or any other passion, embracing the conditions for flow can transform your experience of life, making every moment an opportunity for growth and fulfillment.

Remember, the journey to find your flow is as unique as you are. Explore, experiment, and embrace the activities that bring you joy and challenge. In doing so, you’ll not only find your flow but also unlock your inner potential. 

If you’re looking for more ways to connect with your inner wisdom, please download my free guide, The Intuitive Edge: A 7-Day Transformational Journey to Reconnect with Your Inner Wisdom. Each day unveils simple yet powerful exercises designed to awaken, strengthen, and deepen your intuitive connection.

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