Get into the Flow

I’m possibly late to the party but recently I’ve been hearing a lot about the alpha state, that state we’re in when we’re relaxed, zoned out of the world, and focused on a thought or task in a calm, effortless way.

We’re in the alpha state when our brain waves are in the middle range of the brainwave spectrum. We’re idling, calm, and receptive to new ideas. Our ability to absorb new information is enhanced in this state and we can be more creative.

If being productive is the goal, we want to be in the alpha state.

When we’re not stressed, when we’re not distracted by our senses (how we feel and what’s going on around us), and when our minds are not busy juggling multiple tasks, we’re most creative, most efficient, and most productive.

How do we get into this state? Mostly, by actively relaxing, however you like to do that; by deep breathing, meditating, practising mindfulness, yoga, aerobics. Swimming laps if that’s your thing. Bush walking on my own works for me.

The reason I’ve become aware and interested in the alpha state is because I want to work better. I want to be creative and productive in an efficient way. That is, I want ideas and many words on the page in as little time as possible. I want the words to flow.

Which leads me to the second term I’ve been hearing a lot about: The Flow State.

The Flow State is when we lose track of time because we’re in a calm, creative state of concentration. We’re fully engaged with our subject matter, yet completely happy and relaxed.

I have trouble getting into this state, but when I’m there I can write pages without any trouble. The words tumble out instead of being picked precisely and painstakingly. I’m always ecstatic when I’m done with it and the feeling lingers.

So, obviously, this is desirable.

There’s plenty of information available on ways of entering flow state but I think these must vary greatly between people and types of tasks or goals.

For me, slightly different processes work at different times of day. But to tap into that alpha state I personally require routine, tidiness, and tea.

The following is a helpful group of actions to take to get us in the right frame of mind: *

  • Create a mental cue so that the brain will remember it’s work time every time you do it: repeat a mantra, play particular music, or perform a ritual.
  • Eliminate all distractions: have a clear desk, turn off the phone or put it in work focus mode, use headphones if there’s noise around.
  • Utilise biological peak times and have proper breaks: first thing in the morning and early evening are reliably good times for me.
  • Choose instrumental music that is familiar and repetitive to run in the background: I highly recommend Indian traditional bansuri music.
  • Have a cup of tea or coffee to wake you up a bit.
  • Stay hydrated. The brain is 75% water and needs a constant supply to function at optimum level.
  • Do one task at a time: focus on a single task, returning to the task every time a stray thought enters. Increase the focus time as you get better at it.

In general, the alpha state seems like a pretty good place to be, especially if you have work to do. I know I perform best when I’ve done the urgent tasks, when I’ve created a nice space around me, when I’m rested and feeling good about myself. Add tea and I’m well on the way to achieving flow state. My intention is to make the above list a good habit.

When are you most likely to get into flow state? How do you feel when you do?


Historical reference: original researcher psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi