Finding Flow in Everything You Do (Ikigai)

We are what we repeatedly do.

Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit. -Aristotle

Going with the flow

Imagine you are skiing down one of your favorite slopes. Powdery snow flies up on both sides of you like white sand. Conditions are perfect.

You are entirely focused on skiing as well as you can. You know exactly how to move at each moment. There is no future, no past. There is only the present. You feel the snow, your skis, your body, and your consciousness united as a single entity. You are completely immersed in the experience, not thinking about or distracted by anything else. Your ego dissolves, and you become part of what you are doing.

The Power of flow

These questions are also at the heart of psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s research into the experience of being completely immersed in what we are doing. Csikszentmihalyi called this state “flow,” and described it as the pleasure, delight, creativity, and process when we are completely immersed in life.

There is no magic recipe for finding happiness, for living according to your ikigai, but one key ingredient is the ability to reach this state of flow and, through this state, to have an “optimal experience.”

The Seven Conditions for Achieving Flow

  1. Knowing what to do
  2. Knowing how to do it
  3. Knowing how well you are doing
  4. Knowing where to go (where navigation is involved)
  5. Perceiving significant challenges
  6. Perceiving significant skills
  7. Being free from distractions

Strategy 1: Choose a difficult task (but not too difficult!)

Every task, sport, or job has a set of rules, and we need a set of skills to follow them. If the rules for completing a task or achieving a purpose are too basic relative to our skills set, we will likely get bored. Activities that are too easy lead to apathy.

on the other hand, we assign ourselves a task that is too difficult, we won’t have the skills to complete it and will almost certainly give up — and feel frustrated, to boot.

The ideal is to find a middle path, something aligned with our abilities but just a bit a stretch, so we experience it as a challenge.

Easy = Boredom

Challenging = Flow

Beyond Our Abilities = Anxiety

Strategy 2: Have a clear, concreate objective

A good compass, though, will always take you where you need to go. It doesn’t mean that you should start your journey without any idea where you’re going.

What it does mean it understanding that while the path to your goal may not be straight, you’ll finish faster and more efficiently than you would have if you had trudged along a preplanned route.”

In business, the creative professions, and education alike, it’s important to reflect on what we hope to achieve before starting to work, study, or make something. We should ask ourselves questions such as:

  • What is my objective for today’s session in the studio?
  • How many words am I going to write today for the article coming out next month?
  • What is my team’s mission?
  • How fast will I set the metronome tomorrow in order to play that sonata at an allegro tempo by the end of the week?

Having a clear objective is important in achieving flow, but we also have to know how to leave it behind when we get down to business. Once the journey has begun, we should keep this objective in mind without obsessing over it.

As soon as you take these first small steps, your anxiety will disappear and you will achieve a pleasant flow in the activity you’re doing. Getting back to Albert Einstein, “a happy man is too satisfied with the present to dwell on the future.”

Vague Objective

Confusion; time and energy wasted on meaningless tasks

Mental block

Clearly Defined Objective and a Focus on Process



Obsessive Desire to Achieve a Goal While Ignoring Process

Fixation on the objective rather than getting down to business

Mental block

Strategy 3: Concentrate on a single task

Our brains can take in millions of bits of information but can only actually process a few dozen per second. When we say we’re multitasking, what we’re really doing is switching back and forth between tasks very quickly. Unfortunately, we’re not computers adept at parallel processing. We end up spending all our energy alternating between tasks, instead of focusing on doing one of them well.

Concentrating on one thing at a time may be the single most important factor in achieving flow.

According to Csikszentmihalyi, in order to focus on a task we need:

  1. To be in a distraction-free environment
  2. To have control over what we are doing at every moment

Technology is great, if we’re in control of it. It’s not so great if it takes control of us.

Concentrating on a Single Task | Multitasking

Makes achieving flow more likely | Make achieving flow impossible

Increases Productivity | Decreases Productivity by 60 % (though it doesn’t seem to)

Increase our power of retention | Make it harder to remember things

Makes us less likely to make mistakes | Makes us more likely to make mistakes.

Helps us feel clam and in control of the task at hand | Make us feel stressed by the sensation that we’re losing control, that our tasks are controlling us

Causes us to become more considerate as we pay full attention to those around us | Causes us to hurt those around us through out “addiction” to stimuli: always checking our phones, always on social media…

Increases Creativity | Reduces creativity

What can we do to avoid falling victim to this flow-impeding epidemic? How can we train our brains to focus on a single task? Here are a few ideas for creating a space and time free of distractions, to increase our chances of reaching a state of flow and thereby getting in touch with out ikigai:

  • Don’t look at any kind of screen for the first hour you’re awake and the last hour before you go to sleep.
  • Turn off your phone before you achieve flow. There is nothing more important than the task you have chosen to do during this time. If this seems too extreme, enable the “do not disturb” function so only the people closest to you can contact you in case of emergency.
  • Designate one day of the week, perhaps a Saturday or Sunday, a day of technology “fasting,” making exceptions only for e-readers (without Wi-Fi) or MP3 players.
  • Go to a café that doesn’t have Wi-Fi.
  • Read and respond to e-mail only once or twice per day. Define those times clearly and stick to them.
  • Try the Pomodoro Technique: Get yourself a kitchen timer (some are made to look like a pomodoro, or tomato) and commit to working on a single task as long as it’s running. The Pomodoro Technique recommends 25 minutes of work and 5 minutes of rest for each cycle, but you can also do 50 minutes of work and 10 minutes of rest. Find the pace that’s best for you; the most important thing is to be disciplined in completing each cycle.
  • Start your work session with a ritual you enjoy and end it with a reward.
  • Train your mind to return to the present when you find yourself getting distracted. Practice mindfulness or another form of meditation, go for a walk or a swim –whatever will help you get centered again.
  • Work in a space where you will not be distracted. If you can’t do this at home, go to a library, a café, or, if your task involves playing the saxophone, a music studio. If you find that your surroundings continue to distract you, keep looking until you find the right place.
  • Divide each activity into groups of related tasks, and assign each group its own place and time.
  • Bundle routine tasks –such as sending out invoices, making phone calls, and so on –and do them all at once.

Advantages of Flow Disadvantages of Distraction

A focused mind A wandering mind

Living in the present thinking about the past and the future

We are free from worry concerns about our daily life and the-people around us invade our thoughts

The hours fly by Every minute seems endless

We feed in control We lose control and fail to complete the- task at hand, or other tasks or people keep us from our work

We prepare thoroughly We act without being prepared

We know what we should be doing at any given moment we frequently-get stuck and don’t know how to proceed

Our mind is clear and overcomes all obstacles to the flow of thought We are plagued by doubts, concerns-and low self-esteem

It’s pleasant It’s boring and exhausting

Our ego fades: We are not the ones controlling the activity or task we’re doing — the task is leading us constant self-criticism: Our ego is-present and we feel frustrated

This Article is taken from Ikigai

Written by Arshad. A