Enter the Flow State

What do you think when you hear “Flow State?” Personally, I imagine that scene from Avatar the Last Airbender where Ozai whacks Aang into a rock, causing all his chakras to align and make him to go all Super Saiyan. Is this a specific comparison? Sure. Have I been binge-watching too much recently? Maybe.

The truth is, that’s not far off. Flow state is a concept in psychology where you become fully immersed in a task where, in effect, you use 100% of your available mental resources. Though, unlike the 2014 “hit” film Lucy, you won’t turn into a USB stick afterwards.

Now imagine applying flow state to your work. Imagine being able to apply 100% of yourself to solve that tricky bug, or to close that deal. While it won’t be easy, there are certain conditions which provide a baseline for entering flow state.

  • Goals and measurable/tangible progress towards your current goal. Flow state requires you to have an end state you wish to be at.
  • Immediate feedback. Indicators need to signal to you that changes need to be made in order to maintain flow state.
  • The belief that you can accomplish the task at hand. This is the hardest criteria to quantify, but this model, published by Csíkszentmihályi in 1997, best illustrates it:

Here, we can see that we need to compare how good you think you are, against how difficult you think the task is. If you’re bad at the task and the task is easy, you stop caring. If you’re skilled in the task and the task is easy, you start relaxing. Flow state requires the task to be hard and for you to think you’re mustard.

While these are hard criteria to fill, there is a task that satisfies them to a tee – video games. Let’s take Call of Duty for example:

  • Condition 1) The goal is set from the get-go. You have to either kill the enemy repeatedly, capture a flag and hold down an area, or detonate/protect a bomb.
  • Condition 2) You get feedback from the indicators on your screen and sound system, whether it be an enemy running past, or the sound of your bullets hitting your opponent.
  • Condition 3) Teams are designed to be balanced, average out a team’s skill. Therefore, in theory, every game should present a challenge to each player.


To enter flow state, we need to satiate our three conditions and, as shown, games by nature accomplish that. So why don’t we turn work into a game?

  • Condition 1) Set goals. Set an overarching goal for the day, as well as smaller goals that lead up to it.
  • Condition 2) Set audio and visual indicators when we successfully complete a task or fall behind schedule. Make progress towards fixing a bug; gain some exp. Finish a difficult ticket; give yourself a loot-box (I mean, \”surprise mechanics\”. Am I right, EA?).
  • Condition 3) Push yourself. When possible, challenge your ability. Take on that difficult project; solve that impossible ticket; close that massive deal.

While this is easier said than done, there are apps out there designed to turn everyday into a game, such as Habitica (No, I’m not sponsored. But Habitica, if you’re reading this, give me a call). Give it a shot!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to feed in League of Legends.

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