Summer is here, and that means the chaos is turned up to 11—trips, parties, camping, kids running amok—and trying to juggle it all. It’s no easy task to get in that zone where we feel rested and present—that flow state—but it is so key to how we handle our day.
Gillian Mandich is a researcher completing her PhD in Health and Rehabilitation Science (with a specialization in Health Promotion). Her PhD dissertation investigates happiness and health in partnership with Project Happiness at the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley. We asked her about how to achieve a so-called flow state, and how spending time in it affects our overall well-being.
SDTC: What does flow state mean to you?
GM: Being in a flow state means I’m “in the zone”—totally immersed and energized, fully focused on the process or task at hand. It’s all about being fully present, eliminating distractions, and dialling in with undivided attention.
Finding and tuning into our flow state feels particularly important in today’s world, with so much noise and distractions from notifications, emails, etc. We want to practice turning down the noise and getting into the zone. It’s where many of us do our best work.
How do you get there?
I often get into a state of flow by immersing myself into my research or writing. To do so, I try to maintain a tidy workspace, and keep healthy, quick and easy snacks that keep me energized and satiated through the day, like almonds paired with dried fruits. A warm or iced cup of tea, depending on the season, along with my latest favourites on Spotify helps too!
What have you picked up in your research surrounding flow state that has surprised you?
As a happiness researcher, I’ve been surprised to learn about the link between flow and happiness. Research suggests that people who are able to get into and spend time in flow are more creative, productive and happy (compared to people who don’t get into a flow state).
How does achieving flow state on a daily basis affect general happiness?
Maintaining a consistent state of flow helps to create more ease in our day. Tasks, projects, and challenges, can feel like they’re unfolding with ease when we feel in a state of flow. This ease in-turn creates natural happiness as we move through our day. The flow helps us to deliver some of our most creative work, also in turn creating a state of happiness and joy.
How long can flow state be maintained in a given day? What should we aim for?
A state of flow can vary by person, by day, and by activity. It can last anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours. Personally, instead of aiming for an amount of time each day, I think about the most important tasks of the day, and I make sure I create time for that, and focus to getting into flow for those key tasks. Even if it only takes fifteen minutes to accomplish the task, I always focus on reserving flow for the situations where I want to do my best work.
Now that summer vacation is underway, how can busy moms achieve a flow state? Is it possible to remain calm and grounded with chaos underfoot?
Busy moms can really benefit from getting in the zone or flow state to get things done and own their everyday because a flow state can help to ensure greater productivity with ease. Ultimately, helping to more mindfully enjoy time with friends and family. Flow is about focus, and it requires a bit of planning.
A few tips:
Implement little rituals: Whether it’s morning quiet time with a cup of tea, an evening walk, or simply taking the time throughout the day to get up and move, carve out regular routines to dedicate some time to yourself. Cut out distractions. Try to find a quiet place (perhaps before the kids wake up, during nap time, or after the kids go to bed) or wear headphones with your phone out of sight or on airplane mode.
Create a serene space: It can be especially hard to keep on top of the mess from kids’ toys, dishes, laundry, etc., so find a room/chair/area in your house that is just for you and place some things you love around you—plants, pictures, a soft blanket. Have that space be yours—your sanctuary you can go to when the rest of the house feels like it’s been hit by a tornado.
Avoid being hungry: Hunger will disrupt the flow state, so it’s important to have snacks around that will give you high-quality fuel and release glucose slowly into your bloodstream and provide sustained energy. What you eat depends on your dietary preferences and general tastes, but one of my favourite snacks are almonds as they contain the winning trifecta of protein, fibre and healthy fats.
Rest when you can rested: Prioritizing sleep is important because being well-rested puts you at your best and allows you to tap into flow. While it’s not always possible to get a full night’s sleep with little ones, it is possible to prioritize your sleep and get it when you can. That means turning the TV off when you want to watch one more Netflix show, keeping your phone out of your bedroom, and maybe even taking a nap when your little ones do.