‘8 Strategies To Achieve A Flow-Mindset’
Change your habits, change your life

Welcome back…

I think most of us generally want to increase our wellbeing, our creativity, and productivity.

If so, then key to success, is to cultivate flow.
Flow is a concept that describes the moments when you’re completely absorbed in a challenging, but achievable task.
It’s when you’re engaged in an activity and you’ve simply lost track of time.
You’re been completely ensconced, with razor-sharp focus, and your ability to ‘execute’ the demands in front of you is achieved seemingly effortlessly.
You’re in the proverbial zone, man.

The concept of ‘flow’ was first coined and developed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi – considered one of the co-founders of positive psychology.
(How many of you spent time trying to properly pronounce his name? If you’re not sure, here’s a phonetic guide: “Me high? Cheeks send me high!”)

We can sometimes ‘fluke’ this fluidly-productive mindset during epiphany moments, or when exercising. It’s those magical moments of mind & body synchronicity – especially when we’re doing an activity that we both love, and are confident at doing…such as surfing, running, yoga…or in my Mums case The Times cryptic cross-word…which she seems to be able to ‘knock-out’ in a matter of minutes.

Mostly though it doesn’t happen by accident, but we can actually consciously put ourselves in a flow state proactively – to do so, we need to identify and action ‘triggers’ that will create this mindset.

The reality is, the majority of us are actually at our most content when we’re in a state of flow – when we’re immersed in a challenging task of our choice.
The irony though is that we not only tend to choose and seek comfort most of the time, but actively avoid challenges and discomfort at all costs…we actively avoid opportunities to gain fulfilment, or dare I say ‘happiness’, because we favour seeking comfort, rather than challenging ourselves.

We can tend to have a mental construct that equates comfort = good, hard = bad.

Even when we do consciously choose a challenging task, we often blindly ignore the ‘reality’ that it’s going to be challenging, and without considering or planning for the challenge, we give up at the first hurdle – this is particularly pertinent when one is wanting to improve their diet, get stronger, lose weight, give up alcohol, become more self-aware etc etc.

“The best moments in our lives are not passive, receptive, relaxing times…the best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to it’s limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.” 
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
(link to his book below)
So what are some strategies that we can apply when we’re wanting to improve our cognitive focus, and thus reap the benefits of improved sense of wellbeing & productivity?
How can we recalibrate our behaviours to achieve a flow-mindset?

8 Strategies that will help instal a flow-mindset

1. Hack Away At External Distractions
Studies have shown that in order to reach this flow-mindset – we must do our best to reduce and eliminate external distractions. The key here is to limit the amount of times your attention and focus is pulled-away from the task at hand. Creating ‘windows’ of undivided attention’ say for 10-20 minutes, will be your best segue to a flow-mindset.
Simple, but highly effective methods to reduce distraction include:
– Disable alerts and notifications, turn off apps.
– Put your phone away, on silent.
– Close all social media & email tabs
– Declutter, have a clean, quiet work-environment, and clear desktop of files, objects etc
– Don’t do crack, avoid drinking too much caffeine and be mindful of foods that play havoc with your blood sugar. Fluctuating blood sugar caused by highly refined carbohydrates will stimulate cravings and instigate energy slumps – both bad juju for concentration and focus.

2. Foster A Calm, Kind Mind
Stress, alcohol, being hyper-caffeinated, and or being overly preoccupied and stressed with domestic and career commitments are all internal distractions that will kibosh any attempts to create a flow-mindset.
Four things I can recommend to reduce cognitive stress interrupting our ‘flow’.
1. Meditation – just breathe
2. Journalling – at least in the morning, before the day begins. Journalling in the evening also provide an opportunity to clear the mind and task the next day down in paper, thus relieving our mind of that responsibility.
3. Exercise outdoors, long walks, go for a bike ride. Breathe in the air, drink the sky.
As Atticus said “Walk towards the good in life and one day you will arrive.”
Both will help you clear your mind, limit mind wandering and control your thoughts a lot better.
4. Don’t do crack

3. Work Within Your BPT (Biological Peak Time)
I joke, that sooner or later, because I go to bed so early, and get up even earlier, that I’ll be getting up before I go to bed.
The key reasons why I get up so early is because my energy levels are at their most abundant, my brain works best first thing in the morning, and my motivation, willpower and focus is optimal – this is my BPT (Biological Peak Time)
Morning is when I train, write, mediate, journal etc…come 4pm I’m happily drooling waiting for the sun to set, so that I can return to my cave.
Find out when your optimal BPT is and use that time to your advantage.

I’ve harped on about sleep and the importance about going to bed and waking up at consistent times (7days a week) is essential for our cognitive, metabolic, cellular and hormonal wellbeing.
We must not consider sleep as an afterthought….it is too essential for our wellbeing and our ability to be motivated to maintain our wellbeing
Attempting to get into a flow-mindset when feeling fatigued and drained of energy will not only be an uphill battle – but you’ll be far less resilient, and resistant, to distractions. You’ll struggle to control your food choices, and tend to consume hyper-palatable, highly processed foods that only further compound your mental and physical state of play. This will impede your willpower, and your ability to remain with the task ever so more difficult.

4. Listen to Music #personalfavourite
I play music all day, and pretty much till the moment when I go to bed.

The right type of music (for you) can actually help you become highly focused and, therefore, highly productive. This is particularly evident when listening to repetitive music such as ambient, classical, techno or trance. Music that enhances your focus/reduces your distraction and improves mindset-flow will vary from person to person.
For those that prefer total peace and quiet, to those that listen to Norwegian Symphonic black metal band Dimmu Borgir full blast…find a ambient head-space that works for you, that inoculates your ability to focus, and reduce the impact of external distractions
For me I listen to modern contemporary classical and ambient music (let me know if you’d like a playlist). For me, I’m cognisant of the sound, but seemingly not consciously listening to it – it seems to offer a me ‘white-noise’ effect. I find it near-on impossible, when writing or reading, to concentrate when listening to music with lyrics

5. Be Specific
Pick one specific task – be very clear about exactly what your going to work on.
Because when we’re not clear, achieving that flow-mindset will be impossible.

For example choose 1-4 tasks each day, and dedicate 1 hour to each task. Task one, is either the priority task, or the most challenging…and it’s always completed first thing. Doing the hardest task first, creates a sense of achievement, and set the productivity-wheels in motions.
As we get older, studies indicate that we’re more productive in time-spurts, rather than attempting the one thing for hours and hours without a break.
I set the timer for one hour, focus my energies for that one hour, once the timer goes off – get up and have a 5-15 minute break. Sit in the sun, make a drink have a snack, do some push ups…
Then I’ll return to the desk, reset the timer, and start the next task on my list.

6. Be Challenged, But Not Intimated
Mindset-flow requires your brain to be challenged, but not ‘put off’ by the task. Establishing goals or tasks that are too difficult, or not sustainable or scalable will lead to frustration & stress, and ultimately disengagement.
If your task is too easy – you’ll get bored, and either wander off (physically and or mentally) or not complete the task properly or with the required discipline or commitment.

“Inducing flow is about the balance between the level of skill and the size of the challenge at hand”
-Nakamura et Al., 2009
7. Establish Clear Outcome/s
Identifying, from the start your outcomes (achievable, challenging – but not too hard outcomes) will help preventing your mind from being distracted.
Lack of clarity and purpose will see procrastination settle in
Avoid this mental hurdle by establishing clear and achievable outcomes.

8. Strategic Nutrition
As mentioned above, what we tip, pour, spoon and fork down our necks plays a massive role in our ability to remain focused.
The ‘wrong’ nutritional choices can create a slothful mindset and detrimentally impact our physiological ability to remain physically alert….think mid-morning/mid afternoon energy slumps.
No.1. Hydration is critical – as in water & tea. The brain is 75% water and water helps concentration
Caffeine can either be very helpful or, if too much is consumed, play a very unproductive role in your mindset flow.
In short, avoid or limit foods that are highly processed – foods that are quickly absorbed and that spike blood sugar levels and make you feel sluggish and ignite cravings – white processed bakery items, sweets & confectionary, ice cream fruit juices, soft drinks etc can all be fairly detrimental to our ability to remain focused.

I can’t write an article and not mention my favourite topic…Alcohol.
Alcohol consumption diminishes our ability to remain steadfast to the task at hand…period.
Limit booze intake if you’re seriously wanting to achieve a flow-mindset – your longterm outcomes are predicated by what you think and do ‘most’ of the time. Alcohol impinges our ability to do what is best for us most of the time.

Key to the success of any campaign to implement change and improve the quality of our health, mindset, career etc is reliant on our ability to change our environment – to change not only our physical environment, but also our cognitive environment.
Successfully massaging both will greatly assist you to better coerce your desired, and probably innate behaviours into the real-world.
Once the new behaviours become habitual, will see the upturn in your life-trajectory
Because that’s what we want to happen, we want to stimulate new habits to achieve new outcomes.

The experience of flow in everyday life is an important component of creativity and well-being. Indeed, it can be described as a key aspect of eudaimonia, or self-actualization, in an individual. Since it is intrinsically rewarding, the more you practice it, the more you seek to replicate these experiences, which help lead to a fully engaged and happy life.

Want to watch more?
YouTube TedTalk: Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s 2004 TED Talk, which has more than 5 million views (and counting).

We are what we repeatedly do.


Current Reading List & References:

The Places That Scare You” by Pema Chödrön
How To Meditate – Pema Chödrön
The Wisdom of No Escape – Pema Chödrön
Meditations – Marcus Aurelius
Atomic Habits – James Clear
The New Rules For Lifting For Life – Lou Shuler
Why We Sleep – Matthew Walker PhD
Essentialism: The Discipline Pursuit Of Less – Greg McKeown
Thinking, Fast and Slow – Daniel Kahnemen
Flow – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
The Resilience Project: Finding Happiness Through Gratitude Empathy & Mindfulness – Hugh Van Cuylenburg
Deep Nutrition: Why Your Genes Need Traditional Foods – Catherine Shanahan MD
The School of Life – An Emotional Education
The School of Life – How To Think More Effectively
The Consolations Of Philosophy – Alain De Botton
Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief – Jordan B Peterson
The Owners Manual for the Brain: The Ultimate Guide to Peak Mental Performance – Pierce J. Howard
The Daily Stoic / Stillness Is The Key / Ego Is The Enemy / The Obstacle is The Way– Ryan Halliday
Indistractable – How To Control Your Attention & Choose Your Life – Nir Eyal
Mindset – Dr Carol Dweck
The Holy Shit Moment: How Lasting Change Can Happen in A Minute – James Fell
Stop Playing Safe – Margie Warrell
The Worlds Fittest Book – Ross Edgley
The Art Of Resilience – Ross Edgley
The Oxygen Advantage: Scientific Proven Breathing Techniques To Revolutionise Your Health – Patrick McKeown
Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking – Malcolm Gladwell
The Practicing Mind – Develop Focus & Discipline Your Life – Thomas M. Sterner
Mistakes Were Made – Carol Travis & Elliot Aronson
Man’s Search For Meaning – Viktor Frankl
Life: A Users Manual – Julian Baggini & Antonia Macaro
Good Habits Bad Habits: The Science of Making Positive Changes That Stick – Wendy Wood
The Madness of Crowds – Douglas Murray
The War of Art – Steven Pressfield
Wired To Eat – Robb Wolf
Philosophy For Life, and other dangerous situations – Jules Evans
Peak – Anders Ericsson & Robert Pool
The Body, A guide For Occupants – Bill Bryson
The Four Agreements – Don Miguel Ruiz