The Weekly Stoic: What Is The Flow State?

The flow state – or “the zone” as it is sometimes referred to – is the experience of being completely immersed in an activity. It can occur in any creative endeavour and is where thinking subsides and actions effortlessly flow from within us, often producing our best work.

Most of us have experienced the flow state multiple times in our lives, but how does the flow state occur? And how can we set ourselves to experience it more frequently? From experience, we will also know that it is not something that we can force. Sheer willpower plays no part. To start setting ourselves up for the flow state, we need to begin to understand it at a deeper level…

Whether the flow state occurs when writing, painting, in sport or just regular conversation, the experience is almost identical. There is no thinking, only action. There is no clunky, internal monologue that usually fogs our experience during the best part of most days. It disappears for a little while and correct action shines forth.

Reflecting back on their flow state experience, most creatives will report that the words simply wrote themselves, or the actions simply flowed of their own accord.

It was as if they were watching themselves act or perform from a third person perspective.

It felt as if the human being was the medium, and the work was being channelled through them into the world. That is the experience of the flow state.

Like a clown that jumps on stage at the end of the performance to receive the applause of the actors, the ego plays a similar role when it comes to the flow state. Looking back, it interprets “I was in the flow state”. “How do I get back to the flow state?”. Yet, if we have the awareness to observe the flow state while we are in it, there is no ego or “I” present, because there is no thinking.

To put it another way, in the actual experience of the flow state, not the interpretation of it after the fact, there is no writer and no written work, there is only writing. There is no player and game played, only playing. There is no artist and painted work, only painting.

The flow state is the collapse of the subject-object relationship into one effective, effortless process of creation.

An artist, a writer or a sportsperson who regularly experiences the flow state intuits that “In these moments, I feel like one with the work”. In other words, there is no “I” taking any actions, there is only effortless, creative, purposeful and intelligent action happening by itself.

Remember that in a true flow state, the “you” has to be handed over or given up for the work to flow effortlessly on its own.

Cease thinking and begin to watch actions unfold on their own. This is the most effective way to facilitate the flow state in any endeavour.