Flow: it only comes from focus and purpose
That feeling that tennis players get when they play that final match
That feeling a race driver gets when driving a race
That feeling you get when you work on something and time just passes.
It’s flow: the feeling of time just going by without you realizing it, while you focus on the things that truly matter to you.
Flow is a great state, a state in which everything you have set for yourself can be reached.
It’s not a state of just a second, of a minute, or an hour. Or, at least, at first it is.
But once you realize what gets that flow going inside you, once you find a way to let flow flow through you, that’s when it all comes together.
And flow isn’t just something that magically comes into your life. Something that hits you when you sit on the couch, watching some random show on Netflix.
Because the universe and life don’t work that way. Nobody ever just sat somewhere, waiting for something to happen, for it to magically happen.
Nobody just wins the lottery. Even with the lottery, you have to go buy a ticket in order to win. You can’t win in life if you don’t buy yourself tickets.
Instead, something like flow comes from work. It comes from working on finding habits and patterns in life that allow you to be in that flow.
For a tennis player, it’s training all year long all the way to that final. To then have that flow, because at that moment the flow is needed.
Flow doesn’t just come. You need to work for it. This may take months, even years to master. But all the way up to mastering it, you will learn how it works, what works for you.
And only that allows you to become the greatest version of yourself.
What are the things that give you flow?
One important thing to realize is that you can control flow. Again, by finding out what works for you, you will find your optimal flow.
Now, let’s start with the part that most people get wrong: you will never find flow in the things you do not enjoy. If you don’t enjoy studying in school because the topics don’t interest you, you will never find flow in that state.
If you are scared of something, you will never find flow in that either.
As the book by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, which is famously called “Flow”, mentions, the only way to experience flow is to have an exceptional and significantly satisfying task to focus on.
This task has to be something you are passionate about. It has to be something that will get your mind so focused on it that nothing else matters. There’s no way to experience flow in any other way.
Writing this piece puts me into a flow. I’m sitting in a library, researching and writing about this optimal feeling. And there are about 15 people around me. All talking, eating, reading, listening to music. But nothing is stopping me to put these words onto this paper. To read articles on how flow works.
Because there’s a single reason it can’t distract me: I want to know how this works. I want to experience that optimal feeling in my life. And only by fining this extremely satisfying, I will be experiencing flow.
See, life is fucking beautiful. Really, just look at the possibilities that we all have in life. Compare it to 20 years ago, 100 years ago, even 1000 years ago. Look at all the things we have that people back then didn’t have. It’s a lot, it’s more than even they could ever wish for.
But living like this also brings tons of distractions. I bet 90% of the people nowadays check their phone as soon as they wake up. Fill their brains with some random information that is external, instead of listening to their own thoughts in the morning or making sure they fill it with useful things that really lead to living a better life.
On the subway on the way here, 90% of the people are on their phone. In the street, 40% of the people walk while being on their phone. But it’s not just phones, it’s more than that. It’s things, material belongings, anything that is just giving external validation instead of the validation that truly matters: that you matter to yourself and that you matter to the people around you.
Who is happier: the one having people around him because of the things he has, where people are fakely nice to you because you own X, Y or Z car and have a big house, or the one having people around him because of how he is, where people are genuinely nice to you because they recognize themselves in your attitude? I’m going to say it’s the latter.
And that’s the whole point of flow. Would you rather run after the money, being tired all the time, thinking you found some strange way of flow but really are just lying to yourself about it, or would you rather live a happy life, a fulfilled life, in which you can do whatever you want? I’d rather work 40 hours a week, making $900,000 a year, having many hours a week to work on myself, than to double my hours to 80 a week and making $1,800,000 a year. (and seriously, the hourly rate is still the same, so why would you work more anyway)
Because those 40 hours of work, along with those 40 hours of good experiences alongside it, will be easier to control when you know how flow works. Wearing yourself out, going to the max all the time, just focusing on one thing, is never going to get you in a state of flow. Rather, it will get you in a state of self-harm, of tiredness and of being so fucked up all the time that you can’t even figure out what truly matters to you.
That doesn’t mean you can’t be successful if you don’t work 80 hours, or can’t be rich. It just means that it’s better to make a little less money and having more time on the side in order to get your private life together than to work constantly and just hating life in general because of it.
Look at it: only a few of the most successful people in the world really do work 24/7. They do work related things 24/7, sure, but they don’t actually work 24/7. Elon Musk, one of the greatest entrepreneurs of this moment, doesn’t work 16 hours a day. He does spend 16 hours a day on building his business because he is spending 16 hours a day on building his personality.
Doing great things doesn’t come from focusing just on that one thing. It comes from the fact that you need to realize that great things come from you as a person. And only if you function as a person properly, you will do great things: in business, in life, in this world.
Another example is Warren Buffett, one of the greatest investors of our time and age. Many consider him the best. He doesn’t invest 16 hours a day. He doesn’t talk to people 16 hours a day to do better investments. No, the way he keeps his flow is by taking 2 hours a day to work on himself.
The same goes for you: work on yourself for 16 hours a day. Whether that’s having a job that pays the bills, then going to the gym to work on your body, going home to read books to work on your mind, writing to work on your mind, meditating to work on your mind. Anything you do in life should be helping you becoming a better version of yourself.
Alright, so that’s enough about why flow is not just doing one thing and doing it 16 hours a day. Instead, do as many things as possible that allow you to be a better version of you.
How do I find flow in my life?
The best thing to realize is this: flow comes from doing the things you truly enjoy doing or at least enjoy the benefits that it is creating.
A good example of the first is writing: I truly enjoy writing, I enjoy sitting down, writing down the thoughts that run through my head and to write down information that I truly care about myself.
A good example of the second is cold showers: I genuinely hate the experience of taking a cold shower. I hate the feeling it gives me when the cold water touches my skin, the feeling of my muscles being in shock, the potential pain of cramps that I get in my body.
What I don’t hate though, are the benefits that cold showers give me. It starts with the first step: getting under the shower. Your brain thinks of every excuse it can possibly think of to not get underneath the shower. But you’re stronger than that, so you do it anyway. I enjoy the feeling after I take the cold shower, the smile on my face that I get because I just did something that I truly hate doing but really benefits me. Again, I truly hate the experience of taking a cold shower, but I enjoy what it does to me more than anything.
I believe that the first example is how to achieve direct flow. How to achieve flow at that moment, to experience it as much as you can.
And I believe that the second example is how to achieve indirect flow. How to achieve flow in your life overall, to experience flow in other aspects of your life.
And that brings us to two types of flow:
- Present flow
- Overall flow
Because in life, you can have flow in general as well. You will have periods in your life where nothing is stopping you from reaching whatever that one thing is. And you will do anything in your life, optimizing every single bit of your day and your daily activities, to make sure that you actually reach that specific type of flow.
Let’s say you want to become a better entrepreneur. You can’t just go out on the street, selling things to people, thinking that’s all it takes to make you a better entrepreneur. Because what if your mom calls, and your dad is in the hospital? You get stressed out, for days, and aren’t the same entrepreneur on the street that you were the days before that.
See, being a great entrepreneur doesn’t just come from the fact that you know how to sell something. It’s about being a leader. It’s about knowing how to create something. How to market something, how to think like an entrepreneur.
So you read books to be a better entrepreneur, and that’s a great first step. But you’re never going to be a great entrepreneur if you’re not a great human being. If you’re not a human being that is doing everything it can to become the best human being it can possibly be. Because if you’re not focusing on other aspects outside of entrepreneurship, there’s never a way to actually be a great entrepreneur.
A good entrepreneur isn’t something who works 80 hours a week to get something done, that is pushing himself all the way from 8 AM to 2 AM to work on a single thing: the actual work. No, a good entrepreneur is someone that develops himself, is constantly optimizing his life and his business, in order to become that entrepreneur that he really wants to be.
And so you gotta work on flow in general. You gotta make sure that you are living life in such a way that you continually have days that you set yourself up to have that overall flow. To set yourself up to do the things that make you that better human being. To make yourself be the best person you can possibly be.
What is present flow?
The world of present flow really starts with doing something you are passionate about. Something that is giving you that edge to continually do it.
Again, to me, that’s writing. I am not 2000 words in and haven’t looked up once. It has just been a continual flow of visiting websites on flow and writing notes, then putting those notes into new thoughts and writing those thoughts down.
Writing about things I am passionate about, like being the best version of yourself, is my flow. It is what gives me that boost to continue writing, and I have no reason to stop doing so whatever while writing this. Not until I have truly figured out what I need to put down on paper in order to complete the whole message that I am trying to bring over to you in this post.
So, doing that daily will keep me motivated. It will give me lots of present flows, helping me to constantly keep doing whatever I am doing while doing it. There’s no looking back, no looking forward. Everything I write down is just about now, about making sure I put the right words down.
But for you, it will be a lot different. See, for you, flow is something that may not be writing, it may not be reading. It can be anything, really. That’s the beauty of life: it’s different for everyone. I can never have flow in a tennis match, simply because I have no idea what the hell I am doing anyway.
The point in life, when it comes to present flow, is to figure out what makes you forget time. What is the one thing that will, when you do it, forget about that clock and just helps you stay in a flow?
Is it reading? Is it working out? Is playing soccer, watching a documentary?
This is important though: for me, when I watch some random movie, I can be in a state of flow when it’s a good movie. The movie can be over before I even know it. But what you have got to realize, is that you need flow in positive ways. Sure, watching a good movie can be very beneficial for you, but watching 10 episodes of Family Guy probably isn’t.
Think back to when you were younger, think back to the last few years. What can you remember doing that made time stop completely? That made you just look at the clock when you started, and by the time you looked at it again, you totally surprised yourself with how much – or even how little – time had passed?
Because when you figure out the sole thing that is helping you be that way, you will figure out that it actually might be the way to experience that present flow. To experience the feeling of enjoying that specific task so much that nothing else at that moment matters.
I wish I could help you figure out exactly what that flow is for you. But it’s hard to do that for someone else. Because there’s a ton of things you really need to figure out, you need a ton of experiences. To me, writing and helping others is just a great combination of two things that I highly enjoy, so I believe that’s where my flow comes from.
But to you, it will be different. And you will have to dig into yourself to figure out exactly what that is.
How can you use present flow?
With present flow, it’s important to realize that you use it at the times that you are doing the exact task that gives you that flow. If you want to be motivated to do X, and X gives you flow, it’s simply about actually doing X in the way that you enjoy it most.
That present flow will help you realize that life is great when you are experiencing the task that you highly enjoy. It is an unbelievable feeling that nothing else gives you. It’s something that really keeps you motivated to just keep doing, no matter what it is.
Present flow can help you really develop yourself into something you truly believe you should be. If I believe I need to find more information on how to be motivated, I will research it in order to actually be more knowledgeable in that process. To make sure I write down the right things in order to not just help myself, but also help others with that information.
Because that’s another great part of flow: developing yourself. Present flow will help you develop yourself in such a way that nothing is holding you back from becoming the exact version of yourself in that field that you truly believe you need to be.
It is the sole thing that will motivate you to optimize whatever process you have created for yourself. Again, life isn’t about working 16 hours a day. Life is about working 8 hours a day on something you believe is worthwhile of paying the bills, along with another 8 hours to help yourself to optimize that process. No matter what that process is, it’s just important that you realize you need time every day to work on it.
Why don’t I have present flow in everything?
Ever realized that the most successful people are actually successful at one or two things?
Let’s be real: there’s almost nobody in this world – alright, aside from Leonardo da Vinci – that is so genius that they are the absolute best at many things. You’re either a world champion tennis player or a billionaire entrepreneur. Either a great movie actor or a fantastic professor.
And that’s alright because that’s the beauty of life. You can focus on one or two things to truly optimize your lifestyle. To truly experience what it is like to be the best at that. And that’s really the only thing that matters.
It’s good to have basic knowledge of many things, but it’s simply impossible to be the best in everything you do. And you don’t need to, and you shouldn’t want to. The only thing you should want is to be the best in one or two things that you truly care about.
And let that go through your head: it’s ok that you’re not the best at everything because you don’t need to be. Don’t waste your time wishing you were the best soccer player, the best engineer, the best entrepreneur and the best investor. Because there’s no way you’re ever going to find enough time to do so.
Plus, you won’t even have the passion to do all that, you’re better off just realizing that you’ll be the best at one or two things and put your time and dedication in that. It’s not just better for you, it’s also better for the people around you.
This doesn’t mean you can’t ever be the best at multiple things. It just means you shouldn’t want to be the best at multiple things right now. This is why many soccer players end up being pretty good entrepreneurs or investors after they quit playing soccer. They then have time to develop themselves – and use the knowledge they got from playing soccer – to become a whole new person and to fulfill another role in the best way possible.
Stop trying to get present flow in everything that you are doing. There’s simply no reason to do so. Do you want to have present flow at a job you hate? That doesn’t make any sense, why would you even want that? It’s better to work that dead-end job 40 hours a week until you can focus more on something that does give you present flow. And working those 40 hours still gives you enough time to do things that give present flow along with it, like writing 10 or 20 hours a week.
Appreciate the process of the present flow, there’s simply nothing else like it. Present flow is so great, you will hold taking a shit until you have finally finished what you believe you should be doing. That’s how powerful present flow is, and that’s exactly why it is such a fantastic feeling: you’re defying the natural impulses inside (literally) you to work on something that is greater than you are.
And finding the true way to present flow will also help you to find the true way to overall flow.
What is overall flow?
Overall flow is when you have gotten yourself such a mindset doing the regular things and habits in your life that everything you do is set to become the best version of yourself.
Like I said earlier, with the example of taking the cold shower, it’s important to realize that overall flow usually doesn’t come immediately. Rather, these are activities and habits that give you flow throughout the day while doing other things.
This is why overall flow is really important. It actually creates the opportunity to get more present flow while you’re doing the task you are doing.
Overall flow-activities and habits are necessary in order to improve and optimize the main present flow activity.
Let’s say I would want to write this post, but the night before I partied until 4 AM and I got up at 8 AM this morning. So I had 4 hours of sleep. There’s no way I’m going to write in the same way as I would if I had the 8 hours of sleep that I really had.
I would probably even have to push myself to write this post, to keep going and to just find the focus to complete it.
But no, instead, I chose to sleep those full 8 hours in order to truly put out the best quality post that I can write. And sleeping is just one of the many things that help you to get that overall flow.
Again, this is overall flow: fulfilling the habits and activities that are needed for you to make sure you are well prepared for the activity that requires present flow. Because when you do a lot of things that make you healthier, more fit and help you think more clearly, you are better at making sure you get the best quality work during the present flow activity.
So what are overall flow activities?
When it comes to overall flow activities, you are basically looking at activities that are directly – but also sometimes indirectly – related to the activity that you are working on.
For me, there are a ton of things that I can do in order to make sure I get that overall flow. Most of them take very little time, which is wonderful as they are the sole reason that I perform better during the times that I need that present flow.
Plus, it’s actually not that hard to do these activities. They require very little items to do. Which is wonderful, as they also help to actually do them wherever you want.
Now, I am not saying that the things I do will help you as well. Because, like I said, it’s important that you find the things that give overall flow and are related to the exact goal you have that requires that present flow.
So let’s dive into what really helps me.
Meditating for 10 minutes a day
Alright, so this is something that truly matters when it comes to overall flow. See, meditation is a beautiful way to temporarily stop the thoughts in your head. Life is stressful, especially today. Tons of impulse thoughts go through your head and allow you to think about the most useless things.
But meditation will stop those thoughts. They will help you silence those thoughts. Not just for those 10 minutes, but also during the day. Because meditation is a true learning game: you’re wiring your brain to stop thinking about specific things.
Right now, your brain is wired like this: if I think about X, I will continue to think about X. That’s because you haven’t done anything in order to stop that process in your head.
Meditation is the exact opposite, it teaches your brain a new way of thinking: if I think about X, I will stop thinking about X.
The more you meditate, the better that mental process will be. It takes time to improve in such a way, but it is an incredible way to make sure you do not get stressed out about thing big and little things in life.
If I look great, I feel great. And it’s not about looking great to others, it’s about looking great for me. Working out, especially when you do something like High-Intensity Interval Training, is something that will help you get that overall flow.
Because working out will give you the mental strength to push your limits. To make sure you are doing the right things to push yourself in the right direction. Picking up a heavier weight will need more mental motivation; just as doing that extra mile or extra 5 minutes of running.
Working out helps you to get a good feeling of overall flow. It gives you something to be proud of: that you are able to push yourself into new fields. And simply by that, you are continually helping yourself to be the better version that you are looking forward to being.
This is 30-90 minutes of work, but you will get benefits of it for at least 2 days. Especially when you lift weights. You will feel stronger, both physically and mentally, and will quickly realize that you are getting better every single day.
Taking a cold shower
Again, the most horrible feeling you will experience all day. But that’s alright because cold showers give you such a good benefit.
First of all: it wakes you up right away in the morning. That warm bed you just got out of was nice right? Well, that warm shower you’re about to take will just give you the same feeling as your bed, same temperature so same coziness that you experience in bed.
Warm showers don’t wake you up as much as cold showers do. And I know it sounds terrifying and horrible. It took me a long time to push myself to continually do this. But it is so worth it doing it.
The first time that cold water touches your skin will make you jump out. It does for me. So you do jump out. But you have to shower, and so you have to get under it again. And so you do, maybe for 10 seconds, and after that, you jump out again.
The whole process is a fantastic boost for your brain. You’re pushing yourself to do something that your entire body screams you shouldn’t be doing. But your brain is much stronger than your body, you will quickly realize that once you take cold showers.
The point of a cold shower isn’t to turn on the shower and stand underneath it for 10 minutes like you do with a regular warm shower. Instead, you get in and out of the shower constantly, about 3-4 times. The fact that you keep pushing through with that is a great stimulant for your brain and will help you find that overall flow.
Reading books to improve your present flow
Another important part of improving your present flow is to read books on it. What can you do today in order to improve the way you do the activity that you get present flow from?
This, again, is not something that gives you immediate satisfaction. Books contain tons of information. What I have realized is that most of the information from books really just clicks years after reading it. You find yourself in a situation that allows you to connect it to something that you once read.
It’s important to continually improve the way you get that present flow.
Find mentors and advisors
Along with reading books, it’s important to have people around you that you can ask questions on how to improve the activity of your present flow.
This will, again, help you to do a better job at whatever activity you are doing during your present flow. Mentors and advisors will give you a lot of information, information that is currently a lot more valuable than what books can give you – but also information on future situations.
The benefit of mentors/advisors, something that books can’t bring, is that they can answer questions that are currently unanswered in your head. Questions that books don’t always answer. You get a better, quicker response than when reading a book.
Flow: it’s the one thing that keeps you going
If you truly want to better yourself, to become that best version of yourself, you will need to figure out what will give you that flow.
Without flow, there’s no way you can ever reach the point you need to reach to become that version. Inside you, there’s a ton of ambition, waiting to be released. Maybe you know what you want, maybe you’re still wondering.
But the important part is knowing that the flow is in you, but you have to work to get it out. If you don’t work for it, do activities that give present flow and overall flow, if you neglect that, you will never find that true flow.
But if you do that work, find your true present flow and overall flow, you will quickly realize that all that energy inside of you, all that work you put into it, it is all worth it. Because then, you allow yourself to finally become you.