You’ve heard this spiel before. “In every one of us, we each have an inner genius.” You’ve heard that, right? It sounds like complete BS, like the corny motivational poster you’d see in a guidance office.
I used to think it’s nonsense. But now I, for one, believe it’s true.
The reason why it sounds so ridiculous is because very few people recognize when their inner genius surfaces. Then when you recognize it, you can cultivate it. Listen to me.
Your inner genius surfaces when you are in a “flow” state.
What is flow? “Flow”, as a concept, has been described for thousands of years by Eastern religions, but wasn’t introduced to Western culture until the 70s when psychologists started to describe it.
There are a bunch of ways to explain flow. But by my definition, flow is when you’re in the zone. It’s when time flies by because you’re so engrossed in what you’re doing right now, and if you’ve ever been in the zone before, you know it feels great.
Now that I have a basic understanding of flow and how it works, I’ve gotten better at getting in the zone. It’s hard sometimes, because I’m still a novice, but for the most part I know what I need to do, intellectually, and it’s becoming more intuitive all the time. Once you understand how it works, it becomes easier in other areas of your life, and you can use it to skyrocket your productivity. It’s much easier for me now than when I started.
So, here are tips from what I’ve personally figured out about getting in the flow state.
Find What Gets You In The Zone
I’m sure that you’ve been “in the zone” before. I imagine everybody has. Maybe it was while you were playing a sport, while drawing, public speaking, or while hanging out with your friends.
Figuring out which activities get us in the zone is important, because if we can consciously practice getting in the zone, we can bring that practice to other areas of our lives.
It seems that as we get older, we stop having fun. We stop playing games. When we were kids we had so much fun, all the time, because we were always playing, and we had nothing to worry about. But it’s different now: We have responsibilities. For most of us, we spend all our time handling responsibilities, recovering from doing so, and then repeating the cycle. As children, we have energy and enthusiasm. But as adults we’re exhausted all the time.
If you only work, watch TV, drive your kids to school, eat and sleep –if you don’t have any hobbies–, it can be hard to figure out what gets you in the zone. But find something that interests you. Try new things. If you say, “I don’t have time for that,” you’re making an excuse, because for one you’re reading this article right now. I’m sure this isn’t the only website you’ve been on in this sitting. If you want to grow as a person, you should be asking yourself, “How do I make time for that?”
For me, I know I get in the zone when I play guitar and sing, draw, write, read a good book, study something that intrigues me, and sometimes when I drive fast on the highway (don’t tell my mom).
A good rule of thumb is that the activity interests you and that you find it fun. If it’s slightly challenging, you have a better chance of getting in the zone.
Okay, so now that you’ve found an activity of choice, something you genuinely enjoy, and you’ve made time to do it, you’re well on your way to utilizing the flow state. If you haven’t done so, make sure you do it. Thats the first step. Now you’re ready to hear tips of how to get in the zone and how stay in the zone.
Time Flies When You’re Having Fun
It’s hard to stay focused on something if it’s dreadful. I’m not a very good student. I wouldn’t be a good soldier, either. This is because I don’t like doing what someone tells me to without first understanding why I’m doing it. As a result, doing homework is terrible –absolutely one of my least favorite things to do. Time marches on very slowly and I work at a snail’s pace.
One day in college I had an assignment due for my English Comp class. I had to write a mock business proposal to a company of my choice. My friend Kiran wanted to come over and play videogames, and when he showed up in the afternoon, I’d barely gotten anything done. How could I? It was so boring!
Kiran wanted me to be done, so he started helping me out. I decided not to use his idea, but this is what he did: he started writing the proposal to MLG (a company that puts on live videogame competitions), asking them to host an event at our school. He made it very silly. I don’t remember exactly what he wrote, but it was the equivalent of having hula dancers and a roller skating competition. I don’t know. I said, “I can’t pass that in!” And he laughed and responded, “Why not? It meets all of the requirements.” Then I realized something: the assignment didn’t feel so boring when it was made silly and fun. It was less painful to do. I realized that I was the one making this assignment so painful. I told myself, “this has to be a serious proposal,” but it absolutely did not! I made up my own fun ideas, and I finished in less than an hour.
Here’s what I learned:
Make it fun. No matter what you’re doing, make it fun for yourself. Make it interesting, make it silly. Do whatever you have to to make it fun.
Anything can be made enjoyable. It depends on how irreverent you want to be to that little voice that says, “No, this sucks! Nothing good can come out of this. You have to be serious.” I didn’t believe it then, but now I do. Now I make jokes about everything.
There’s a concept called gameification. Wikipedia states, “Gamification is the application of game-design elements and game principles in non-game contexts.” What this means is that companies will use aspects of games, and playing, in order to make their products more fun (and make more money!).
When I lived near Orlando, I frequented a coffee shop in Winter Park called Austin’s Coffee and Film. It was a cute little place the locals were crazy about. Next to the register was always a bucket for tips, but usually it was only filled towards the bottom. One day was different. There were two tip jars, and above them said, “Which super power is better?” One jar was for “Flying” with a drawing of a superman-esque stick figure flying, and the other jar said “Talk to animals” with a little illustration to depict it. Both of the tip jars were literally over-flowing with bills. They made giving them money more enjoyable, more competitive, and they were rewarded for it!
Making a boring task fun can be achieved in a number of ways. The Kiran example and Austin example show how it can be done by changing your perspective on what you’re doing, but sometimes that’s hard to do, so an easier strategy is to give yourself rewards: “When I do this, I will give myself that.” People have always done this. When they finish work, they head to the pub with their friends.
Having a beer after work can be nice, but an entire day is a long period of time without taking a break. In order to be in the zone, you must have a certain level of focus. If you don’t rest until the end of the day, you’re going to burn out. My solution: set timers. When I need to do homework, I set my oven timer for an hour, and when it goes off I take a short break to watch TV or something (whatever I feel like).
**a quick interjection: I just realized I’ve been writing this article for two hours. I would’ve thought it’s only been half an hour. That means I was in a state of flow. 😉
Think back to the activity you chose (the one from “Find What Gets You In The Zone”). It’s fun, right? Well, even though I have fun playing guitar, I still get tired of it. So, it’s important to take breaks. Frequent, short breaks can work wonders on productivity.
Don’t Be A Perfectionist Yet
Among writers, a popular Earnest Hemingway quote: “The first draft of anything is shit.”
What this quote means is that you shouldn’t be critical of the work you’re doing this moment. Many beginner writers will edit as they write –a terrible thing to do. If you’re always backtracking, getting stuck on the little things, you’re not gonna get anything out on paper.
There’s a phase for writing, and then, afterwards, there’s a phase for editing.
This is true of anything. It’s okay to make mistakes. If I got frustrated every time I made a mistake while learning a new song (first of all, I’d go bald from stress), I would never learn it.
As I’m writing this article right now, I’m spewing words onto the screen, typing rapidly, and I’m not looking back at what I just wrote. This is a very tip for staying in the zone, because you cannot be overly self-conscious while in the flow state –it’s one of the six scientific requirements, actually. Being self-conscious about what you’re doing, instead of just doing it (like me typing very quickly) is distracting. And distractions are a no-no.
How could you expect to focus on what you’re doing if you’re distracted? How would you ever get work done if you check Facebook every five minutes?
If you’re distracted you won’t get in the zone.
Studies are coming out about how multi-tasking’s a myth, and that switching between activities is a huge loss of productivity, because you have to stop focusing on what you’re doing to focus on something else. Your brain can’t do two things at once.
The solutions to this are simple:
- Find a quiet place to work. If people are vying for your attention while you’re attempting to concentrate, you’re going to have a tough time. Find somewhere you won’t be bothered.
- Turn off notifications. Notifications are anything that makes noise to get your attention or pops up on your screen. Put your phone away; either silence it or put it on airplane mode. I work on a Mac (which is better than a PC 😜), which means my computer has iMessage. The problem with iMessage is that its default mode has texts pop up right on your screen! It’s horribly distracting. I turned off that feature and also hid my Dock, which on PCs is called the taskbar, so that if I want to check my messages, I have to scroll to the bottom of the screen where it’s hidden. Because they’d also show notifications, I never have Twitter or Facebook open while I’m working. Sometimes, I find it helpful to turn my computer on airplane mode.
When you’ve been working a bit and now find yourself feeling distracted, it’s time to take a break. Go for a walk. Take a nap. Text your girl/boyfriend for a bit. Do whatever you want for 20 minutes or so.
The more you’re focused, the easier it will be to flow. So, limit distractions and interruptions while you’re working.
Now, to Clarify: Some Distraction Might Be Helpful
Remember when I said that one of the requirements for being in flow is that you can’t be self-conscious about what you’re doing? A little bit of healthy distraction could help you relax.
There’s a reason why candles and rose petals are cliché of romance. It’s because the candles’ flickering and the flowers’ scents distract you a bit, making you focus on something besides yourself (making you less self-conscious), which feels relaxing.
The human brain can’t focus on two things at once. But if you’re doing two activities that don’t involve the same brain functions, it won’t ruin your productivity –it can even help! Right now I’m listening to dubstep. Since dubstep is generally just sounds without words, it doesn’t distract me while I’m writing. If I listened to my favorite genre, pop-punk, I’d get distracted by the lyrics because I’m using my brain to write words: I can’t focus on writing if I’m also listening to someone speaking –both those activities use the same parts of my brain, the parts that process language.
So what helps you focus? Maybe, like me, it’s listening to music. Perhaps chewing gum or playing with a fidget spinner helps you sit still. It’s different for everyone. Occasionally I hum or tap my foot while writing, and it helps.
Once you figure out your personal way of getting in the zone –by doing an activity you enjoy, learning how to have fun, and finding your best ways to focus–, you can use those techniques to every aspect of your life. I used to hate washing dishes. I still do, if I don’t relax and have fun with it. Now, I make sure to let go: I sing and dance and reward myself when I’m done! Time flies by.
I loved writing today’s article and I loved writing my most recent one too. I hope you have a great Sunday. Thanks for reading this. ☺️