What is Flow & Why is it important?

What is Flow

Before we dig into flow state, let’s set the stage for a moment. Take 60 seconds and think about the last time you felt “in the zone,” like your attention was completely focused on one task and you were totally jiving with it. It felt easy, natural, and really, really good.

You, my friend, were in flow.

Flow state is a concept first introduced by positive psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in the 70’s, but it’s nothing new. We may know it in more intimate detail because of his research, we may have begun to pinpoint what induces flow and how we can manipulate it, but the idea of being in the zone is a tale as old as time. It’s not difficult to imagine Leonardo in complete flow as he paints the Mona Lisa. Or Beethoven immersed in a composition. Or even the Neanderthals creating their famous cave paintings in the earliest human times.

Focus, ease, enjoyment, immersion. Complete absorption, losing track of time as you give energized attention to a task. Flow.

So now that you get what we’re talking about, why exactly is it called flow? Well, Csikszentmihalyi found that, when describing what it felt like to be “in the zone,” folks kept coming back to water metaphors over and over. Being swept away, carried along a gentle stream, taken out to sea—with various levels of intensity, those he interviewed kept returning to H2O when describing what it felt like to be in the zone.

Now, there are some important distinctions to make here—let’s dig into some semantics. We often casually use “hyper focused” and “in the zone” interchangeably, but flow has subtle differences from “hyperfocus.” Hyperfocus is often used in a negative connotation; obsession, wasting time, tediousness, scattered attention. On the flip side, flow is a positive, desirable state. It’s creative, energetic, and empowering. You’re knocking it out of the park when you’re in flow.