• Avishek Kataria

How to get into the zone? - Book Summary of Flow

You are in the zone! You are in flow! How to get into the zone?

Whenever we are doing something great, where we are producing significant results and enjoying the process, people around us call us to be in the zone.

A lot of leadership speakers have been talking about being in the flow state. Robin Sharma has discussed the concept in his book 5 am club and Steven Kotler has discussed it in Super Human. So, it intrigued me to comprehend what is flow psychology and how it affects our life routines.

I read the book on Flow state by the inventor of flow psychology - “Flow - The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi”. I learned a lot of powerful concepts in the book, which I will share in this article. However, first, we will have an overview of the book.


In this book, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has gone in-depth about flow psychology and has shared thoughts on all types and factors involved in flow psychology. Mihaly starts by explaining the flow state and how it affects our life. Then he goes into detail into topics like how to maintain a flow state in difficult scenarios and how to make your life a flow state.

It’s a remarkable book, and it presents a framework to make every experience fulfilling and satisfying. It gets into detail about how to get into a flow state and what parameters are important to meet the flow state.

However, I felt the book go too much into detail of flow state, which a normal practitioner would not need. There are a few pointers that would be useful only for a student of psychology.

About the Author

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is a professor of psychology and management at Claremont Graduate University. He is the inventor of flow state. He recognised and named the psychological concept of flow, a highly focused mental state conducive to productivity.

Key Lessons from the Book "Flow - The Psychology of Optimal Experience"

1 - Directing Attention

The key factor of flow state is attention. It’s about managing your attention and directing it at the right avenues to be more productive.

If you think about what makes you a top performer is primarily attention. When you place more efforts into something means you are giving it more attention.

We achieve flow state by ordering your attention to a task with a specified goal.

“Attention is like energy in that without it no work can be done, and in doing work it is dissipated. We create ourselves by how we invest this energy.”

Before practising flow, it’s better to practice ordering attention. Being aware of where your attention is going. When you are working on a task, be fully aware of how much percentage of attention is in that task and try to increase the amount of attention on that task.

2 - We are Creators of Optimal Experience

In the book, Mihaly asks us to reflect on the time that we have enjoyed the most and the best moments of our lives.

These moments will be certain moments where you had pushed your limits and achieved something significant. You will remember how you were completely involved into it and enjoyed the process. You will be proud of it and boasting about it to others.

We do so many things to please ourselves. We treat ourselves to a lot of leisure time. Still, it’s the time when we sweat the most that we remember the most.

It clearly states that our life fulfilment is not in leisure time but the time when we have increased our boundaries.

“The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”

In leisure, we can achieve pleasure but enjoyment and ultimate satisfaction happen when we are invested in something where we push our boundaries.

3 - Parameters of Flow State

As per Mihaly, there are five steps to achieve a flow state.

First, set a goal for the task. The goal should be realistically workable. It should challenge, but achievable. If it’s simple then you would not be invested and if it’s impossible then you will give up.

Second, you need to decide ways to measure your progress.

The third is to keep making finer and finer distinctions in the challenge.

Fourth is to develop the skills to interact with the channel.

Finally, to keep raising the stakes if the activity becomes boring.

In short, we need to find something that is challenging; we have the skill set to perform it, and we have set a goal for it. These are the tasks in which we get completely involved and get into the zone.

4 - Unimportance of Free Time

We have been engineered in a way where we think we need some free time to relax. We believe it helps us to be more productive. With this belief, we give some of our psychic energy in watching a movie or any other leisure activity, thinking we will become more productive and happy.

“Are people happier when they use more material resources in their leisure activities? Or are they happier when they invest more of themselves?”

As you go back in time, where you have been the happiest, you realize these moments are the ones when you have been more invested.

Yet, we spend money on leisure things to become happy while we can be happy in process of earning money. That is by being fully invested in our work and enjoying the process.

Yes, have free time. But be aware that your free time and leisure things will not give you satisfaction and fulfilment in life. It’s investing your energy and attention to a task will.

Also, if your task is well structured, you will enjoy them more than free time as it’s unstructured.

5 - Enabling Flow State In Work Environment

For the overall productivity of an organization and eventually the world, it’s important the work culture enables the flow state.

When we feel we are investing attention in a task against our will, it is as if our psychic energy is being wasted.

At work, we should set goals that are challenging yet realistic. There should be regular monitoring of the goals. Employees should not feel that their psychic energy is being wasted to keep them uplifted.

Create an environment where every employee gets the liberty to direct full attention and energy to the task.

One framework that makes this possible is the OKR system. Thus, it’s one of the most successful goal-setting frameworks adopted by corporates.

In the end, read the book if you have the mindset where you prioritise the experience of life over other things.

Final Review of "Flow - The Psychology of Optimal Experience" - 4/5

Next Book Review - Principles by Ray Dalio