Mindful Framing is a mindfulness practice to support your daily life, providing a mental framework for your continuous stream of experiences and thoughts. To realize all the benefits of mindful framing you require focus and regularity.
There is another element to supercharge mindful framing: Maximum Flow.
What is Maximum Flow?
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi described flow in his best-selling book as “The state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter” In the state of flow, your mind achieves intense concentration. You’re totally immersed in the task at hand, and nothing else seems to matter. In fact, sensations such as hunger, tiredness, or pain just melt away. You lose your sense of time. Time seems to slow down. Your actions seem effortless, and you feel like you’re “in the zone.”
Maximum flow can be achieved when certain conditions are met. For instance, there must be a good balance between the task and one’s skill. If the task is too easy, or too difficult, you will not achieve a state of flow. Flow also tends to occur in active activities such as work, versus passive activities such as watching television. However, researchers have postulated that watching television can lead to a state of flow provided that the show is relevant to the viewers’ life. Additionally, the activity one is involved must have clear parameters for success. Therefore, it is easier to achieve maximum flow when playing games such as tennis or chess because they have set rules one must follow. Finally, there must be intrinsic motivation to perform the task. In other words, one must be internally motivated to perform the task.
Csikszentmihalyi called flow “the secret to happiness.” That’s because when you’re in a state of flow, you’re not getting a temporary high, so-called hedonic happiness. Instead, you experience a lasting sense of personal meaning and fulfilment: eudaimonic happiness.
Going with the flow helps you stay resilient during tough times. This is because flow helps divert our thoughts from stressful experiences to things that are more enjoyable. Being in the flow in turn helps guard against depression. In fact, during the covid-19 pandemic, people who had more flow fared better emotionally. When you’re resilient, you’re able to bounce back when things don’t go as planned, and get back on track with healthy habits instead of abandoning them outright.
When you’re in the flow, you’re also able to focus on the task at hand. This increased concentration leads to greater productivity and higher quality work.
What Happens in the Brain with Maximum Flow?
Research shows that flow is associated with decreased activity in the prefrontal cortex. Notably, the prefrontal cortex is responsible for higher cognitive activities such as memory and consciousness.
However, when we’re in a state of flow, the prefrontal cortex is downregulated, leading to being less self-conscious, being less critical of ourselves, and losing our sense of time. Also, the downregulation of the prefrontal cortex may cause the implicit mind to take over. This in turn leads to more communication between regions in the brain, causing one to be more creative.
Research also shows that when we’re in a state of flow, the regions of the brain that help us feel rewards and pursue our goals are activated. This in turn makes us feel joy and feel focused when we’re in a state of flow.
Despite all the benefits of maximum flow, most of us don’t experience it often. Only 20% of us experience flow several times a day. And a full 15% of us never experience flow at all. But the good news is that with practice, you can get better at achieving maximum flow.
Practice Mindful Framing and Mindfulness
When you’re being mindful, you put your attention on the present moment, and suspend judgement of and emotions or thoughts that arise. Recently, mindfulness has been shown to improve the flow state. In a study done on athletes, those who engaged in a six-week mindfulness training program not only improved their flow state, but also decreased their anxiety.
And the good thing is that you don’t have to be a yogi to practice mindfulness. You can practice mindfulness by practicing gratitude, taking deep breaths, practicing active listening with your spouse, or even eating a meal mindfully. By incorporating mindfulness into your daily activities, you set the conditions for a flow state.
To get into a state of flow, you want to keep the distractions to a minimum. This can involve putting your cell phone on silent, having a website blocker, wearing headphones, or having a dedicated study space.
In today’s society we’ve been told that multi-tasking makes us more efficient. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
That’s because our brains aren’t made to multi-task. In fact, when we multi-task, we experience cognitive switching penalty. In other words, it takes some time for our brain to adjust to constant switching between tasks.
By very nature, flow depends on us being laser focused on one task. Hence, it stands to reason that multi-tasking would be counterproductive to flow.
Establish Rituals, Habits, Routines
When you’re about to start an activity that requires intense focus, engage in a ritual. This could be having a warm cup of tea or doing a short meditation. By engaging in a regular habit or routine, you’re priming your brain to gear up for the task at hand and get into the zone.
We all know the importance of sleeping well, our most precious routine. When we sleep well, our concentration is optimal. So minor distractions won’t derail our flow. To ensure a good night’s sleep, you can engage in moderate exercise during the day, avoid caffeine at night, and create a soothing sleep environment/bedtime routine.
Life is full of challenges. However, by incorporating maximum flow into our daily life, we can frame our mind towards the needed resilience to handle life’s blows, and rise above any circumstances. Begin today by practicing mindful framing and mindfulness and let yourself “go with the flow.”