On flow

Recently the concept of flow has become much more popular. It’s no longer buried in psychology journals – it’s in TED talks, the news, and office conversations. Part of this popularity is wrapped up in the idea that in order to be better at things, we should spend more time in ‘flow states’.

Over time, I’ve noticed that I spend more and more time in flow states. In order to better understand when and why, here’s how I achieve flow:


One of the main reasons I enjoy bouldering is that it’s one of the few times I’m completely focused on one activity. When climbing, that’s all I think about. Even though it’s practiced above soft pads, I think that the possbility of falling increases this focus – in turn, heightening the chances of flow. I suspect that long pitch climbing is even better for achieving flow.

Video games

Playing video games sometimes triggers flow for me, and other times it doesn’t. I think this is directly related to how challenging the game is. Playing against well-matched opponents requires much more focus, so is more conducive to both playing well and achieving flow. Games with longer durations and few pauses (e.g. MOBAs or RTS) seem to be more conducive to flow than games with frequent pauses (e.g. fighting or turn based games).


Working is a mixed bag for me. The vast majority of my time at work isn’t spent in a flow state. Typically, I can only achieve flow when I’m working on a clearly defined problem by myself. For example, designing a series of web pages, or translating text from one language to another. Even though it’s important in getting things done, meetings and teamwork seem to directly impede flow. For me, headphones are an important tool to achieving flow at work.


Running is interesting – I would expect to achieve flow when running. However, this rarely happens. I suspect it has to do with living in a city. I frequently have to stop and start due to roads, cars and other distractions. Perhaps this is part of why it’s much more enjoyable to walk, run, and bike in the country – it’s much easier to achieve a flow state.

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