You have likely heard the phrase "in the zone" many times, but have you ever heard of flow?
Flow is the psychological explanation of what happens when a person is focused on a task and doing productive work. Don't let the words task and work throw you off. One of the many benefits of flow is that when you experience it, the last thing it feels like is work.
Flow was introduced through the study of positive psychology by Professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who coined and popularized the term to describe "a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter."
Essentially, you experience flow through enjoyment from an activity that provides an optimal experience that improves your life.
Understanding the concept of flow offers insight to Confucius's saying, "Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life." The work we do each day can provide the necessary conditions to achieve a state of flow. We can also experience flow by going to the gym, playing a sport, doing something creative, even trying out a new hobby.
It seems odd, right? That a person can achieve flow both from work and play. When the activities we undertake test our skill set, motivate us to set defined goals, allow awareness and control over what we're doing, feelings of accomplishment follow. Regardless of the task being work or not, we are meeting several of the components that characterize flow.
However, a person's state of flow can be corrupted. When this happens, it's called "junk flow."
WHAT IS JUNK FLOW?
Junk flow describes unconscious habits disguised as flow, like bingeing on TV or social media. The addictive nature of the routine doesn't make use of skills or allow for learning and differentiates a flow state from a junk flow state.
But junk flow doesn't always have to be a harmful habit. Research has shown that even expert chess players experience negative flow.
Once flow states no longer challenge us and allow us to grow, they add no value to enhancing our lives.
WHAT DOES JUNK FLOW LOOK LIKE?
For every person, junk flow looks different, but the commonality is that their flow state becomes consumed by superficial and rote activities.
During junk flow, your mind is oxymoronically focused but unchallenged and unaware. It becomes a distraction unto itself.
3 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT JUNK FLOW
FLOW AND JUNK FLOW HAVE NEARLY IDENTICAL EFFECTS ON OUR BRAINS
Unsurprisingly, no matter if the flow is "fake," "faux," or "junk," flow states have very similar effects on our brain.
During flow, psychologists note that our brain acts differently than during its normal state. Research indicates that individuals report feeling outside of their body, outside of time, outside of physical space after being in a flow state.
During both beneficial, productive flow and potentially harmful junk flow, our brains show similar patterns. In a flow state, the prefrontal cortex of the brain is the primary site of deactivation. Even though the prefrontal cortex is dedicated to impulse inhibition, self-control, and attention, flow is usually best achieved by inactivating this area of the brain.
Although it can benefit productivity, inhibiting the PFC can cause the implicit mind to take over and unintentionally enter a state of junk flow.
WE CAN IMPROVE THE QUALITY OF OUR EXPERIENCE WITH ATTENTION
Attention is a simple-sounding concept that has considerable implications on how we function and spend our lives. In psychology, attention is what the brain selectively focuses on in an environment.
Dr. Csikszentmihalyi talks about how attention can shape the form and content of our lives. Many common personality traits boil down to our levels of awareness, such as extroversion, paranoia, or level of achievement.
Attention is the most effective tool to help achieve desired results in determining healthy or junk flow. Individuals who experience flow describe their experiences positively and are more connected with their identity and sense of place. Not only can one control their productivity outcomes, but they can also improve their life as a whole.
FLOW IS BETTER ACHIEVED IN GROUPS
Some studies suggest not to flow alone.
You are more likely to achieve a flow state around other people trying to flow as well. When you are alone, there is less likely that you will achieve flow.
Distractions are still possible for group work or studying and are easier to control when alone. But, there also exists the risk of falling into junk flow when left unaccompanied. Groups help reinforce the experience because joy and satisfaction are integral parts of flow states.
Having shared experiences allows us to talk about and relate to each other's joy and satisfaction, enhancing our own.
REDUCE OR REPLACE JUNK FLOW THROUGH PLANOURNALING
There are plenty of irresistible forces that can interrupt the flow state. Screens and unhealthy coping mechanisms exist all around us.
Helping people reduce or replace junk flow was a primary reason behind the creation of Binge Battle planournals.
Combining the task and productivity properties of a planner with the reflective space of a journal, the planournal allows you to explore and monitor your screen time and determine the differences between flow and junk flow for yourself.
Fight the Suck. Planournal.