Unlocking your unique flow state will make you bulletproof

Man's face near a glowing rod

It’s a big clue about what you should do

When you are one of the best at what you do and you understand what it takes to get recognized for that, you get to call the shots in your life. Slowly but surely, your career will become bulletproof. You will always be in demand and you’ll receive the best compensation possible for the value of you and your time.

Where people often struggle is identifying what it is that they are great at doing and love doing. We have things we’re really good at doing, but we don’t enjoy them. We also have things we love doing (i.e., our passions), but we’re not that great at them (if we’re being honest with ourselves). 

For example, I really enjoy playing guitar. But, I’m not going to kid myself, I’m not very good. I don’t practice enough to make anything of it. Most importantly, no one is going to pay me to play guitar. Ever.

So, how do you figure out what lies at the intersection of your greatness and passion? And, how can that become something that makes you so valuable that you are always in demand?

The secret lies in your flow state

Recognizing what consistently triggers your personal flow state is a strong clue about what you should be doing with your life. When you fully align your career with your flow state activity, you become extremely talented at what it takes to be successful in that profession.

Musicians, artists, and athletes may be among those who are most familiar with flow, or being “in the zone.” But, I know that it can occur for any of us who have become an expert at what we do. Writers, developers, designers, surgeons, and even gamers experience it (my son swears that some gamers do make a good living). Flow does not have to be associated with recreational activity.

“The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times… The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Csikszentmihalyi describes 8 characteristics of flow:

  1. Complete concentration on the task
  2. Clarity of goals and reward in mind, and immediate feedback
  3. Transformation of time (the speeding up or slowing down of time)
  4. The experience is intrinsically rewarding, as an end itself
  5. Effortlessness and ease
  6. There is a balance between challenge and skills
  7. Actions and awareness are merged, losing self-conscious rumination
  8. There is a feeling of control over the task

Finding your own flow state

We’ve all experienced a flow state in our lives. One of the best clues is a change in the perception of time. For me, I always lose track of time and hours will flow by without me even noticing.

For example, I’ve triggered a flow state when I was prototyping an application. I always enjoyed prototyping, but does it fit someone’s definition of a fun time? 

Well, I wouldn’t plan it for a vacation or a Saturday night. But, I lost myself in it. It was effortless and time flew by, while I was getting paid. Yeah, that’s not bad.

I enjoyed the act of creation, problem solving, and the feeling of accomplishment when it was all working. On one memorable occasion, I started in the morning and when I finally stopped and looked up, it was nightfall 12 hours later. I suddenly noticed that I was ravenous. I had worked right through lunch and dinner.

So, when was the last time you lost yourself in an activity? When did you lose track of time and didn’t realize it for hours (the use of pharmaceuticals doesn’t count)? When you have been so focused that you forgot to eat?

It doesn’t always happen when you’re doing something that you might label as “fun.” We’ve all lost track of time having fun with friends and during exciting activities. Ignore those, and focus on the tasks that were for something work-related or had an otherwise productive outcome.

“Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute. That’s relativity.”

Albert Einstein

Aligning your career path with your flow

When you redefine your career to optimize for your flow state, you put yourself on the path to greater success. When you consistently engage in your flow state activities, you strengthen your skills and expertise. The work will often feel effortless then, and rewarding in and of itself.

I know that most of us have (or had) jobs that don’t feel rewarding or fulfilling. I know that most of your work-related activities don’t feel so effortless and empowering that you lose track of time. Unfortunately, that is the situation with many jobs.

But, if you do want to make a change and do something that really taps into your core talent, expertise, and passion, pay attention to your flow. Intentionally map out a career path that will enable you to do more of the type of work that leverages your flow state, and less of the work that feels like an unpleasant eternity.

Your homework

Have you or a friend ever said the following?

  • “I don’t know what I want to do with my life
  • “I don’t know what I’m actually good at doing”
  • “I’m not sure I know what I really love doing”
  • “I’d like to change careers, but I have no idea where to begin”
  • “I’ve been doing this job for so long, I’m not sure what else I could possibly do now

If so, your homework is to discover and document your moments of flow state. Immediately recognize when it has happened (e.g., you experience a transformation of time). Quickly write down what seemed to trigger it, what you were doing, how you felt, and what you accomplished.

Journaling already has numerous benefits for your mental health, emotional wellbeing, and creativity. But, in this situation it will be the key to unlocking your potential. Try it for a few months and see what you discover about yourself. Once you have identified your moments of flow state, then it is time to redefine your career to optimize for that. 

Join my free career group on Slack and let me know how it goes!

Note: This article originally appeared on Medium