Finding flow beyond distraction

February 28, 2018

One my highest priorities over the past several years has been to establish a more frequent state of flow in my life.

Flow has become increasingly important to me as I've internalized the belief that the most durable peace and satisfaction derives from an active concentration in the present moment, whatever it may contain. The emphasis on this experiential value is in contrast with my past preoccupation with the pursuit of future achievements, which after thirty-odd years, have proven to be emotionally all too fleeting.

While in principle this switch sounds easy enough, its practice requires a constant tending to several conditions, not the least of which is a thorough reduction of distraction. And given that distraction is near constant factor for many of us, the question is whether to reduce it and how.

There are two main ways I've found that I get distracted – by external interruptions and by internal ones.

External interruptions are the most obvious in that they're usually seen or heard. However, internal ones are just as pernicious, even if they're often discarded as thoughts that can't or shouldn't be helped.

The ultimate objective to minimizing both types of distractions is finding myself in a state of mind where I can focus on only one thing at a time and with pleasure instead of struggle. That thing could be a conversation with a good friend, the process of designing a new application, or the writing of a blog post. It could even be just walking down the street of a busy city and enjoying one observation at a time, not passively but through an active engagement with my thoughts, senses and feelings.

The ways I seek to decrease external distractions mainly involve practices to break smartphone addiction and maintain a clean work environment:

I've found the key to minimizing internal distractions lies in creating well-organized places to tuck away concerns for the moment, as well as structuring time to ignore competing ones without constant ambivalence:

Applying all of the above won't, of course, necessarily result in a state of flow. I find it's also contigent on a base level of rest and physical health and often aided by a comfortable yet stimulating relationship with the task or experience at hand.

However, in a connected world where many considerations vie for my attention at any given moment, these practices have been invaluable in helping me find that flow and enjoy the autotelic experiences that result with greater regularity.