What to Do When Your Emotional Energy is Drained

What to Do When Your Emotional Energy is Drained

Do you ever have those times in your life when you feel overwhelmingly tired? When EVERYTHING feels impossibly tricky, and you have zero energy. Even getting through the day feels like a marathon of marathons.

Maybe you’ve even lost interest in doing things that once brought you great pleasure. Or you feel as if your work and home lives are crushing you beneath a gigantic mountain of obligation.

There are countless reasons you may be feeling fatigued. Maybe you’re not getting enough sleep at night. Your diet is a bit off-kilter. Or perhaps you are even having issues with your thyroid.

But what happens when you’ve ruled out all possible physical causes for feeling fatigued? What then?

I’ve been there before. I struggled to find answers about why I feel caught in a dense fog of weariness. And the search for answers led me on a journey of self-discovery toward a transformation in both mindset and energy.

This journey led me on a path toward doing less, being more present, and, most importantly, tapping into the power of emotional energy.

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What is emotional energy?

To understand emotional energy, we must first acknowledge our bodies as being comprised of equal parts, physical and psychological. Each impacts the other and therefore contributes different types of energy.

In the most basic sense of the term, emotional energy is the energy we obtain from our emotions. And there are experts, including author and psychotherapist Mira Kirshenbaum, who believe the emotional contribution is even larger than the physical one.

I think everyone has their concept of emotional energy, and we are conditioned to believe that we are at the mercy of our emotions. There’s also a belief that the experience of having feelings is deeply embedded in our brains at birth. And if this were true, it would mean that we have very little control over our emotions.

Believe me when I say that I was as shocked as anyone when I recently listened to a TED talk by Dr. Lisa Feldman Barrett that challenged everything I thought I knew.

And what I learned is that your brain is constantly making predictions in an attempt to create meaning. Emotions are, in fact, neutral until you assign significance to them. And that significance comes from your brain’s ability to make predictions based upon past experiences.

In other words, your emotions are created entirely by you. And as such, you have far more control over your emotions than you thought.

Why is emotional energy significant?

Not only are our brains in charge of assigning meaning to emotions, but biologically speaking, our brains are designed to look for danger. A primary function of the brain is keeping the body safe and it accomplishes this by constantly searching for potential threats.

Left unchecked, our natural tendency to focus on the negative and construct worst-case scenarios can deplete emotional energy and leave us feeling completely and utterly drained.

I have to confess that I’ve spent much of my life avoiding strong and predominantly negative emotions. It’s almost as if I thought I could deny their entire existence and never have to face feelings such as embarrassment, shame, or sadness.

Unfortunately, this practice of ignoring a specific set of emotions led to an overall decreased awareness of all emotions. And in fact, failing to recognize the impact of emotional energy in my life is just as harmful as not treating high blood pressure or diabetes.

Our mental and emotional well-being is just as essential to our overall sense of wellness as our physical state. Unfortunately, there is a shocking lack of credible information out there about how to care for our emotional well-being.

It wasn’t until I stumbled across an incredibly thought-provoking TED talk by Dr. Guy Winch that I suddenly realized how little I knew about emotional energy and its impact on how one feels physically.

Armed with this new knowledge, I began piecing together a completely new outlook on emotional energy. And the new outlook is based upon the knowledge that what you think about is what you get.

The Mind-Body Connection

Remember all that stuff about physical and emotional components? As it turns out, emotions can trigger a physical response in the body.

Think back to a time when you were extremely nervous about something. It could be a test, a performance, or even a difficult conversation. How were you feeling physically?

In my experience, being nervous means my heart races, my palms get sweaty, and my hands shake. Maybe you have similar physical sensations when nerves start to rise.

Regardless of your exact sensations, apprehension is the easiest to begin connecting emotional energy to physical awareness. And once you make this connection, it becomes easier to tap into the more subtle emotions.

As a general rule, negative emotions typically result in physical sensations of contraction within the body. The sensation is very similar to the rock, which suddenly appears in the pit of your stomach with bad or unexpected news.

On the other hand, positive emotions often present as the sensation of expansion. Think about the light, airy feeling you get after completing a complex task you have been dreading for weeks.

Understanding how to interpret your emotions is crucial to conserving and enhancing your emotional energy because it’s tough to change something about which you’re clueless!

It also gives you the ability to manage emotion on a deeper level because we often feel emotions physically before our “thinking brain” has even had a chance to process the event. And the better we are at identifying emotions, the easier it becomes to manipulate our emotional energy.

How does your emotional energy get depleted?

Although the ultimate goal is to improve your emotional energy, it’s vital to first understand how it gets drained in the first place. One of the biggest culprits is chronic stress.

Chronic Stress

Life is stressful. But nothing drains your emotional energy faster than prolonged and unrelieved stress. The type of stress that comes from high-pressure jobs, intense schooling, or even the decision to have kids.

All three are scenarios where you often feel as if you have no control over your life. And without positive coping strategies, you may begin suppressing your emotions to get through the day without a breakdown.

Suppressing your emotions may be effective in the short-term, but it leads to emotional numbing and even depression over time. And it takes you further and further away from happiness and an overall sense of well-being.

Being Indecisive

Another huge drain on emotional energy is being indecisive. Indecisiveness zaps all your energy by causing you to continually go back and forth, mentally weighing out the pros and cons of a particular situation.

The pitfalls of indecisiveness are especially evident with big life decisions, but it can also happen with too many small, daily choices. It’s almost as if you have a set amount of emotional energy and instead of focusing it all in one area, you spend a little bit everywhere without anything to show for it at the end of the day.

No Boundaries

A lack of personal boundaries is a classic source of drained emotional energy. It’s similar to being indecisive in that your emotional energy gets spread too thin.

Even worse is the fact that you’re probably spending your energy in places that aren’t even that important to you. Energy is, unfortunately, a finite resource and requires careful consideration before spending it. And when you have no boundaries, your energy gets scattered here, there, and everywhere.

Perfectionism

Yet another source of drained emotional energy is perfectionism. Contrary to popular belief, perfectionism is more than high standards. Perfectionism is the belief that one can attain completely unattainable levels.

And what’s worse is the fact that more often than not, we often impose perfectionism upon ourselves. It’s an internal form of aggression that is particularly destructive because you can’t escape yourself. Nor can you ever feel satisfaction at a job well done because you’ll never reach the standards you set for yourself.

How Can You Improve Your Emotional Energy?

Now that you understand the significant contributors to a drain in your emotional energy, it’s time to move on to how you can plug those drains!

Identify the Source

One of the first things you can do to improve your emotional energy is to pay attention to your emotions. There can be many contributors to feeling down, but until you correctly identify the one(s) explicitly impacting you, it will be challenging to make positive changes.

I recently read this transformative book called Do Less by Kate Northrup that suggests you start listening to yourself. Pay attention to your body and how specific thoughts make you feel on a physical level.

We often spend so much time ignoring our emotions and physical sensations in the name of productivity that we lose that valuable connection. But if you start small such as with decisions about what to have for breakfast or how you should spend a couple of free hours this weekend, you’ll soon see huge returns on your overall well-being.

Reverse Chronic Stress

Once you incorporate listening to yourself again, you may realize that chronic stress is at the root of your emotional energy crisis. Although solving this type of issue can be a bit trickier, there are small steps you can take to start feeling more revived.

If the energy drain is your career, try to identify the specific situations causing distress. Spend some time digging into both the situation and your response to see whether it’s possible to transform your mindset and approach it from a more positive angle.

As a nurse practitioner who strictly sees patients in the nursing home setting, this past year has been incredibly stressful for me. After reflecting on my low energy state, I was finally able to recognize the full impact my career has had.

Switching careers isn’t exactly an option at this point, so I began searching for other answers. My search led me to a book called The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself by Michael Singer.

This book taught me how to let go of situations where I had no control and be present. These are both essential tools to begin dealing with significant stressors you may not necessarily have complete control over. I learned that sometimes acceptance is the best way to start feeling better.

And although acceptance is one option, choosing to leave a situation you can’t overcome is undoubtedly another valid one. Whether it’s a toxic work environment, a career you chose to appease someone else, or a relationship that simply isn’t working, walking away is sometimes the best option.

Find Your Tribe

Have you ever noticed that certain people energize you and others who completely drain you? It’s fascinating to think that, unlike physical energy, we can get emotional energy from the people around us.

And I’m sure you’ve heard that famous saying about how we are the average of the five people with whom we spend the most time. It’s so true and points to the importance of surrounding yourself with people who fill your cup rather than dump it.

Start paying attention to who you spend your time with and if they change your vibe for the negative, consider searching for a new tribe.

Resolve the Unresolved

Whether it’s perfectionism, indecision, or a lack of boundaries, start taking steps to resolve whatever is draining your emotional energy. Start taking measures to not only recognize what’s holding you back but to take action toward solving it.

In my own life, meditation and journaling have been incredibly beneficial in helping me step towards higher emotional energy states. Meditation teaches you how to stay present, especially if you tend to gravitate toward the past or the future.

Journaling helps bring up thoughts and feelings hiding deep inside but are draining your emotional energy. There’s something about putting pen to paper that releases negativity and truly enables you to resolve whatever is holding you back.

It also highlights the fact that we can’t out-think our brains. In other words, simply telling your mind to stop with the negativity and hamster wheel of worst-case scenarios is entirely ineffective. But learning how to connect the physical with the psychological is influential and critical to truly transforming your life and improving your emotional energy.

Other Resources to Improve Your Emotional Energy

Whether it’s a lack of energy or juggling too many projects at once, my passion is helping women overcome whatever is holding them back. I’ve encountered barriers in my own life but have also experienced the triumph of overcoming them and want to help others do the same.

Check out these posts for more motivation and inspiration to overcome that one thing threatening to hold you back!

And if you’re looking for even more tips to improve your emotional energy, here are a few of my favorites!

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I sincerely hope this post has inspired you to examine your life and work towards a higher emotional energy state by addressing the negative and channeling the positive. Remember that you are amazing and have a unique contribution to make in the world. But you need positive energy to make your impact!

Leave a comment below with your thoughts on emotional energy and what you think may be holding you back from a higher energy state.

How to Change Your Habits and Transform Your Life

How to Change Your Habits and Transform Your Life

We are only a month or so into 2021, so I have two questions for you. First of all, did you make a New Year’s resolution this year? And secondly, are you still sticking with it?

If so, I’m sending you a virtual high five! And if not, I’ll still send you a shout-out because resolutions are hard!

In thinking back over the last several years, I’m not sure whether I’ve been able to stick with even one resolution past January 10th. And if you’re anything like me, abandoning a resolution has nothing to do with motivation.

It also has nothing to do with the inability to recognize the need for change.

We all have things in our lives that we know we need to change. Whether it’s exercising regularly, eating healthier, or changing our mindset, opportunities to live a better life abound.

And the start of a new year offers a compelling beginning to what we hope will ultimately be that better life.

Except it never entirely turns out that way. Let me tell you why.

This post may contain affiliate links and as a member of the Amazon Affiliates program, this means we may receive a commission, at no extra cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link. Please see our full disclosure for further information.

The Myth of the Resolution

While driving around one day, I noticed a somewhat cryptic sign which read, “resolutions are for quitters.” It happened to be shortly after the New Year, and the sign was advertising a burger place.

For whatever reason, this phrase stuck with me. And I can’t say whether the marketing ploy motivated anyone to suddenly abandon their resolutions and pull over for a delicious burger with a side of fries chased down by a frosty cold one.

But in its own strange and slightly mysterious way, the sign spoke truth to me. Because resolutions really are for quitters.

Resolutions are all but guaranteed to fail. The whole concept of suddenly starting or stopping some profoundly ingrained habit is a bit ridiculous just because the calendar flips over.

As if anyone could suddenly change themselves simply through grit and sheer willpower.

Despite my skepticism around resolutions themselves, I truly believe in the transformative power of change. But this sign had me thinking that maybe resolutions get a bad rap. That perhaps the difficulty isn’t in the concept of the resolution itself but instead in its execution.

Resolutions, Habits, or Both?

I know I started by talking about resolutions. But resolutions are only one small piece of the equation.

Whether it involves getting into shape, writing a novel, or becoming a better pianist, you’re going to need more than the simple desire for change to achieve the desired outcome.

You could consider resolutions as the goal itself, while habits are the small, daily steps you take to achieve that goal. And the outcome depends upon your habits.

Let’s think about the following (highly unscientific) equation:

Resolution + Habits = Success

Unfortunately, the following equation is equally valid:

Resolution + Habits = Failure

As you can see from both equations, you can start with the same resolution but, depending upon the habits, end up with entirely different outcomes.

Habits either bring us closer to the life we want, or they push us further away from it.

And these small actions repeated over time add up to massive change.

If you think about it, making a resolution is the easy part. The piece most people miss (myself included) is the habit.

So how do you effectively change your habits to transform your life?

Unfortunately, what you think you know about habits just might be leading you astray.

The Myth of the Habit

How many times have you heard that all it takes to form a habit is repetition?

That if you repeat some action x number of times, it will suddenly stick. And boom! Instant transformation.

I’ll admit that it’s a great concept. Repeat and be transformed.

Except how many times do you need to repeat something for it finally to stick? Thirty? Sixty? 302?

Despite thorough searching, I’ve never uncovered the exact answer to that question.

It also doesn’t address what to do if you break your streak. Do you have to start all over from the very beginning if you miss a day?

If so, that sounds more than a little depressing.

There’s also very little advice out there for the logistics of fitting this new habit into your life.

Like, should you just haphazardly shove it into your lunch hour? Right away in the morning? Or maybe before bed?

Most of the information out there is broad, generic, and implies that changing your habits is insanely hard. Period. End of sentence. Good luck and best wishes!

It’s no wonder there’s such a negative stigma around resolutions and habits!

Fortunately, I recently read a book that changes everything I thought I knew about habits. It sheds light on why habits typically fail, and it provides a clear road map for positive change.

The book is called Atomic Habits, written by James Clear, and if this is the first time you have heard about it, now is the time to take a closer look!

Change Your Habits Intuitively

Before discovering this book, I felt overwhelmed by the entire concept of habits. It was almost as if the accumulation of failed past attempts to change my habits made me think that future change was therefore improbable.

Despite these feelings, a small piece of me knew the untapped potential inside if I could unravel the habit puzzle.

And so, I picked up Atomic Habits, which changed everything I thought I knew about habits.

It completely dispels the myth that change has to be complicated. Instead, the book suggests that you can achieve actual long-term change if you start small and work with rather than against your current habits.

Throughout the book, Clear shares dramatic stories of how tiny changes transform lives. One pound lost leads to two, and eventually, over one hundred pounds are gone. Sports teams so terrible they have no chance of winning a game, much less a championship become the best in the league. Clear even writes about his recovery from a horrific accident and how his path to discovering better habits eventually led to a bestselling book.

These stories quickly establish Clear as an expert in the field. But it is his straightforward approach to the somewhat complex subject area that gives you hope that you (yes, you!) can make positive changes in your own life.

In short, Clear breaks the concept of habits down into such minuscule pieces that making considerable changes to your life is significantly less intimidating. He teaches you how to incorporate habits seamlessly into your life instead of haphazardly shoving them in wherever they happen to fit.

And that is honestly worth its weight in gold.

Better, Little by Little

I’m not sure about you, but I tend to get overwhelmed by the mere thought of change. I have perfectionist tendencies which often result in completely unrealistic expectations about my performance. My mind goes into overdrive and happily spins off into unimaginable tangents about why change will fail. Or it will conjure up images of the enormous sacrifice required for even the slightest habit change.

These tendencies mean that I don’t always move forward as quickly as I would like to habit change.

But Clear introduces a straightforward concept. It’s a concept that quickly dispels any attempts by my ever-helpful brain to complicate.

This concept is becoming 1% better every day. The theory behind it is that you don’t have to make colossal changes in a short amount of time. All you need is to be 1% better than you were yesterday. Eventually, those small gains add up, and after a while, you’re significantly better at whatever it is you’re trying to do.

Clear’s is perhaps the least intimidating approach to habit change I’ve ever come across. It’s also an ideal response to my perfectionist tendencies, leading me down the path of negativity and eventual failure when left unchecked.

It’s oddly comforting to think that massive change only requires improving by 1% every day. Not 50%. Or even 25%. But simply 1%. This concept makes transformation attainable and realistic.

You may also enjoy reading this post about perfectionism.

Consider Your Identity

Another concept I found extremely valuable in the book is the relationship between habits and identity. Your daily actions (your habits) work to either prove or disprove your identity.

And the way you think of yourself determines your habits to some extent. Habits and identity weave closely together.

This is a powerful concept that takes habit change from something you haphazardly force into your life at the start of a new year to simply who you are as a person.

Let me walk you through an example from my own life.

Piano Player vs. Pianist

I’ve played piano since the age of 7 and even went on to study music in college. Ultimately, my career took me down a completely different path, but my love for music remains.

A few years ago, I decided to improve my piano technique and repertoire, even if it wasn’t my career. I resolved to play more advanced piano repertoire. And the habit that would get me there? Effective daily piano practice.

And so, I tried to incorporate practice into my life daily. But I hit multiple roadblocks. Work. School. Sick kids. I would go months without even touching the instrument.

As time went on, I drifted further and further from my goals.

After months of frustration about my lack of progress, a question suddenly popped into my head straight out of nowhere. What are some easy ways I can incorporate this goal into my life?

I began looking for ways to do just that by listening to podcasts and reading blog posts. And I lowered my practice standards from 30 minutes daily to whatever amount of time I had.

Not only did I relax my standards to reach my goal more quickly, but I changed my entire identity.

I essentially began thinking of myself as a pianist instead of someone who just plays piano on the side.

And although I subconsciously reached this conclusion before Atomic Habits even came out, while reading the book, I immediately recognized the concept as one which has already yielded massive success in my own life.

The book gave language to a technique I had somehow stumbled upon in everyday life.

Powerful, isn’t it?

You may also enjoy reading this post about how to improve your piano practice.

Change Your Habits by Considering Your Identity

The primary reason why considering myself a pianist rather than someone who happens to play an instrument is so powerful is that it shifts the focus. Instead of focusing so much on making sure I hit my daily habit of practicing, I see myself as someone who enjoys piano practice.

The constant frustration of not meeting practice requirements is gone because I can’t wait to sit down and play daily. Piano practice is my creative outlet and satisfies my desire to think deeply while putting the day’s stress behind me.

The daily practice supports my identity as a pianist, reinforcing my desire to practice. Defining my identity gives me a frame of reference from which I can decide my habits that further support or oppose this identity.

The concept of redefining your identity is the type of stuff missing from other advice out there about changing your habits. And this is the powerful stuff that transforms your life!

It’s Your Turn

Until stumbling across this book, I truly felt that existing information on how to change your habits was vague, disheartening, and impossibly difficult to incorporate. Atomic Habits covers information that had previously been missing in my life, and I can guarantee you will also find value in the book!

It’s a step-by-step guide to re-imagining your identity and then living up to that identity. But not in an overwhelming way which makes you question whether the change is worth the effort.

Instead, the book gently guides you through small and straightforward transformations that support your own identity. It reinforces what you always knew deep down about habits but somehow never could bring forth.

And it’s the missing key to transforming your life.

I genuinely hope this post has inspired you to get out there and change your habits for the better! Make sure to grab your copy of the book here:

Don’t forget to comment below about habits and how you are incorporating this into your own life!

How to Achieve Flow State and Live a Happier Life

How to Achieve Flow State and Live a Happier Life

“Flow is being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

When was the last time you completely lost yourself in a project? I’m not talking about the stressful loss of self which happens when you’re up against an impossible deadline. (College flashbacks, anyone???)

I’m talking about losing yourself while doing something for the sake of the activity itself. Something that you enjoy doing so much that you completely lose track of time.

It’s almost as if you get sucked into an alternate world where all your stress and anxiety is suddenly swept away. And regardless of the activity, you quickly find that not only are your skills challenged to their utmost but that you actually enjoy the challenge because it’s so deeply meaningful to you.

Although there are several names for it such as being “in the zone,” what I’m describing is called “flow state” and the term itself was coined by Hungarian-American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

And Csikszentmihalyi first became intrigued with the concept after noticing how deeply absorbed artists became in their work. Decades later, the benefits of achieving a flow state are still at the forefront of positive psychology. The concepts central to flow are also key to a diverse range of fields.

Curious to learn more? Let’s dive into exactly what flow state is!

This post may contain affiliate links and as a member of the Amazon Affiliate program, this means we may receive a commission, at no extra cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link. Please see our full disclosure for further information.

What does being in flow state feel like?

In most cases, flow state occurs with some type of creative endeavor. It could be writing, painting, music, or even sports. Anything which completely absorbs your focus and challenges your abilities can trigger flow state.

I have personally been in a flow state while doing a number of different activities including piano practice, dressage, and writing. Proof that flow state truly can occur during a WIDE range of activities!

If you can relate to being multi-passionate, make sure you check out Why Having Multiple Interests is Your Greatest Strength.

In his TED talk (which you absolutely need to check out!), Csikszentmihalyi lists 7 different elements which describe how it feels to be in flow state.

  1. You become completely focused on the activity.
  2. A sense of ecstasy takes over and the reality of everyday life fades away.
  3. Inner clarity presents itself and you know exactly what needs to be done, when, and in what order.
  4. Your self-confidence dramatically increases because you know your skills are up to the task.
  5. Inner serenity replaces worry as your ego becomes less and less important.
  6. Time flies as flow state takes over.
  7. Pursuing the activity becomes the reward and you require no external motivation.

I don’t know about you but inner clarity, serenity, and self-confidence are all areas I’m constantly working to foster. And combining those areas with something I’m already passionate about?

What could possibly be better???

4 Stages of Flow

Although Csikszentmihalyi is considered the pioneer of flow state research, there have been others who have advanced his work. One such researcher is Steven Kotler, a journalist, author, and executive director of an entire research initiative dedicated to the topic.

Kotler is credited with coming up with the 4 stages of flow.

  1. The struggle phase involves overloading your brain with research, new skills, and any information related to whatever it is you’re trying to achieve. Hint: this phase often feels like the exact opposite of flow state.
  2. The relaxation phase is an incredibly important one in which the subconscious takes over problem solving. Doing something physical such as taking a walk is most effective way to shift from conscious to subconscious thinking. Skipping this step can result in burnout.
  3. Flow state and inspiration finally take over and you experience the 7 elements listed above.
  4. The final stage is consolidation and it involves transforming the experience to your subconscious. This stage, however, comes with a downside. Remember those feel good neurochemicals released during flow? During this stage, they leave. In an attempt to regain the flow state, a tendency for self-sabotage can often result.

A solid understanding of the 4 stages can not only help you understand flow state on a deeper level but also guide your experience by allowing you to gauge where you are at any given time.

It’s also crucial to remember how important relaxation is to achieving flow state. As is the reality that it does have to end at some point. Constantly pushing yourself to achieve flow can have a dark side and will lead to eventual burnout (or worse). But if you have a solid understanding of the process, you can take faith in knowing that all 4 stages are important to the overall experience and its benefits.

The Benefits of Flow State

“Contrary to what we usually believe … the best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times – although such experiences can also be enjoyable. If we have worked hard to attain them. The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

There are simply so many incredible benefits to incorporating flow state into your life. Your self-confidence climbs to new heights and your ability to enjoy your life on a much deeper level increases by incorporating activities which spark your passion.

Tapping into flow also improves your concentration and not only makes you more efficient but ultimately allows you to produce at a higher level than you would otherwise.

I personally LOVE activities which require all my brain power because it leaves me feeling as if I have reached my fullest potential. I’ve also found that my sleep quality improves dramatically because of the energy it took to attain flow and the peace it brings.

You may also find that your inner critic suddenly disappears because you focus so deeply on the activity that you have no brain power left for criticism. Instead of criticizing, you’re caught up in the moment of whatever it is you’re doing.

And ultimately, your happiness improves because of all the positive energy in your life.

Pretty incredible, isn’t it?

How do I achieve flow state?

Whether you already have familiarity with exactly what being in flow state feels like or have only just been introduced to the concept, let’s move on to the big question you’re probably asking yourself. “How do I put myself into this state so I can not only improve my productivity but also my overall happiness?”

Although there are several different ways to promote flow state, it requires a foundation of 3 elements. It’s also important to keep in mind that there are a huge range of activities which can inspire flow state. But not every activity lends itself well to those 3 elements.

The following 3 questions address each of the required elements. If the answer is “yes” to all of the below, you can move forward with confidence that the activity will indeed inspire flow!

  1. Does the activity have clear goals and a definitive way to gauge progress?
  2. Am I able to get some type of clear and immediate feedback about my performance?
  3. Is there a balance between my perception of how challenging this activity is and my perception of my own skills?

How do I know whether an activity is capable of triggering flow state?

As an example for how to evaluate an activity, let’s consider piano practice.

Piano practice checks the box for #1 above because there are so many different ways to gauge progress. Whether it’s learning the first few measures of a piece or finally memorizing an entire Beethoven sonata, clear and concrete goals are everywhere.

You can also check off #2 because there are several different ways to get immediate feedback on your performance. The first, and most accurate, is to record your practice session. This method allows you to completely focus on your practice in the moment and reserves critique for afterwards.

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The second method to get feedback is by taking lessons from someone. This is an incredibly valuable form of feedback because it’s objective and critiquing yourself will always have a bit of the subjective to it.

Looking for a piano teacher? Check out this post for How to Find the Right Piano Teacher for You. And if you’re ready to jump in, find a list of online piano teacher accepting new students here.

The third is by listening to your playing in the moment. This method is somewhat more difficult because multitasking on playing and critiquing makes both slightly less effective. But it is, nonetheless, a way to receive immediate feedback.

Box #3 is also easily checked off because there is an incredibly diverse range of repertoire out there. Whether you are just beginning to play or have played for years, you can find something right at your level. And you can also continually challenge yourself by choosing tougher and tougher repertoire.

Now that you have a solid understanding of the benefits, stages, and the basics on achieving the flow state, let’s move on to how you can better incorporate it into your life!

Find the Balance

In his TED talk, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is very clear about the balance between challenge and skill level. To achieve flow state, challenge and skill levels must be high.

In other words, if there is a mismatch between challenge and skill, flow state is unattainable.

As an example, when a task is highly challenging and your skill level is low, you will feel anxious and worried. But when the challenge and your skill level are both low, you are likely to feel apathetic.

Neither are particularly desirable states.

You therefore must focus on finding the balance between challenge and your individual skill level.

Pay Attention to Your Internal Clock

The reality is that we all have times of the day when we are at our creative best. Everyone has a slightly different clock but typically, everyone functions better when all physical needs have been met. This means adequate sleep, hydration, and regular exercise.

Taking care of your physical needs translates into more favorable mental and emotional states. Pay attention to when you feel most positive and are able to focus on a deeper level.

You probably don’t have to think too hard to figure out what this time of day is for you. For me personally, my most productive time is always in the morning. I have found that as the day drags on, my creative and emotional energy drains essentially to zero by evening.

Achieving flow state when your energy is drained is significantly more difficult than when you are in the zone. It’s usually much easier to give in to distraction and your brain has a more difficult time thinking creatively.

Eliminate Distractions

It is ironic that I write this post amidst my 3 kids and husband, all vying for my attention. This is not particularly conducive to achieving flow due to the continual interruptions. Although I can’t always change the situation, I have learned to adapt.

I do this by listening to the same Pandora channel every time I sit down to write. Doing this signals my brain that it’s time to focus on the task at hand.

I have also found that in order to achieve flow state, it’s essential that the music is strictly instrumental rather than anything with sung lyrics. And as I am a classical pianist, the music has to be orchestral and no solo piano otherwise my mind wanders to analysis of the piece and pianist performance.

The music must set the stage for creativity rather than become the star performer of the play. You may find that listening to solo piano is right up your alley. Or maybe pop gets you into flow state more easily than any other genre.

Find what works best for you and do you!

Set a Goal

Ideally this should be a small and very actionable goal. When you sit down to work, it should be something that you’re very clear on. Such a goal might be something like “write the introduction of my blog post” instead of “work on content.”

Setting a small, clear goal enables you to focus on the task at hand instead of peripheral tasks which may focus your attention elsewhere.

Look for the goals which truly move the needle forward in whatever it is you’re trying to accomplish.

And remember that focusing on the journey itself rather than the destination is always key to establishing the type of habits which result in huge breakthroughs and ultimately, goal attainment.

Final Thoughts

Whatever it is that lights you up inside, I truly hope you have found insight to not only take it to the next level but to improve your overall happiness.

If the concept of flow is intriguing, make sure you check out Csikszentmihalyi’s book.

Or the writings of Steven Kotler.

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And if you’re interested in a musician’s perspective, don’t miss out on this one.

Until next time, I hope you pursue your passions and truly live a life you love!