The Benefits of Flow and How to Find It for Yourself

Career Development

If there was one thing I wish I could do on command, it would be to find my flow. It’s my happy place, where I feel most like myself. Life with ADHD means I can count on my train of thought abandoning me at any moment, but when I’m in my flow, I feel superhuman. Or, maybe, I’m feeling just a taste of what “normal” feels like for an extended period of time, where finding the words or solution comes without added stress, tension, or obstacle. 

I rely on flow to accomplish a lot of the things in my life. My college degree wouldn’t have come to fruition without it. Wit & Delight would have never come to be. This is why finding a profession that you enjoy can be so helpful to many of us who have ADHD or other forms of neurodiversity. We have to hack the system. We have to figure out ways to get good at finding our flow and following it. 

So I naturally perked up when I read a study on flow, mindfulness, and the negative consequences of life in quarantine. It concluded that flow may be more beneficial to our well-being than mindfulness during periods of quarantine. Simply put, all of us need a little break, a little respite, a place to escape where life feels normal and things come a little easier with a little less worry and angst. Whether you have a history with ADHD or not, I think just about every person needs that right now. 

Today I’m sharing a few of the things that have helped me find flow and work with my brain rather than against it.

What exactly is flow? 


I’m going to let the experts explain with this analogy from Psychology Today:

“IMAGINE THAT YOU ARE SKIING DOWN A SLOPE and your full attention is focused on the movements of your body, the position of the skis, the air whistling past your face, and the snow-shrouded trees running by. There is no room in your awareness for conflicts or contradictions; you know that a distracting thought or emotion might get you buried face down in the snow. The run is so perfect that you want it to last forever.”

In short, flow is a highly productive and stimulating state of mind that is so sustainable it can sometimes lead you to coast through whatever you’re doing for hours with little effort. 

In short, flow is a highly productive and stimulating state of mind that is so sustainable it can sometimes lead you to coast through whatever you’re doing for hours with little effort. 

If you’re a writer, flow is the sensation you feel when the words can’t escape from your fingertips fast enough. If you’re a designer, flow is a space where the ideas and refinements keep on coming to you. 

It is the opposite of stuck. And it feels…amazing. 

The benefits of finding flow


As it turns out, flow feels good for a reason.

When we fall into the trance of flow, nothing is competing for our attention. We’re not thinking about the friends we haven’t seen in a year, the trip we had to cancel, or the unexpected expense we incurred. It is a moment of reprieve that transports us to a place where the words come easily with little effort. It feels like we’re the best versions of ourselves, with no outside noises to distract us. 

If you have ADHD, this experience can feel like magic. Flow benefits everyone but for someone with neurodiversity, it can help you view your differences as a strength you can harness rather than a weakness that’s holding you back.

These days especially, when we’re stuck in a hamster wheel of minutiae, it can feel like a relieving escape to get fully lost in any one activity. And figuring out how you personally can find flow most easily can help you when you’re having difficulty producing or when you’re feeling stuck on a particular task.

What I do to find a sense of flow


In design school, I used to be able to work for eight hours straight, enveloped in the activity at hand. Now that I have a business, kids, and more to manage in general, there are more transition times throughout my day (and, as a result, more opportunities for distraction). Knowing that I only have a limited time to find flow when jumping from one project to the next can make it difficult. That’s partially why I like to stay up late on occasion—the lack of distractions and time limits feels freeing. 

Finding flow doesn’t always follow our optimal schedules, but that doesn’t mean we can’t harness the practice of flow without sacrificing sleep. 

If you’re someone who has limited time to dedicate to your flow practice, it could help to know exactly what things will make it easier for you to jump into your work. I’d encourage you to do some personal reflection on this topic, asking yourself what circumstances were in place the last time you felt a sense of deep flow and what you can do to replicate those circumstances in the future.

It could help to know exactly what things will make it easier for you to jump into your work. I’d encourage you to do some personal reflection on this topic, asking yourself what circumstances were in place the last time you felt a sense of deep flow and what you can do to replicate those circumstances in the future.

I personally find that having a dedicated workspace helps my brain function optimally (even if it’s a corner of a room rather than an entirely separate space!). I also plan my flow times by choosing deep work tasks that build in twenty minutes of noodling time to help me get settled and ready to work.

Timers are also wonderful for finding flow. Sometimes it takes five minutes of hard work to get into the state of flow, so I like to set a timer and tell myself I only have to try really hard for a couple of minutes. Almost ALWAYS I’m surprised to hear the timer go off because I’ve pushed past the discomfort and found that flow feeling. 

It also helps to know what activities make it most easy to find your flow. Here are some of my no-fail flow activities: 

  • Designing anything—furniture, logos, infographics, and moving pixels (nerd alert) all do it for me 
  • Making floor plans
  • Creating strategy documents (NERD NERD NERD)
  • Organizing any closet other than my own
  • Reading books by Nora Ephron, Sally Rooney, or Ann Patchett 
  • Playing Animal Crossing
  • Designing my house in Animal Crossing
  • Playing with Magna-Tiles with my kids (or alone) 
  • Painting
  • Doodling
  • Coloring
  • A long and indulgent skin-care routine

You may notice that, for you, there are activities that do not belong on that list. And that’s OK. Sometimes a particular activity can feel good, but there are also certain tasks that are just prone to being hard (for me, one such task is writing). Along with knowing what activities are most likely to bring you a sense of flow, it can also help to know what things don’t usually feel good; what things feel heavy; what might take more energy, more planning, and a little more care afterward. 

And with that, I’m off to bed with a pat on the back for finishing something that doesn’t always feel good. And that’s OK. We can’t always be in flow. It makes what we love to lose ourselves in that much more precious. 

If you need a little more help finding your flow, check out the ideas in this article

Tell me, what’s been helpful for you to find a sense of flow?

BY Kate Arends - February 18, 2021

4 Comments
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Rachel Rue
February 18, 2021 11:53 pm

Great piece! The new Disney movie “Soul” dives into this a lot. And you will shed some tears. And your kids will like it too.

PJ
February 20, 2021 10:57 am

I LOVE the feeling of finding my flow. You have described it perfectly. Painting, designing lectures and teaching modules, doing puzzles, writing, animal crossing – all take me to that heavenly place. However my current challenge is that I am experiencing post concussion syndrome (it’s been 2 years) and engaging my brain for more than 30 minutes taxes it, causing headaches and dizziness. Such a quandary – wanting my flow “fix” yet needing to stop every 30 minutes to rest my brain. It is almost like an addiction that I have been prevented from indulging in. Hoping to get there… Read more »

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