Flow state is the highly immersive and focused state of mind that occurs when the challenge of an activity meets the skill level of a user. This results in the person ‘being in the zone’ with their chosen activity. Popularized by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in 1975, flow state is found in a variety of activities, such as: sports, writing, painting, and gaming.
In regards to sports and gaming, athletes reach the pinnacle of their performance in this state of mind. With that being said, it is possible to increase your athletic or gaming skill with the flow state. Being able to reach flow state does not always come easy, however, as there is a variety of criteria that needs to be met for it to occur.
How Flow State Happens
Shown below is an Experience Fluctuation Model, which represents a variety of skill-to-challenge ratios, and where it will lead you mentally. As shown on the graph, if you are highly skilled, but the challenge at hand is very easy, you will become apathetic, or indifferent. The inverse of that will result in you being very anxious, as you don’t believe you have the skill to complete the task.
The very idea of believing in yourself also plays a major role in achieving flow state. Confidence is a critical part of any performance– especially in gaming. It is necessary that you practice and prepare in your chosen game everyday to boost not only skill, but confidence in your ability.
Flow state is a very positive and beneficial state of mind. In-game, it will rapidly increase overall performance, awareness, and confidence in your ability. In addition to in-game improvements, you will find a more peaceful and grounded mindset in the real world. Due to techniques used to help increase consistency of flow state, you will most likely establish a routine, as well as tending to your responsibilities on time. Additionally, a focused mind is a happy mind, so constantly focusing on the task at hand will definitely result in increased happiness.
How To Enter Flow State
Entering the flow state is hard, but entering the flow state consistently is even harder. With that being said, it isn’t completely impossible. The following are three main points to help you enter the flow state:
1. Take Care of Obligations and Set a Routine
In my experience, completing real-world responsibilities or duties before gaming heavily impacted my ability to entirely focus on the task at hand. Essentially getting rid of any possible distractions will make it a lot easier to focus, since there won’t be much else to focus on. It is extremely helpful to set a routine for these daily tasks to aid in creating consistency in real-life, which will eventually translate into consistency in-game.
2. A Passion for Improvement
Having a fixed and powerful determination to improve your craft is also very important. This is for obvious reasons, however it is very important that you love the game and strive for better performance every time you play. This intense passion will make it far easier to focus and become engrossed in that world.
3. Drop the Ego
As previously mentioned. Trust and confidence in yourself is a major factor that plays into achieving flow state. Worrying about the results or how others think of you are huge barriers to the flow state. Even out of game, ego poses huge problems to daily life and mental health. Through hard-work and practice, self-doubt and negative thoughts will dwindle away as confidence grows. With that being said, do not use comparison of other players as a means to confidence, as it will be short-lived. It is vital to organically develop confidence through your own means, not through others.
In esports, most of the insane clutches pulled off are a result of the flow state. This is because the intense pressure-filled environment of a “last man standing” situation forces the player to focus. The distractions from teammates are gone and all you are able to do is focus on your play alone. Being in a clutch scenario isn’t so uncommon, which is why you see many professional players that are feared when put into these seemingly repetitive 1vX scenarios (examples would be Xyp9x and shox in CS:GO). These players are proof that through practice and confidence, you can reach heightened levels of focus consistently in-game.
There are always downsides, however, since a player can frequently get lost in their game and play for hours on end under this ‘trance’. It is common for athletes and gamers to lose their perception of time in a flow state, and can result in unhealthy eating, drinking, and sleeping habits.
Training at a top level and having to consistently be at a peak-level of focus is obviously demanding and tiring for the top 1% of athletes and professional gamers alike. Having to focus and work as hard as you can everyday will definitely induce an imminent burnout among players. This explains why there are so many coaching and mental health staff incorporated into every single team and organization for the players. Having even the slightest mental health decline could be the difference between a win and a loss in the pro gaming scene, and it is critical you are consistently on the top of your game, in all aspects.
It is without question that a lot of effort will need to be present for flow state to happen. You need discipline with practice, routines, and a healthy lifestyle for it to be a common occurrence in your gameplay. You also need to trust yourself and believe you can win, as it is a critical trait in athletes who have intense focus. Focusing all of your energy and effort into your current match will be the main path to the flow state and high achievement in gaming.