Did you know that there’s a state of mind where you learn things much faster. Maybe up to five times faster.
And it’s more enjoyable as well.
That’s what happens when you get into the flow state. When you’re in the zone.
Just imagine what it would be like if you got into that space in every practice session.
Here are some simple tips that will help you get into the zone more often when you practice. If you apply them consistently you will see much faster progress with your music.
When you’re in the zone…
You’re probably already familiar with how it feels to play music in the flow state.
You get in that space where time doesn’t seem to matter.
Either everything just disappears so fast in a pleasurable rush. Or you just feel like you have all the time in the world to do what you want to do. To hit the notes that you need to hit.
And you do.
You hit those notes effortlessly.
There is little or no physical effort required.
And you’re there with complete confidence that you’re going to play what you want to play.
And if you haven’t felt that way in music, then chances are that you’ve found it occasionally in some other activity.
Being in flow – being in the zone – is not just a really pleasurable feeling. It’s also a really productive state.
So it’s worth taking a bit of time to understand a bit more about it. And making sure you give yourself the best chance of getting into it in practice more frequently.
There are a couple of aspects of flow in particular that you need to be aware of.
The challenge/skills balance
You want to make sure that whatever challenge you set yourself is at the right level of difficulty for your skills.
If it’s too easy, then you’ll just lose interest.
But if it’s so hard that you can’t do it at all, then you won’t get anywhere.
So it wants to be pretty much bang in the middle of challenge and skills.
Interestingly enough, though, not exactly in the middle.
Research suggests that the ideal level of challenge is where it’s slightly more than your skills are capable of.
So, when you practice, you want to be setting things that are a tiny bit beyond your reach.
Maybe you can make it with a bit of struggle. but it’s not easy.
Goals and feedback
The next two things usually go together.
Flow tends to happen when you’ve got clear goals.
And when you’re getting feedback in the moment.
So this means you’re not just generally practicing something that’s a bit vague.
You’re working towards a clear and specific goal.
And, once you’ve set that goal, this is where the feedback comes from.
Knowing how you’re playing – how everything is going – immediately tells you whether you’re reaching that goal or not.
And, if not, you see where are the areas that you’re falling short are.
Accept the result
There’s one other really important thing that you need to understand about flow right now.
[There’s a whole lot more detail too. But that’s for another time…]
Flow is a state of acceptance, not a state of struggle.
So if you’re struggling really hard to achieve flow at all costs, it’s simply not going to happen.
You’re much better off setting the stage as best you can. Putting the conditions that are most likely to get you there in place.
But then you just accept what happens.
Whether you achieve the flow state this time or not.
That gives you your best chance of getting into flow.
Practical steps for flow
So what should you actually do to get into the zone more often in your practice?
Step one is to make sure you’ve got clear goals and feedback in place before you start.
Decide in advance what they’re going to be.
And check that they provide an acceptable challenge skills balance for you.
Step two is about the feeling of being in flow.
Because flow itself is a state.
It promotes better outcomes for you. But it itself is not those outcomes.
So really, what you’re looking to achieve is the feeling of being in flow.
Recall a time when you were in flow playing or practicing music.
Remember how that felt, and then set an intention to feel that way again, in your upcoming practice.
Once you’ve done that, just let it go and start to practice.
And if you really want to make sure that this sticks as a regular part of your practice routine, then here is a really simple way to make it happen.
Just write a simple checklist for yourself
You only need one tiny bit of paper that you can stick on your music stand. Or wherever works for you.
And literally write just two things on that paper:
- Remember flow
So that each time you start practice you’re reminded to do a quick check:
- Have I set goals?
- Am I remembering a time when I was in flow?
After that, you’re good to go.
Remember how much more productive you can be in flow.
I really think it’s worth taking the tiny little bit of time and effort required to maximize your chances of getting into flow when you practice by using this checklist.
But then also do remember to accept whatever the result is.
It’s not worth struggling.
Some days it will happen better than others.
But, if you’re in that place of mind where you’re willing to accept whatever the outcome is, that’s when you give yourself the best chance of getting into flow.
I’d love to hear your experiences of flow in practice or performance. Tell me about them in the comments below.