As a little kid, I used to be a member of a library near my house. Back then, I would read one book a day, every day. These were comic books, so it only took me about two hours at the most to read a book cover to cover. But it was never a struggle to get through one. If not for other commitments like going out and playing with other kids that stayed near my house, I would have happily read two books a day, and this is on school days.
A few years later, I switched over from comic books to all text novels, and my first ever novel was Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. Which was also a book that I finished in a day. In fact, I don't think I took more than three or four days to read any of the Harry Potter books, or the other novels that I read at that time.
But nowadays, I struggle to sit through and focus on reading a book for more than an hour. And it is not because I don't enjoy the books I read now as much as I enjoyed reading the Harry Potter series.
This is a strange feeling to me. I have been reading twenty to twenty five books a year for as long as I remember now and yet, I don't see myself reading a book cover to cover in one sitting. Even when I write, I end up writing a thousand to a thousand five hundred words at a time before I start feeling the urge to stop and do something else, or before I stop generating meaningful sentences to keep the flow of the narrative going.
The only time I do not feel that way and feel like I can just keep on going (mentally if not physically) is when I play football. And when I try to look at what the difference is between playing football and anything else that I do, I noticed that I am never used to checking my phone while I play. In all other aspects of my life, over time, I have built up a habit of checking my phone and allowing myself to be interrupted by notifications and the temptations to check if there is something new (be it on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter or Email).
A while ago, I turned off all notifications on my phone. But the interruptions were in my head, and the notifications on the phone was only a manifestation. Once I turned off the notifications, I still kept going back at regular intervals on my own to see if I had received anything new.
This is what is creating the artificial bound on my flow state at one hour or a thousand words. And this artificial bound never exists when I play football because that aspect of my life was never interrupted by notifications. My brain never realised that it was a possibility to check my phone when I'm playing football and lets it be during that time.
So, right now, that is the highest state of flow that I achieve, when my mind is completely focused on the game I'm playing and what's happening around me, and I'm constantly thinking of where I should move, who I should make a pass to and where the opponent with the ball might move next. I think of nothing else.
This isn't a problem that I alone face. It is true with many many people that I know and many many people that I don't know. Only some acknowledge it and try to deal with it. Different people try different ways to get into flow. Some lock away their electronic gadgets, some meditate at the start of the day, and some others quit email and social media altogether or go on a temporary hiatus.
And each of these techniques will probably work. But the chances of any of them working are much higher when there is an awareness of what the highest level of flow is.
For me, I ask myself, am I feeling the same way as I do when I'm playing a game of football? And if not, there is a higher state of flow that I can get to.
Why would you want to get to a state of flow at all? You can read one book a day. Write a book every month. Work three hours a day instead of eight. And all of this with a higher quality output than you normally produce. Remember what you have read for longer (I can still quote dialogues from the Harry Potter series when I can't even remember if I have read some other books). Leave little to be edited in what you write. Get work done that much quicker. You get the idea.
So, do you check your smartphone while playing football?