Mark Koester

Personal Blog. A Data-Driven Life. Minding the Interstitial Spaces since 2007.

Tracking Flow: Guide to Quantifying Momentary Mental States

Flow is a key mental state we experience when we become engrossed in an enjoyable challenge or activity. An athlete might feel flow in a competition or surmounting some obstacle, like climbing a mountain. A writer or painter might get into flow when working on a new creative project, like devising how to resolve a plot twist. A learner might feel flow trying to master a new topic or perform a new skill, like playing the guitar.

According to one of the chief researchers of flow, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, flow results from deploying our peak skills in near peak challenges. When the challenge is too easy, we are bored, and when it is too hard, we panic and freak out, but when the challenge is just the right balance of pulling at our skills, we can be triggered into a state of energized focus and peak performance called “the zone” or flow.

Flow matters for anyone pushing at their limits but is especially for creatives, since flow offers an optimal state where we are positioned to do and create our best work. A deeper dive into the science of flow has revealed a number of benefits to flow not the least of which is that it makes us feel happier.

I’ve personally been interested in flow for a number of years. I originally framed flow within the context of productivity, time management and getting things done where it operated alongside other “deep work” practices, like eliminating distractions, scheduling uninterrupted blocks of work time, and weekly reviews. Even though I didn’t have a name for it, various changes in my life and time management had enabled me to create more flow in my life without realizing it. Flow came to dovetail nicely with time tracking and my effort to maintain a strong creative and professional output while decreasing my actual “work” time.

The short of it was that I had learned that, regardless of the project, flow was the optimal state for learning, creating, and working in my life. The more flow I had, the more often I was dealing with key challenges, projects, and goals and pushing myself to solve them. The more flow I had the more creative and productive I ultimately was.

Unfortunately, as a long-time self-tracker of everything, a key question remained:

How to track flow?

For all of the excitement I’ve found around flow, tracking it is hard. Unlike sleep, heart rate or movement which I can measure with a wearable like an Apple Watch or time spent on the computer or phone, flow can’t be tracked in a purely objective way yet.

Flow is largely subjective. It occurs in our brains and thus it is difficult to find an easy method of measuring it. Much like my previous experiments with mood tracking, since flow is something we feel and experience, in order to track flow, we need to manually record and log it.

In this post, I want to look at how to track flow and other subjective mental states.

Personally, I believe a life lived with and for flow is worth living. Let’s get started looking at flow and how to track it!


NOTE: This post is the second part of two part series on flow. See Part 1 on the science of flow.

BRIEF: What is Flow?

In the Science of Flow: Nature’s Peak Performance Enhancer, we took a deep dive into what is flow and its various features and markers.

Flow can be defined in two ways:

  1. On an operational level, flow occurs when situations challenge us as the appropriate limit of our skills. So, we might define flow as situations that properly challenge our skill level. This definition has helped to identify flow triggers and situations that induce flow, like mountain climbing, coding, painting, gymnastics, writing, etc.
  2. On an experiential level, flow is something we feel. Flow is characterized subjectively as an optimal and even happy state of energized focus and hypervigilance. In this case it is sometimes referred to as being in the “zone.”

Brain research into flow is still limited, but a number of studies provide some early clues on what flow does to our brains. For example, a neurochemical cocktail is activated in flow that enlivens our focus (norepinephrine), increases our mood, senses and pattern recognition (dopamine) and decreases fear and augments lateral thinking (anandamide).

From the perspective of brain scans of jazz improvisation, meditation and other flow-heavy tasks, flow changes our normal way of thinking and operating to what is now referred to as transcient hypofrontality. This refers to a series of remarkable changes in the frontal cortex of the brain.

Flow has a number of benefits. Flow has been known to

  • Increase focus
  • Aid in peak performance
  • Energize
  • Augment our learning and skill-building
  • Make us happier
  • Improve creativity and problem solving

When properly utilized, the mental state of flow and situations that induce flow help us be better humans. Flow ultimately brings us more focused energy. For learners, flow helps us learn more effectively. For creatives, flow can empower us to solve the stickiest of problems and approach obstacles in new ways. And for anyone struggling with distractions and getting things done, flow might a superpower you need to become more productive too!

So, now that we know what is flow, how might we track it?

Science of Measuring Momentary States

Young or old, rich or poor, American, Asian, or European, people prefer to do almost anything more when they are with others than when they are alone…the presence of people helps to structure consciousness. But it is more than that: as social animals, we are attracted to other humans more than to most other stimuli in the environment. In their company we tend to feel more alive than when we are alone. (Hektner, 2007)

Along with being one of the most important researchers on flow, Csikszentmihalyi introduced and developed a new methodology for studying human lives in the moment called “Experience Sampling.” Instead of retrospective diaries that ask you to recall what you did or felt in a previous day or week, his approach was to do check-in’s at the actual moment of that activity.

Csikszentmihalyi’s belief was that retrospective surveys introduce biases and skew results to the mean, meaning we under-report peaks and lows giving us merely the averages. While a professor at University of Chicago and later Claremont Graduate University, he and his team demonstrated this new method by using specialized timers that allowed for semi-random beeps to notify people to collect their activities, mental states and thoughts on their activities. This enabled them to collect how people are actually experiencing those activities in the context in which they happened.

In short, Experience Sampling Method (ESM), sometimes called ecological momentary assessment (EMA), aims at capturing life data as it happens. It removes cognitive biases in our retrospective memory and provides additional contextual data for unpacking our mental states and activities we are doing during them.

Csikszentmihalyi and fellow researchers have used EMS to study experience in a range of scenarios:

(1) the psychology of adolescence, especially in educational settings; (2) the experience of work, work stress, and work satisfaction; (3) family dynamics and marital satisfaction; (4) the experience of psychopathology (e.g., eating disorders, depression, substance abuse); (5) the experience of media, especially television viewing; (6) cross-cultural comparisons of time use and quality of experience; (7) gender differences in activities and in the quality of experience; (8) solitude, friendship, and affiliation; (9) the optimal experience of flow (Hektner, 2007)

The team did important work on how we spend our time, including showing our moods and even how much time people spend watching TV. They showed that people get great pleasure and enjoyment watching TV, even if it doesn’t induce flow or heightened life satisfaction. They also showed that, in spite of a 40-hour work week, most only actually work around 27 hours per week. In and out of work context, most people spend 14-15 hour per week is socializing and eating.

In a series of studies on gender differences, experience sampling research also have revealed important gender biases particularly in the domestic chores done by women rather than men. For example, while men are increasingly involved in domestic activities, they still spend much less time than women on these chores. ESM has

Amongst many of the interesting insights they’ve found, two big discoveries stand out to me from ESM research.

First, by researching work and learning contexts as well as extreme sports and artists, researchers have found there is strong correlation between activities that induce flow and happiness. Basically by studying subjective states in the moment, they found that challenging and skill-demanding activities are most likely to make us happy. A life with more flow is a happier life.

One of the earliest puzzles that ESM results presented had to do with people’s experiences on the job. On the one hand, workers—including service workers and those on the assembly line—reported some of their best experiences at work. Generally they felt more alert, skilled, and creative at work than they felt in free time at home. They also reported to be in the high-challenge, high skills “flow condition” when working on the job. At the same time, when paged at work they typically said they would have liked to do something else, whereas at home they had no desire to do something else, even when they felt passive and bored (Hektner, 2007)

Second, while it was long-thought that our minds were generally task-oriented, ESM showed that much of our subjective mental state is in mind wandering. Mind wandering has been described as the shift in attention from task-related to task-unrelated thoughts. In fact, the default mode of our brain operation is now believed to be a stimulus-independent thought or mind wandering. Basically, much of what our brain and consciousness does is wander.

The cumulative evidence from ESM studies suggests that almost the opposite is the case. When left to itself, the mind turns to bad thoughts, trivial plans, sad memories, and worries about the future. Entropy—disorder, confusion, decay—is the default option of consciousness. (Hektner, 2007)

A deep dive into experience sampling method is beyond this post. If you want to dig deeper, I recommend checking out the wonderful book, Experience Sampling Method by Hektner, Schmidt, Csikszentmihalyi, which does a fantastic job summarizing the method and analysis. It shares many lessons learned by looking at people’s lives in the moment.

For our purposes around tracking flow, I’m going to focus on ESM Data Collection Forms (ESFs), which were developed and standardized across multiple studies to collect what we are doing and feeling in the moment. You can look at two sample forms here.

How Track Flow (or any other subjective mental state)

Challenges to Tracking Flow

There are a number of challenges to tracking flow. While I’d like to track flow objectively, externally and passively, several challenges and problems arise. Let’s look at a few of them.

As we saw in the last section, a good deal of research in flow involves neurology. In flow, certain regions of the brain are more active, and certain neurotransmitter levels are heightening. These markers are used to as indicators and possible neurological correlates into what happens in the brain during our experience of flow. EEG brainwave monitors might be one route towards a brain-based flow tracker. One day you might put on one of these devices, and it monitors various brainwave patterns, identifying your mental states during your work. This would enable us to ideally passively track it. It might even use neurofeedback and other technology to enduce certain cognitive states. Unfortunately, as of right now, I don’t know of a single wearable you can use to track flow neurologically. Similarly there isn’t any way to track our neurochemistry either.

One alternative approach to looking into our brains and identifying flow there might be to look at our output and what we are doing. For example, we might track flow in some capacity by looking at how we spend our time and what tasks we completed. This is partially how Csikszentmihalyi did much of the early research into flow by tracking what people were doing. I currently track my time and tasks, so this could be a good way to at least track my deep work and maybe even could be considered a proxy metric for flow too. One requirement of flow is focused engagement and concentration. So blocks of time in a single application on a single task might be a good starting point for tracking the indicators of flow.

Thinking about my own work experience, I’m not always sure if my time allotment and the types of tasks I do would be a wholly accurate way to find flow. Some days I might be “in flow” and doing lots of hard tasks over long expanses of time, but other days I might not feel like I’m in a subjective state of flow but still accomplish a lot. I write, research, code, and advance on projects nearly daily now, regardless of whether the “muse” is there calling or not.

Could my time logs, tasks completed and calender reveal a pattern of flow or would it just show that I was occupied and busy? It is a fascinating question that definitely merits more data analysis and I have the data to do it, but for now I’m skeptical that this is enough to track flow. Instead, I think we need follow how much of the original research into flow was done and use subjective logging to track our flow.

3 Aspects to Tracking Flow Subjectively

Since flow is something we personally and subjectively experience and feel, it is difficult to track without a degree of manual tracking. To track flow, we have to note when we are in flow.

Similarly if we want to better understand what induces flow for us, including the time of day, context, which activities, etc., we need to record various contextual data points. Fortunately, scientists using experience sampling method (ESM) offer us a solid roadmap for tracking flow or any other subjective mental state.

Assuming you don’t want to use a diary method, then in order to track your subjective states, you need the following three pieces:

  • Semi-random notification method: We need to be reminded at certain intervals to collect data.
  • Data collection method: We need a way to record our data on our activities, context and mental state.
  • Data collection questions: Questions that let us know about how we are feeling, thinking and doing a certain point in time.

Traditionally, these have been done using a special watch that would send out notifications and a paper notebook to record your data. Researchers then transcribed and coded the responses for analysis. Nowadays computer and phone apps can bring this all together enabling you to get notified at regular intervals. There are even a few dedicated ESM research apps.

Before looking at the tech and apps, let’s look at the heart of this approach, our questions.

Core of ESM Questions

When I first started to track flow, I simply logged if I was in flow or not. I’d be pinged 5-7 times a day and state if I was feeling flow or not. While this one-question approach did work, it only told me about how often I was experiencing flow and didn’t provide much information on the relationship between flow and other factors, like the activity I was doing, location or even how energized I felt. In order to empower certain lifestyle design choices, I needed a more robust data collection method, which led me to ESM.

Looking at sample forms, we see that ESM method provides questions to record the following in-moment data:

  • What time is it?
  • Where are you?
  • What are you thinking about?
  • What is the main thing you are doing?
  • How do feel about that activity? Is it enjoyable? Are you skilled at it? Are you learning anything? Etc.
  • What mood are you in? Happy? Passive? Worried? Weak? Excited? Lonely? Angry? Etc.
  • Who are you with?

While not all questions can be so clearly delinated, since many are about a relation between you and something, I find that at its core ESM is asking us to collect information on:

  • Context (when, where and with who)
  • Main activity (what are you doing?)
  • Your relation to that activity in the moment and in general (i.e. enjoyable? skill-demanding?)
  • Your mental state at the moment (mood, motivation, energy, level)

My Subjective Check-in Questions

Based on ESM, in order to track the mental state of flow throughout a day as we enage in different activities, our flow tracker questions should capture the context, the activity, our mental state and our relation to the activity we are doing.

Here are my questions:

  • What was the main thing you were doing?
  • Category of Main Activity
  • What else where you doing? (Optional)
  • Where are you?

These questions I recommend for all flow trackers.

Additionally if you work in a shared office or do lots of collaborative work, then it would be good to include a question on who you are with. Since I work alone most of the time and my logging is focused on computer usage, I removed the questions related to who I was with.

Looking at my mental state in the moment, I use a linear or likert scale of 1 to 5 to measure my subjective state using these questions:

  • Flow-y
  • Energy Level
  • Mood (Sad to Happy)
  • Motivation

These questions aim to succiciently capture how I’m feeling with a focus on flow and energy level (which appear to be related in my experience). Unlike traditional ESM forms, I don’t have use nearly as many questions for my mood tracking. In view of my previous difficulties with tracking mood, I’m ok with keeping mood tracking to merely valence (positive or negative mood).

About my main activity, I note:

  • Enjoyable: Did you enjoy the activity you were doing?
  • Challenging: How challenging was the activity? (SKIP if Irrelevant)
  • Skill-Demanding: How skilled are you at doing that activity (SKIP if Irrelevant)?
  • Was the activity important to you?
  • Goal-Oriented: How important was activity to your future goals? i.e. does it impact your long-term objective?
  • Learning/Improving: Were you learning anything or getting better at something?

I largely preserved the original ESM questions around my relation to what I’m doing. I believe there is value in capture details about the activity itself and my engagement to better understand how I might best work.

Overall, my flow and subjective state tracker includes 14 core questions and two optional bonus questions. While not in the original ESM form, I added a section for open comments as well as one for adverse effects, which is where I might note a headache, brain fog or some other sickness. Adverse effects is something used in supplement and drug studies. Neither question I answer regularly. In the end, I reduced and refined many of the questions in ESM sample forms, in order to shorten logging time. Now to actually log my subjective state takes me less than a minute.

I am not entirely sure of the value of all these questions, but I do feel they capture a range of information that is useful in understanding the activities I do work on and the mental state I bring to those activities. Along with my time tracking, calendar and tasks completed, they provide good background data on understanding the effects of exercise, food, nootropics and beyond.

If my ultimate goal as a productive creative is enagement and flow, then I need to see how often I am actually in a state of energized and motivated deep work. This form of tracking helps me to do that.

Putting It All Together: A Quantified Self Approach for Tracking Flow

As a long-time and dedicated self-tracker and quantified self enthusiast, I must admit that tracking my flow dovetailed from my previous efforts at mood tracking and more recent experiments with biohacking and the effects of meditation and even nootropics. Essentially I realized that flow is a target mental state I should strive for in order to be more productive, to learn better, and to produce high quality creative outputs. Flow matter to me, so it made sense to try and track flow too.

As of right now, the best and arguablly only way to track flow is manually. Since flow like any mental state is largely subjective, it is an experience I myself have. Accordingly, tracking flow requires my conscious awareness and recognition of it. No one else can track it for me.

Over the years I’ve done a number of self-tracking experiments that require manual tracking, including mood tracking, how often I poop and Heart Rate Variability. It is always preferrable to track passively, but in this case it is unavoidable.

Fortunately there are a number of simple and reliable ways to log the data we need.

Our principal needs are:

  1. A way to get notified to do the data collection, and
  2. A way to collect the data

DIY Tracking Flow from a Computer: Flexible Subjective State Tracking with Google Forms

While mostly a generic survey tool, Google Forms is also good fit for tracking flow and other subjective states.

Forms is Google’s free tool for creating and collecting survey data. There are dozens of apps and website that will let you do something similar, but Google makes it easy and allows a seamless integration with their spreadsheet app, Google Sheets. I also use Google Forms for Weekly Review to record weekly information on my health, time, goals and more, which I then use to create comparative charts and graphs.

Like other survey tools, Google Forms lets you create a range of question types, like text, scale questions and multiple choice. When it comes to tracking flow, Google forms enable me to track key questions like activity I was doing. It also lets me create linear scale questions.

While not quite as clear as like-it or pure scale question type between 0 and 1, Google’s scale question allows me to track flow accordingly:

Excluding questions like where I am and activity category, all of my questions are linear scale type. Research indicates that a range of 5 to 7 is optimal, since beyond that number humans cannot make relevant distinctions.

Here is what my mood tracking valence question looks like:

While there some research indicating the benefits of randomly sorting order of questions, personally, I like having questions in a set order with a few different sections.

Now that we got our questions into a survey tool, the question is how do we get notified periodically to respond it?

Open a Website or Tool with Semi-Random Notification Methods

Once you have a survey tool for data collection on your flow and mental state, the next step is to setup a way to notify you to fill-in that survey.

Here are a few different approaches to do this:

  • [Mac / Windows] RescueTime to Trigger Survey Tool After Certain Amount of Computer Ueage: RescueTime is an automatic time tracking. I use it to trigger a notification and open certain web pages after tracking a certain amount of recorded time on your computer. For example, after an interval of one hour, two hours, 3h15, 5h and 7h, I receive a notification and my survey tool opens a brower tab to log what I’m doing and how I feel.
  • [Mac] Use Mac Automator to Automatically Open a URL in Your Browser: Automator is an app provided by Apple to create interesting recipes for improving how you work on the computer. Automator can be configured to schedule urls to open in the browser at certain times of the day. For example, at 9, 10:30 12, etc.
  • [Mac/Windows] Crontabs is tab scheduling extension for Chrome that lets you set intervals to open and close certain tabs. It can also be used to trigger times of day to open a URL of your choice.

Additionally, you might use your calender or other classic reminder tools to find your own way to trigger these notifications to remember to log your flow. I personally use RescueTime to log my computer usage and then trigger a notification to fill-in the survey after a certain amount of time.

Tracking Flow with a Mobile App: Reporter for iOS

If you do not work predominately on a computer or wish to do more ubiquitous form of logging, then you’ll likely want to use a mobile app to do your flow tracking. Besides research-focused, which we will look at shortly, there are a few commerical options. My personal favorite is Reporter app.

While not specifically designed to track flow, Reporter app for iOS is a pretty unique life logging and quantified app that can be adapted for use in DIY experience sampling. Developed by Nicolas Feltron, a well-known artist and innovator in the data-driven life, Reporter triggers a notification several times a day and helps you log what you were doing, where you were (with GPS), who you are with, and how you feel. It can also be configured with any question you like too.

In one of my first flow tracking experiment involving nootropics and caffeine, I used Reporter with the following additional questions:

  • Are you in flow? Yes/No
  • Energy Level (1-5)
  • Are you working? Yes/No

This proved a powerful method to explore the possible correlation on how certain drugs modified my energy level and increased the likelihood of flow. It also revealed patterns on which activities were more likely to involve flow (like writing or coding).

Reporter is high configurable, both in types of questions and scheduling of notifications. The only downside is that can lead to you to use your phone more than you should. Like other technology and self-tracking tools it can augment your experience sampling since self-tracking data allows you to record various aspects of your life, how you behave and see patterns.

Research-focused ESM Apps

ESM has a number of research-focused apps and platforms. Even though these tools are not always the most user-friendly, research-designed survey tools that can be adapted for personal use. Here are a few examples:

  • PIEL Survey - a free tool designed to gather survey data from people in their daily lives.
  • EpiWell - an integrated platform for building, scheduling and tracking surveys across mobile devices. Used by several universities, it offers a limited free version and a paid version for research studies.
  • Jeeves from University of St Andrews - a free, android-only tool for designing survey tools for research purposes.

Personally, I like PIELS Survey and have created a sample control file focused on experience sampling and flow tracking here. I still think it would be great to see a more generic tracking tool built along the lines of Reporter but with more data analysis and ways to run A/B experiments on yourself.

Conclusion: Engaging and Tracking a Life Designed for Flow

Flow is a powerful mental state associated with situations where we are deploying our peak skills–mental and physical–in face of trying challenges. In flow, we feel energized, alive and focused, and, in most cases, it is when we perform at our best. As I’ve argued elsewhere, flow has a number of benefits from happiness- and energy-inducing to optimizing and enabling peak performance output in learning, sports, creativity, problem-solving and more. In short, in a world of distractions, flow, passionate engagement, and deep work matter.

Unfortunately for all of the benefits of flow in general in my own life, flow is hard to track. Since flow is largely subjective, it is an experience I myself have. We might see that a person is deep in their work or highly engaged in an activity, but it really is only the person experiencing that moment who can tell us if it was flow-y or not. Accordingly, as I explained in this post, tracking flow seems to require my conscious awareness and recognition of it. Like it or not, if we want to track flow we need to do it manually.

In this post, we looked the science of tracking momentary subjective states called experience sampling and showed how research-backed questions can be adapted to building your own flow tracker. Using Google Forms, Reporter or a number of other apps, you can setup semi-random notifications that trigger you to collect data on your activities and your subjective mental state during them.

By tracking your flow level, mood, energy and relationship to the activity you are doing, you can not only track how often you experience flow, but quantify the various associations that go along with flow. Basically, by tracking your flow, you can start to understand which activities induce flow and how different factors in your life (like sleep, exercise, caffeine or other drugs) might affect it. A flow tracker enables you to optimize a life designed for flow.

As of mid-March 2020, I have collected 300+ subjective state observations. I have been fairly consistent in my logging. Admittedly, when I started in Sept 2019 until late 2019, there were more weekly check-in’s (around 8-16 per week) than I have made in recent months (down to 5 to 10 per week). This has led to some skewing of results towards observations made in early periods. That said, even a simple breakdown reveals some interesting patterns:

While a complete data analysis goes beyond this post, a few simple observations are worth sharing now:

My Flow Varies from Week to Week

While I wish flow was a consistent state I could tap into in my life, a simple plot of my states as no flow, medium flow and high flow indicate that these vary from week to week. The most common occurence is mid-flow. Some weeks I might only get into high flow a few times and see a lot more no flow than others.

Since the last 6 months have witnessed several major life changes (including moving countries and new work), it’s not surprising my tracking and instances of flow have varied as well. It would be interested to compare the amount of flow I have and with number of tasks completed or my weekly goal score.

Certain Activities (like Writing) Induce or Trigger Flow More than other categories

The two categories with the most observations (Studies and Paid Work) had relatively low average flow scores, higher number of instances of no flow and a tendency towards mid-flow.

By contrast, writing and personal projects had the two highest average flow scores. They also both relatively few cases of no flow and a strong tendancy towards either mid-flow and high-flow.

In short, in my own life, while there are exceptions, I tend to not experiece much flow on client work. Instead, it is in writing where flow happens most regularly and most often for me. Even though there are fewer observations to validate the trend, I also had higher flow in data analysis and coding.

So, if I was looking for triggers for flow in my own life, it would be challenge personal projects and writing.

My energy level and motivation are correlated with flow

Using a correlation matrix, we can see that flow is more positively correlated with energy level and motivation rather than mood. Put another way, being motivated about a task and having a good baseline energy level tend to be more tied with being in flow. A positive or good mood does matter but doesn’t matter as much.

If I was looking for an actionable takeaway or two here, it would be that tasks and projects that motivate me matter for flow. This means that if a project doesn’t motivate me, it’s pretty unlikely I’ll get into flow.

Moreover, being energized is criticial if you want to get into flow too. So, it’s important to be eating right, exercising and getting enough sleep, so you are rested and come to your work energized. This correlation between energy and flow would also be an indicator why caffeine and nootropics (like modafinil) might help facilitate a state of flow too.

My Data Dashboard: Engaging with My Flow Tracking Data

I’m a strong believer in the power of tracking and using data for understanding and improving various parts of our lives. From health and time management to productivity and creativity, I’ve seen how a data-driven life has changed how I think and live my own life. Without data, it isn’t obvious what impacts what in our lives.

Unfortunately, I’ve also witnessed that merely having or collecting data often isn’t enough to bring value of that data into your life. The number of unused and abandoned wearables is a testement to the failure of tracking creating behavior change and human improvements. Personally, when it comes to health trackers and other areas, it matters that we enage and leverage that data. For this reason, I not only track my flow but created a simple personal data dashboard in Google Data Studio to visualize that data week to week. By tracking my flow, my goals and other metrics, I can see patterns and take steps to priorized flow-inducing time management and activities in my daily life.

While tracking flow is hard and may not be a tracking activity that you can maintain long-term, tracking flow does offer clues to understanding differerent lifestyle changes and experiments I have run.

In the case of my own amoung flow, tracking data showed me that energy level and motivation are key aspects to reaching flow and that certain activities tend to trigger flow in me over others. Data also shown how instances of flow have ebbed in recent months, leading me to realize how difficult moving and setting up in a new city and home actually has been. This explains to some extent why I haven’t quite hit as many of the goals I had set for the first part of this year. I can’t expect to have the same degree of output if I’m not getting into flow with the same amount of regularity.

While I didn’t cover the topic in detail here, my flow tracking data is part of a broader effort at data-driven self-experimentation. For example, I used how often I experience flow to examine the effect of sleep and different psychoactive subsances. If I didn’t have a log of my flow, I wouldn’t have been able to objectively measure if and how these affected my flow. By looking at my flow logs in relation to how much sleep I was getting and nootropics I was taking, I’ve been able to see the benefits of both. Put another way, I’ve used flow data to valid that I need to get enough sleep to acheive flow and certain nootropics (modafinil, l-theanine, caffeine, etc.) can increase my own tendency to reach flow.

If peak performance and creative ouput are important to you, then you should design a life and environment to promote and maintain flow states. Flow is a key, maybe the key, mental state that any creative or learner should aim to understand and cultivate. By understanding and tracking flow, you can start to empower certain lifestyle design choices and optimize your own life for flow, creativity, learning, and more.


Best of luck and happy tracking!


References:
  • Csikszentmihalyi, M., & Larson, R. (2014). Validity and reliability of the experience-sampling method. Flow and the foundations of positive ….
  • Hektner, J. M., Schmidt, J. A., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2007). Experience Sampling Method. SAGE.
  • Kotler, S. (2014). The Rise of Superman. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

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