A few weeks ago I wrote about listening to one song over and over again on repeat to improve focus. There has been a lot written about flow states, or “getting into the zone” as it’s often called. The Wikipedia entry does a good job of summing it up:
In positive psychology, flow, also known as the zone, is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does.
We’ve all been there. That feeling is hard to define but you know it when it’s happening. The challenge is in figuring out how to get there whenever you want (or, in reality, most of the time when you want). It seems as if the base requirements for almost everyone are to be well rested and in an environment where distractions are eliminated. That song technique is a relatively new entry into my repertoire.
My other go to technique that I’ve been using for much longer is to drink a cup of tea while I work. It’s almost always green tea, and almost always loose leaf. After the last post I started thinking about why this has worked for me for over a decade. I came up with four reasons:
- Caffeine – the obvious reason, because “it produces increased wakefulness, increased focus, and better general body coordination“
- L-Theanine – tea contains this amino acid that “has been studied for its potential ability to reduce mental and physical stress, improve cognition, and boost mood and cognitive performance in a synergistic manner with caffeine”
- The ritual of making it – I use the 5- 10 minute process of tea preparation as a mental transition to thinking solely about the task that I’m about to work on
- I associate it with productivity – sure I’ll occasionally have a cup of tea with breakfast or while reading, but 99% of the time it’s while I’m working. I’ve likely come to associate the act of sipping my tea with mental clarity and focus, regardless of the chemical properties of the drink (which is why a cup of herbal tea at night can still help me get into the zone)
If you look at some of the nootropics (aka smart drugs) that are hitting the market, they often contain caffeine and l-theanine. I’d much prefer to get some of the effects of those without any potential risks. Tea has been around for over a thousand years, has many additional health benefits, it’s readily available, and it’s remarkably affordable.