The state of flow from a psychological perspective is when you are completely engrossed in a task and are able to work or create in a productive way. It requires removing all distractions and being in a state of deep concentration. You hear about flow when someone shares that she wrote a book in four weeks, or maybe spent 14 uninterrupted hours creating a sculpture. It’s almost superhuman, but it can happen when you work without distraction, with complete focus, and with passion for the mission. One author put it this way: no focus, no flow.
This is especially true for certain types of tasks, like writing a long report (or maybe a book), or working on a complex project. Focus is critical to achieving a state of flow.
What about for other tasks or other goals we might be pursuing? Does focus matter if the task is achieving financial success? The answer revealed in our research is a resounding “yes” … but maybe not in the sense of achieving “flow”. To achieve almost any goal, focusing on the objective is a requirement, and we describe this focus to include ignoring distractions and prioritizing the steps toward the goal above other tasks.
The concept is simple in theory, but often challenging in practice. The idea of pushing aside all distractions not related to achieving the goal makes logical sense and–as our research has shown–does relate to net worth regardless of your age or income. Those who have a higher propensity to ignore distracting technology, demanding requests from others, and the numerous other possible allocations of their time and resources tend to be more economically successful. They are fixated on financial goals . . . and thus achieve them.
If financial success is your goal, then all other decisions must be conducive to achieving that goal. It’s simple but not easy, and in our overachieving, anything-is-possible and you-can-have-it-all culture, it’s very hard to implement. Think about some of your resolutions or personal goals. If you’re like most of us, two of them might be (1) increasing your wealth and (2) increasing connection with friends. These are two different goals, but they are undeniably related. First, one must take precedence over the other and decisions must be made based on the determined priority, because sooner or later the two goals will be in conflict. Second, you’ll have to be creative in the execution of both in order to avoid short-changing the objective that didn’t get top priority. If saving 20% of your income each month is a goal for your household related to personal financial success, you may find that the allocation to spending related to time spent with friends is reduced, and creative solutions will need to be devised in order to avoid diminished relationships. But the extra effort required to manage the relationship goal will be welcome since you know it is in furtherance of the top objective of financial security.
To achieve goals, we have to make choices. You really can have just about anything, but be suspicious of anyone that tells you that you can have everything. Sometimes we will have to temporarily put one goal on hold, or alter how we meet secondary goals, in order to achieve the top-level objective. We can’t have it all or be it all, but we can prioritize in order to achieve the most important thing.
Financial management may not be an activity where you can find your flow. You may struggle to find the motivation to pay bills, monitor your accounts, adhere to budgets, or discuss finances at home. But to achieve financial goals, some focus is required. Maybe not flow-level focus, but at least a concentrated effort.