Getting in State

I know I say a lot of things are everything (sleep is everything, hydration is everything, habits are everything, and on and on), but state is actually everything. When you're in state, it's like the whole world bows as you pass by. You're happy, confident, and enthusiastic. Whatever the question, you always have the answer. You're focused, determined, generous, witty, meticulous, unstoppable. State is also sometimes called flow.

There's been a lot written about state, so this isn't intended as a comprehensive guide. It's more like, if you haven't been in state in a while, here are some things to try.


State comes from focus. To be able to focus, you need a) something to focus on and b) nothing to distract you. The object of your focus can be anything - a novel you're writing, a party you're at, the clothes you're trying on, the hill you're climbing, or even something as banal as a basic data-entry project. Once you have chosen the activity you want to get in state for, start clearing distractions.

I use the Pomodoro Technique when I'm at work. I close my email inbox, Facebook, news websites, and everything else that could distract me unnecessarily. I want to be able to be reached by certain people, so I'll only leave those channels open. When I'm out socializing, I'll put my phone on silent, turn it off, or leave it behind altogether.

For me at least, drugs can obstruct me from getting in state, both because they can mess with my brain function while I'm on them and because when I'm not on them, my brain will nudge me to get on them. I've tried to stay away from caffeine and sugar to help me focus at work. I also don't drink when I'm out meeting new people. All that stuff messes with state. Obviously I'm talking about drugs that have some potential to mess with state. Don't go off your antibiotics.

Choose a good location. Offices are good for work. Libraries are good for writing and research. Parks and gyms are good for working out. Parties, bars, clubs, malls, and festivals are great places to meet new people. If your location doesn't jive with your goal, even if you have all the actual resources you need, your brain's going to be fighting you the whole way into state.

The Warm-Up

Let go of anything you might be worrying about in the future. Getting in state can only happen when you're focused on the present. One of my favorite rules somebody came up with a couple thousand years ago on how to properly do Shabbat (the Jewish sabbath) is, and I'm paraphrasing, "Don't even think about anything that you have to do after Shabbat." Very observant Jews won't start cooking dinner on Saturday nights until Shabbat is over. I guarantee many of them are getting in state every single weekend.

Start your Pomodoro or timer and just do whatever you're going to do. Work for 25 minutes. Get up and move your legs if you were sitting, get some water or a snack, and then get back to work. If you don't enjoy what you're doing, you're not in state yet. Keep going. Just think of it as a warm-up. Don't even worry about accomplishing anything. You'll be so much more productive once you're in state that the warm-up becomes meaningless except as a stepping stone.

Nobody likes the first few minutes of anything worth doing. When I was working out earlier today, the first few minutes just weren't fun. It didn't totally suck because I was outside and getting a break from sitting at the computer, but it wasn't fun. It was only once the adrenaline kicked in and the analgesic effect took over that I was frickin' pumped. I got a self-esteem boost, Eye of the Tiger was playing in my head, and I felt ready to conquer the world.

Push Yourself to the Limit

We accomplish our greatest feats when we're in state, so don't squander this opportunity. Push yourself, hard. Work harder, run farther, accomplish more. If you're socializing, talk to someone you would normally never have approached. If you're doing pull-ups, try to break your record. If you're working, try to be more detail-oriented, creative, or efficient. Whatever your challenge, now is the time to face it.

However, even once you're past your warm-up and fully in state, make sure to take regular breaks. Depending on the strenuousness of the activity, take a five minutes every half hour, two minutes out of every ten, etc. If you're doing handstand push-ups, maybe even take a five minute break for every thirty seconds of being an incredible boss. You'll be able to prolong the state all day if you take proper breaks.

Watch your thoughts for distraction, anxiety, and worry. If you're trying to network at your friend's mid-summer barbecue, don't you dare even think about what you're going to buy your coworker for her wedding in September. If you become aware that you're trying to do a bunch of things at once, note it mentally, slowly breathe in through your nose, slowly breathe out through your nose, and really focus on the task at hand. The urge to worry will pass, I promise. If it's something you really don't want to forget, write it down somewhere.

Reflect on What You Accomplished

Look at you, being so productive. Feels good, doesn't it? Pat yourself on the back and thank yourself for giving yourself the opportunity to get in state. If you can, make some physical record of what you accomplished. This is to give yourself credit (reinforcing the good behavior), a record of what you did so you can measure your progress against it, and proof that you've done it so that it will be easier the next time.

If it's been a while since you've been in state, I encourage you to try it soon. This is what people love so much that they become workaholics. It really is addictive.


I had a huge spike in pageviews on the blog today, but after a little investigating, I'm pretty sure it was just a spambot. So no worries, it was a false alarm. The blog definitely still has zero readers.