Mindfulness and Flow are not the same thing.

Mindfulness and Flow are two hot topics that people mistakenly conflate. At the most basic level, Flow involves losing self-awareness, and mindfulness involves maintaining self-awareness.

An article by Sheldon et al. (2015), titled “The Experiential Incompatibility of Mindfulness and Flow Absorption” supported the notion that they’re different states and that one might not necessarily lead to the other, meaning as one develops greater mindfulness, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be able to access flow states more easily. This research hasn’t been done on long-term meditators, so take it with a grain of salt.

My experience on these distinctions is similar. When I’ve had deep meditations, I could tell you everything that happened—thoughts, emotions, sensations, sounds, all of it. When I’ve had deep flow experiences, I could tell you very little. It all seemed like a blur. It was highly rewarding, perhaps more enjoyable than the meditation, but I couldn’t tell you much of what happened.

Both mindfulness and flow are beneficial mind states, but they’re different.