The state of flow is elusive. It’s a state of high productivity and high engagement. It was first described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his wonderful book called “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience” and later expounded by Steve Kotler in “The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance”.
It’s known among extreme sportsman, overachieving entrepreneurs, mesmerizing musicians, enchanting writers, top actors and people like you and me. Do you think this kind of state can be achieved on demand?
What are some of the characteristics of the state of flow?
- Time seems to speed up. You think just a few minutes have passed but in fact, they were hours.
- You feel highly energetic and excited.
- You burst with creative alternatives.
- Your problem solving skills are going through the roof.
What are the factors most conducive to the state of flow?
1. High consequence tasks
Flow is possible only when you’re working on a significant project. Checking your email and social media accounts just won’t cut it. You need something more exciting and more important. I think that’s why it’s easier to get into the right state while working on tight deadlines and medium to high possibility of failure.
Crossing the Niagara Falls on a tightrope is a great example of this kind of task – it has the highest consequence imaginable – it means life or death. But obviously you don’t have to go to such lengths to achieve high productivity. Just make sure you’re working on something important.
2. Environment full of novelty
Novelty brings excitement to life, yet it’s vastly underutilized by the majority of people. New situations require you to be more alert, more in the moment and they’re crucial for getting into flow.
When was the last time you did something for the first time? Do you remember how focused you were? No matter if it’s beer-pong, playing an instrument or organizing your birthday party – it’s the novelty that makes it worthwhile.
3. Being “there” with your whole body
This rule applies especially to extreme sportsman engaging in risky endeavors. Just imagine surfing on a high wave, skiing down a steep mountain or even playing football with your friends. These tasks require your full attention and hence they’re conducive to the state flow.
But what about the office where there’s no risk of immediate extinction? Try moving around more. Be quick on your feet. Use the standing desk. If you have to sit down, get up every hour to stretch and move a little.
4. Having clear goals and objectives
You cannot just wander your way into the state of flow. You need to know what exactly you’re trying to accomplish. Before you start your work, write down everything you want to accomplish. Then launch into it and cross out the items as you go.
This will bring more satisfaction to your work, release happy neurotransmitters into your brain and make you more productive overall.
5. Getting immediate feedback
Many business leaders talk about “putting yourself out to fail” as one of the best things you can do to guarantee success in the future. Seth Godin talks about ‘shipping’ something you’ve made every day and saying ‘here, that’s my work’.
Why is it important? Because when you show your work to others, you invite immediate feedback. You learn faster and you have a much higher probability of getting into flow.
6. The challenge to skills ratio
Steve Kotler, an expert in high performance says that:
“Uncertainty is our rocket ride into the now”.
To get into flow you need to work on tasks that are highly challenging but also require stretching your abilities a little bit.
If the task is too easy, the result is boredom. If it’s too hard, it’s frustration. But if the level of skill and challenge are both on optimal level (just a bit above what you normally do) then you easily invite the state of high productivity.
You will almost never get into flow by doing routine, easy tasks. What you need is a project that requires high levels of creativity. Just think about the greatest geniuses. It’s easier for them to overachieve because they work mostly on new, exciting projects.
The other trait of these people is that they can concentrate for much longer periods than your average person. So try to be more creative in your work and stay at your tasks until they’re completed.
8. No interruptions
This basic rule of time management also applies to our discussion of the state of flow. It’s nearly impossible to be productive if you’re interrupted every other moment. Did you know that it takes around 15 minutes to come back to productivity after an interruption?
Make sure that at work you keep focused and that nobody is going to take your time. Set a timer (1 hour) and during that period work only on your major tasks. You can answer emails and talk to people during the break.
9. In some cases, intoxication or “divine inspiration”
This point is rather controversial but it’s true – some people are most productive when they’re on something. The legal drugs you can use for this purpose are coffee and alcohol.
Coffee makes you more focused while alcohol makes you more creative and increases your verbal abilities. Then there are mostly illegal cannabinoids that increase your creativity and amphetamines that enable you to work nonstop for hours.
You have to strike a balance here because working on drugs is not sustainable. Personally I like to drink my tea and coffee as it helps me to get closer to the state of flow without wrecking my health.
10. Brain music
There are technologies that can help you with engagement and productivity. Your brain operates on different electromagnetic frequencies. You can be in Alpha, Beta, Gamma, or Theta states of mind. Alpha and Theta are most conducive to the state of flow.
To optimize your brain’s frequency, you can use the audio entertainment. Just put on your headphones and after a couple of minutes you’ll reach high levels of lucidity and concentration. Here you can find some of the best audio tracks for that purpose.
Do you feel like getting closer to snatching the fruits of the state of flow? Now let’s go to the practical part.
A flow state experiment especially for you:
Try to pick the right task and create the right kind of environment (in harmony with the ideas described in this article). Then start on your task and let the state of flow take you away to new frontiers of creativity and high achievement. Repeat this as often as you can.
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