TRIGGERING THE FLOW STATE
According to Kotler, there are a number of ways to activate flow states across psychological, environmental and social lines. Yes, you can engineer tapping into your flow state. How?
- Intense focus — no distractions, no multi-tasking, singular tasks, solitude
- Clear goals — with calm, the mind doesn’t wander and can stay focused on the present moment and present action. Presence also underpins mindfulness and meditation which is essential to calm, clarity and better decision making.
- Immediate feedback — knowing how to improve performance in real time means that the mind stays present, this is akin to the surfer changing tact while riding a wave based on the immediate feedback they’re getting from the very wave they’re catching
- Challenge/skills ratio — Research shows that tasks which are 4% more challenging than our skills are capable of meeting strike a chord at the midline between boredom and anxiety — this is the sweet spot to maximise attention and flow.
- High consequences — elevated risk levels keep us focused. There’s no trying to get in the zone when it’s life or death / success or failure.
- Rich environment — an environment with lots of novelty, unpredictability and complexity can focus our attention — not knowing what is coming next can activate flow.
SOCIAL AND GROUP FLOW TRIGGERS:
- Serious concentration — think a basketball team all focused on the common goal of sinking the game winning shot with 5 seconds left on the clock
- Shared, clear, goals
- Effective communication
- Familiarity — common language, shared knowledge base — everybody on the same page
- Equal participation and skill level — professional athletes will be bored playing with amateurs who themselves will be frustrated with the experience
- Risk — failure underpins innovation and creativity. WIthout skin in the game, be it monetary, mental, physical, creative, social and so on, then there’s no risk. Ever played poker without money on the table? No doubt you were “all in” on many an occasion when you normally wouldn’t be with real money down.
SOME OTHER TRIGGERS TO EXPLORE:
- Meditation and Mindfulness — calm the mind, think clearly, stay present on the task at hand. The Headspace and Calm mobile apps are great places to start.
- Binaural beats — first discovered in 1839 by phsyicist Heinrich Wilhelm Dove, it refers to the coalescence of different audio frequencies, one in each ear, to help trigger brain activity in the flow state. You can listen to some beats at MyNoise.net and Brain.Fm the next time you’re doing something that requires your full concentration.
- According to Matt Mullenweg, founder of WordPress, listening to the same song on repeat gets him into the flow state, while Arkansas psychologist Elizabeth Hellmuth Margulis echoed these thoughts in her bookOn Repeat: How Music Plays the Mind
- Smart drugs, better known by those in SIlicon Valley as ‘nootropics’, are cognitive enhancers that support focus, memory, creativity and motivation. UFC commentator, stand up comedian and Brasilian Jiu Jitsu brown belt, Joe Rogan, says he won’t do anything that requires focus without nootropics. Popular brands include Alpha Brain, Nootrobox and Australia’s Noots(disclaimer: I’m an advisor at Noots).
- Batch processing — lifestyle entrepreneur and all round motivational guru, Tim Ferriss, popularised this in his New York Times bestseller The Four Hour Work Week. The idea is that you select times of day to batch certain processes, such as checking email, which he claims to do once or twice a day. This way, you’re limiting distraction and you stop chasing supposedly shiny objects down a rabbit hole.
FLOW STATE BUSTERS
So I’ve given you more than enough flow state inducers to work with, but what about flow state busters. Well, apart from the inverse of the triggers above, there’s no shortage of things that get in the way of flow each and every day.
Some of the more common busters might include:
- No passion
- No purpose
- No tangible, measurable, visible outcomes
- Phone calls
- Open plan offices / unscheduled interruptions by colleagues
It’s worth mentioning the cognitive switching penalty here — the time it takes to get back into flow after being interrupted might be as short as a few minutes, but can often be more than 30 minutes. If your day is littered with the above interruptions then do the math and the numbers look pretty ugly, pretty quickly.