Would you like to be 500% more productive? 

That’s how much we can amplify productivity according to the author of Stealing Fire, Steven Kotler, when we are in ‘flow’. This term was coined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced Mee-high Chick-sent-me-high). It’s that amazing feeling when we are lost in what we are doing, completely absorbed by the task, where time stands still, and we are performing at our best. It’s when we are in the zone, totally pumped.

In our Amplifiers group this quarter, our theme is leading performance through flow. As leaders, we want to be elite performers, and we want to encourage our teams to be the same.

By paying attention to our biology, we can put ourselves in this regular super-productive, highly creative state.

Here are the basics:

Flow has a four part cycle: struggle, release, flow, and recovery.

Different feel-good neurochemicals get triggered in each phase.

Phase 1 – Struggle. In our leadership roles, we might experience this when we are starting strategic planning. Or developing a communications and marketing strategy. Or sitting down to write a Board paper. Or reviewing the promotions system.

It’s where we wrestle with big ideas. In this phase, we seek connections. We are doing research. We listen to podcasts, you-tube videos, gaze out the window. Jot ideas down. Make maps. We are trying to put order to chaos. Our brain releases dopamine, cortisol and norepinephrine to help with the task. These are alert and focus biochemicals.

Phase 2 – Release. When you’ve had enough, take a break. This allows our brain to rest. Let it go, go for a walk, do something different.

Phase 3 – Flow. That’s when the fun begins. We focus, we concentrate, and reach for the state where the brain dumps huge amounts of more dopamine, norepinephrine, anandamide (helps make new connections and insights while lowering our ability to feel anxious), endorphins (natural pain killers). Enjoy the rush of creativity that comes in this phase. After a couple of hours, we get the feel-good well-being neurochemicals of serotonin and oxytocin.

Phase 4 – Recover. Phew! Time to reboot the system. Good sleep, nutrition, plenty of water and exercise.

What do you need to change and prioritise to access flow more regularly?


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  • Zoë Routh

    Australia's Leadership Expert, Author of Book of the Year "People Stuff" l Speaker l Mentor l Strategist

    Zoë Routh is one of Australia’s leading experts on people stuff - the stuff that gets in our way of producing results, and the stuff that lights us up. She works with the growers, makers, builders to make people stuff fun and practical.

    Zoë is the author of four books: Composure - How centered leaders make the biggest impact,  Moments - Leadership when it matters most, Loyalty - Stop unwanted staff turnover, boost engagement, and build lifelong advocates, and People Stuff - Beyond Personalities: An advanced handbook for leadership. People Stuff was awarded Book of the Year 2020 by the Smart WFM Australian Business Book Awards.

    Zoë is also the producer of The Zoë Routh Leadership Podcast.