Being in a state of flow is something that many executives and entrepreneurs wish to create on demand as it puts them in the ‘zone’, allows them to create and operate at peak performance.
However, reaching a state of peak performance and being in a state of flow are something that many people strive to make happen, yet so many struggle to create it on demand.
Flow states are more often associated with events such as:
- Scoring a goal from nowhere and not knowing how you did it
- Delivering a perfect pitch where the words just flowed and you felt sharp
- Having a successful meeting where everything just fell in place
- Losing yourself in a creative process such as writing for hours and not knowing how time went by
- A musician playing a beautiful piece of music and appearing to be mentally transported to another place
- To summarise: Flow is the optimal state of consciousness
Flow improves learning. A study run by the US military found that snipers in a flow state learn 200–500% faster. Also, 10,000 hours to master something according to the Malcolm Gladwell model can be cut to half if you’re in a state of flow. People who are able to access flow in their lives most often score extremely high in life satisfaction and well-being.
So how do we create a state of flow?
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the Hungarian / US psychologist and former professor of the University of Chicago has conducted studies that suggest that a flow state has eight key markers: (NOTE 1)
- We confront tasks we have a chance of completing.
- We must be able to concentrate on what we are doing.
- The task has clear goals.
- The task provides immediate feedback.
- One acts with deep, but effortless involvement that removes from his/her awareness the worries and frustrations of everyday life.
- One exercises a sense of control over his/her actions, which does not make the task too difficult or easy
- Concern for the self disappears, yet paradoxically the sense of self emerges to be stronger after the flow experience is over.
- The sense of duration of time is altered.
What happens to your brain when you are in a flow state?
When you are in a flow state, the prefrontal cortex of your brain slows down, a process called transient hypofrontality, and with this, it switches off your inner critic / ego and triggers a distortion of time. The brain releases powerful performance-enhancing neurochemical cocktails while we are in a flow state, which lead to increased learning, increased creativity and the ability to focus.
So how do you put yourself in a flow state?
- Eliminate all distractions – our attention is under attack, the first place to start is to turn off your smartphone and unnecessary applications on your computer.
- Balance is essential – set yourself an appropriate challenge that meets your skill set. If it’s too difficult, you will become anxious or stressed and if it’s too easy, you will become bored and distracted.
- Your motivations need to be intrinsic rather than extrinsic, i.e., you do what you do for yourself, you surrender to the moment and time passes by without your realisation.
- Set aside sufficient time to complete the activity – don’t rush.
- Ensure that you are well energised and rested; if you aren’t, you will succumb to distraction.
(1) – Pursuit of Happiness