“Flow is the nature of energy; Flow is another name of life.” – Banani Ray
3 weeks ago, I used a piece from The Art of Impossible by Steven Kotler to explain burnout. Today, I’d like to use this same book to dive into the art of Flow: what it is, why it’s important, and how to tap into it.
Flow is defined as “an optimal state of consciousness where we feel our best and perform our best.” It is the state created by evolution to enable peak performance. This is why, in every domain, whenever we want to perform at our best, Flow always plays a starring role. 3 areas of my life where I experience consistent Flow include playing a sport/exercising, teaching a class on my favorite topic, and reviewing an audit file. Flow follows Focus. The state only shows up when all of our attention is locked on the present moment, firmly targeted at the task at hand.
Complete concentration is a Flow trigger. Whenever you want to dive into Flow, it is critical you shut the outside world off. This means no distractions. No multitasking. Email and cell phones off, Youtube is out of reach, and social media is shut down. For how long?
Research shows that 90 to 120 minutes of uninterrupted concentration is the ideal time period to maximize Focus and Flow. And if the task at hand requires significant creativity, then perhaps a 4 hour block is necessary. Moreover, since autonomy and attention are coupled systems, make sure the task at hand, the one that’s about to claim 90 to 120 minutes of your time, is exactly what you want to be doing with your time. If it’s not (and sometime it truly isn’t), hunt for a better why. Find something in the task that aligns with curiosity, passion, and purpose. For example, I don’t always want to wake up at 4:30am every morning and meditate, but by focusing on the mental agility, creativity and inner-peace meditation provides (my why), I can flip the switch on my attitude. This is a form of cognitive reframing that can significantly enhance Flow.
The idea of tapping into Flow can seem like a daunting task, but if you can learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable, you can begin learning how to use fear as a compass. For peak performers, fear becomes a directional arrow, pointing them in the direction they should be headed. The best of the best will often head in the direction that scares them most. Why? Once again: Focus and Flow. Going in the direction that scares you most amplifies attention and this translates into Flow.
Lastly, have your conversations in advance. Long blocks of uninterrupted concentration can be hard to come by in today’s world. Tell your bosses, coworkers, spouse and children exactly what you’re doing and why. What can seem like a time suck on the front end becomes a time-saver on the back. Once the increase in performance and productivity that Flow produces start showing up on a regular basis, you’ll get far more done in far less time and have more of yourself to give to your bosses, coworkers, spouse and children.