There is an ever-increasing interest in what is referred to as “flow”. Over the last couple of decades there has been an explosion of neuroscience research into this altered state of consciousness. What has driven these studies is primarily flows application to peak performance.
Everyone from CEO’s to extreme athletes to personal development junkies have become obsessed with flow, and for good reason. In a flow state, some extremely dynamic neuroanatomical and neurochemical changes take place that allow you to transition from your day to day life as Clark Kent into Superman, as Steven Kotler shows in his book, The Rise of Superman.
Flow Doesn't Have To Be Complicated
Neuroscientists use words like transient hypofrontality and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex to describe what occurs in flow. For most individuals, this sounds a bit too complicated or esoteric. However, the actual implementation of how to start developing more flow in your life is much simpler.
It really begins with finding an activity or pursuit you find intrinsically rewarding. Then working consistently to master that endeavor by working on increasing your skill level. This is done by setting clear, specific goals and developing a means for receiving immediate feedback to assess your progress. Furthermore, creating specific and detailed goals will allow you to attain an ever-increasing level of skill.
How To Achieve FLow In The Real World
Let me give you some real-world examples. If you are attempting to become a better basketball player, you would not want to just go out and play in pickup games all the time. Instead, you would want to break down all the skill sets required to become an elite level player. This may be shooting technique for free-throws, being able to dribble equally proficient with both hands, or increasing your vertical leap. You would engage in solitary practice time and have means for receiving the most immediate feedback you could on how you are performing.
The same approach would apply to being an entrepreneur or computer programmer. You would identify the specific skill sets required to become exceptional at these undertakings and develop methods for working on increasing your proficiency in the precise skills needed to become exceptional. Something to realize is you won’t just experience flow once you have acquired the skills, but it is possible to encounter flow along the way.
Just Push Yourself 4% At A Time
Of course, there is a minimum level of aptitude needed. But once you have crossed this initial bar, you can access flow by pushing yourself just beyond your current capacity. Research shows just 4% is the sweet spot. You will encounter flow at the intersection of high challenge and high reward. Too little challenge, you become bored and disinterested. If your skill set is not sufficient to meet the demand, you will become anxious and discouraged. This is referred to as the ‘flow channel’.
Another factor related to simplifying flow is to realize flow follows focus. You have to immerse yourself in an activity sufficiently to achieve the level of focus required to enter flow. Multi-tasking is the enemy of flow. Experiencing flow requires learning to block out distractions and engage in single-tasking.
Flow Follows Focus
Nothing focuses us more than risk. This is why some of the biggest practitioners of flow are adventure athletes: when there is a chance of dying, this gets the brain’s attention. However, you do not need to go to this level of risk to experience flow. For some it may be launching a product, or putting up a public blog post, or giving a presentation. Again, risk-taking goes back to getting outside of your comfort zone. Playing it safe will not grab our attention sufficiently.
In addition to eliminating distractions and taking risks, another simple flow trigger is what is referred to as deep embodiment. This is just having an awareness of your present experience, particularly through your five senses. A great way to develop this is through mindful activities, such as yoga, mindfulness meditation, or any activity that facilitates being fully present.
Flow Is Accessible To Everyone
Although flow is what makes you elite, it is not only for the elite. It is our birthright as a human being. Moreover, it does not need to be mysterious or over complicated. Just find something you enjoy, take the time to develop a sufficient level of skill at it, and keep challenging yourself. This could be any activity from relationships, to athletics, to business; it just needs to have a necessary level of intrinsic reward associated with it.
One final word of encouragement: research shows the happiest and most fulfilled individuals on the planet are those that experience the most flow states. You have access to this state as much as anyone else. Just take these steps and follow them consistently to achieve the life you desire and your peak level of performance.
John Hawkins Jr., M.S., L.M.H.C.
John has helped thousands of clients overcome the hidden internal blocks which had kept them from achieving their maximum potential. Furthermore, he has assisted them in gaining clarity of their true life purpose, identifying their gifts and talents, and developing lives of greater meaning and significance.