A flow state is simply described as a state where we feel our best and perform our best.
What makes flow so compelling is that it has both a felt sense – richness of experience, enjoyment, confidence etc – as well as a tangible, trackable achievement outcome – being faster, doing numerically more, increasing of results.
There’s something about feeling significant enjoyment whilst producing your best results that drives the desire to chase flow states as a preferred state of being.
And the science supports this idea. Flow tends to show up when we strike an ideal balance between what we’re capable of (our skills) and the requirements of the task at hand (the challenge). This is better known as the Challenge / Skills Balance.
Put another way, we trigger Flow when we are optimally challenged AND confident. It is that sweet spot of being pushed just far enough out of our comfort zone that we feel resistance, but still have the capacity and capability to meet the challenge.
As Flow Research Collective’s Steven Kotler puts it, “You want to use the Challenge / Skills Balance to stretch, not snap.”
So what does that look like?
The current running hypothesis is about 4%.
That may sound marginal, but this seems to be the ideal pocket for activating Flow. It’s Kotler’s ‘stretch not snap’ described through data. And it gives us a practical metric that we can use to determine how to set up tasks so that we are more prone to drop into a flow state on-demand.
The 4% C/S is commonly referred to by the contemporary Psychology community as the “Flow Zone” or “Flow Channel”, as it represents an optimal zone of performance that sits above Boredom and below Anxiety.
The Flow Zone indicates an experience (or task) where the Challenge is 4% beyond our current Skills. This increase in discomfort pushes us towards the limits of our skillset, which engages attention and focus, while not overloading the system enough to cause anxiety or uncontrollable fear.
This dynamic combination is what provides a sense of confident enjoyment.
We’re being tested, but we’re capable of meeting the demands.
And ultimately this is what makes Flow such a compelling and desirable experience. That confident enjoyment becomes intrinsically motivating – it feels so good that we want to perform the task again and again simply for the sake of the task itself.
Figuratively — and somewhat literally due to the neurochemistry at play, oxytocin shows up in flow — we fall in love with the process.
The experience becomes an end in itself, and this is important because we can hijack this intrinsic motivation to create enjoyment around even the most tedious tasks.
Because we get that perfect balance of challenge and confidence inside flow, on the back end we start to generate highly desirable traits like commitment, concentration, determination, persistence and motivation.
So the more we’re able to trigger flow, the more committed, consistent, and persistent we become – all highly critical traits of success in business and life.
And because of the intrinsic enjoyment we experience in flow, if we can wrap flow around activities that we generally “don’t feel like doing” but know we need to do (think biz dev, sales calls, client management, content production), those activities suddenly become more enjoyable.
Which means we’re more likely to do them consistently, which means we’re doing more of the important revenue-producing activities in our business, and voila, we can radically push the needle on business growth.
What would be the impact on your business if you were able to make the “important but mundane” activities that you regularly put off, procrastinate on or avoid altogether actually enjoyable?
Imagine being motivated to punch out some data entry, reconcile bank transactions, send 100 LinkedIn connections, write a 500-word blog post, shoot a training video…
If we’re able to transform tedium into enjoyment, we get more important & urgent work done, and we’re able to propel our businesses forward.
And if flow can make spreadsheeting exciting, image what it can do with your hobbies, passions, sports, family life and enjoyment outside of work!?
And here’s the kicker – the more flow we experience, the more flow we experience! As in, spending time in flow outside of work makes you more prone to dropping into flow at work, and vice versa. Flow is a self-propagating autotelic state. The more often we access flow, the more we’re able to access flow.
That’s why I train flow. That’s why I bake into the DNA of my daily life.
It makes ALL of life richer, more compelling and enjoyable. Flow at home leads to flow at work, which bleeds into flow at play… and it’s a never-ending cycle of one optimal experience after the next.
Flow is Transformational.
It will transform your business, it will transform your life.
And the science again indicates that once we’ve been in flow we literally come out of the state as more complex human beings. I’ll save the neurochemical explanation for this for another post, but suffice to say that in flow we change ourselves – we both figuratively and literally transform; perceptually, experientially, biologically, emotionally.
If you’re chasing Transformation, you’re chasing Flow.
And, personally, I believe that learning to harness flow is the ultimate ambition for anyone that wants to achieve peak performance, dominate their industry, stand out from the crowd and create a life worth living.
Peace and Flow.