Flow, Part 3 of 3: Use These Steps to Experience and Create Flow
Steven Kotler, who wrote the book on Flow, says the easiest way to experience flow is exercise induced, and you can do it immediately: go for a walk in the woods or a park by yourself, without talking, for 20 minutes.
Your brain quiets down. Your brain recognizes you need more energy to sustain the body. The brain shuts down unnecessary parts—your prefrontal cortex, the self-critic and higher thinking part of your brain.
It’s like your body is saying you’re occupied and don’t need the long-term planning part of your brain, the part that causes worry, so we’ll shut that off for now.
This gives us more focus and releases good-feeling chemicals in our brain.
Once you experience the neurochemistry of flow, you’ll want self-awareness of your internal system to notice when your brain gets quiet. This is transient hypofrontality, or flow. It boosts learning, creativity and productivity.
When you notice it at work, that’s the time to NOT answer the phone, open your door or check email, because these interrupt flow state.
To get into flow more often, follow these steps.
1. Do more of what you love.
To get into flow state, focus on projects and activities you enjoy that you’re passionate about.
When you dread tasks you find tedious, doing them won’t put you in flow. Delegate or minimize them when possible.
2. Choose activities that are meaningful.
We tend to gravitate to easy tasks like responding to emails and paperwork. But important tasks impact your career, your life, and that of others.
Schedule time to focus on the big picture and choose activities that make a real difference.
3. Challenge yourself on the edge of your capability.
If it’s too easy, you may get bored and your mind will wander.
Pick activities that push your hard enough to require skills, significant effort and full concentration, but not so outside the realm of possibility that you’ll be completely overwhelmed, focus on fear of failure or be tempted to give up.
You want to stretch and hover on the cusp of whether you can do it.
4. Work with (not against) your biorhythms.
Whether you’re a night owl or a morning person, schedule hardest, most creative tasks when you’re rested and alert.
When tired, our brains distort our perception of a task’s difficulty, making things seem harder than they are. It’s a fear response. Tasks seem overwhelming and so we procrastinate or give up. From an evolutionary standpoint, this conserves energy.
If you allot time for the most important projects when you’re naturally at your peak, you’ll get more done at a higher level.
Try scheduling in intervals: go gangbusters in the morning, then exercise; do some more, then take a nap or meditate; and return to finish up for the day.
Experiment to find what works for you.
5. Remove distractions.
Turn off your phone and email notifications.
Our high-tech culture seems to demand rapid response to messages and inquiries, but all the switching back and forth from this stimuli to that can tank productivity.
Find a quiet place, or use a sound machine to drown outside noises. If possible, clear your desk and declutter your work environment.
Interruptions are a disaster for flow. Studies show it takes 15 minutes or more (if it’s possible at all) to get back into concentration when taken off task.
Close your door and hang a sign that says “Come back later, I’m in flow.”
6. Focus on one thing for as long as possible.
In our fast-paced society, we attempt to save time by trying to do several things at once. This might work for walking with a coworker while discussing a personnel issue.
It’s not great for high-level learning (ever try to listen to complex continuing education classes while drafting documents for a client?) or productivity.
Doing two difficult things at once will take much longer and get them done less well than doing them each separately.
For peak performance, focus on one thing at a time and stick with it until you feel your brain tiring.
7. Exercise briefly to help reset the mind.
If you need a break from tasks, exercise can get us back in the zone.
We tend to mess up transitioning. Checking Facebook or your news feed brings up emotions and gets you back into your prefrontal cortex.
Try 5 minutes of yoga/hip-hop dancing or a 20-minute walk to get your focus back.
8. Use fear to test yourself and put life in perspective.
Some recommend scaring yourself a little on purpose to reset the nervous system.
Sports involving speed or heights, such as jet-skiing or rock climbing, can break down hesitancy, increase confidence and make us feel alive with adrenaline and excitement.
Choice is critical here. Fear imposed on us can result in trauma or PTSD, whereas deciding to challenge ourselves feels like accomplishment.
9. Consciously enjoy yourself.
Notice how great it feels to not only accomplish something important but to lose yourself while doing it.
Relief from shutting down the prefrontal cortex provides a break from self-criticism and worries in the rest of your life.
Feel-good chemicals from being in flow make us feel alive and energized. Be aware of your amazingly complex and agile mind.
10. Recognize positive results.
In addition to feeling great, pat yourself on the back for increasing learning, creativity and productivity.
Acknowledge how your efforts contribute to your clients, your field and the world. It’s very satisfying and rewarding.
When you prioritize getting into flow and notice the gratifying outcome, you’ll want to do it frequently.
—Julie Ernst, CCJD
P.S. Visit www.julieernst.com to take my free course: Stop Overdrinking in 3 Steps.