In our previous blog The Science of the Flow State Performance, we explored the history and science of flow state.
Now let’s put the science into practice.
How do I get myself into a flow state to foster high performance? Is this something that only happens for 10 minutes or can we enter extended flow states of days, weeks and months?
Even if there is no “switch” to turn on a state of flow, we know what kind of mindset, state of being, and experience design can help ignite it.
8 Personal Flow State Enables
When it comes to entering a flow state, we need to observe all aspects of our human being – our physical condition, our mindset, heart and emotions. Based on our experience, it is rather the state of being than doing, that defines whether can enter and sustain the state of flow.
It is equally important to draw attention not only to the triggers of the flow, the “flow enablers” but also to identify and eliminate any blockers, the “flow killers”. As the ancient masters have said already 2000 years ago – either you are in the upwards or downwards flow.
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- Looking for Happiness Outside. We all need to establish a solid basis for financial safety and survival. However, once that is established, if external rewards such as salary, praise from others, winning over others or fulfilling others’ expectations remain the main motivation – we likely end up working very hard, yet unlikely in the flow. On the contrary: running solely after external rewards can cause frustration, a sense of emptiness and burnout in the long run.
- Purpose – do you have your personal WHY which makes you wake up every morning fully excited and energized?
- How do you rate the power of your purpose on a scale 1-10? If it is at least 8-10, congratulations – you will most likely be experiencing extended flow states!
- TIPS: If it is <8, take some time to develop or re-design your purpose. Future-fit leaders are purpose-driven – find out here , how future-fit are you as a leader.
- At Elewus, we have found a six step introspection approach most significant. Learn more about our Self-Leadership Training here.
- We also recommend our collaborator Sonja Sinz’s personal purpose search story here.
- Negative Self-Talk – or sometimes called the “inner judge” is in action when we constantly compare ourselves against others, criticize and blame for not trying harder. It is often built upon others’ expectations or our own ego trying to prove something that we are not.
- Authentic Self-Talk – being authentic, kind with yourself and exploring who you truly are. Knowing that you are in a life-long learning and personal development process, helps to be more kind with yourself and “fail forward” with ease.
- TIP: in the beginning of your day, set a timer on the phone so that every 1-2 hours you get a short reminder to check in on your throughts – are they positive or harsh? Are you living your heart or your hurt out? What has caused drifting away? With practice, you’ll find yourself moving more and more into the role of the observer, instead of reacting and that alone allows you remain in the upwards flow.
- Being distracted. If there is a major internal distraction – a personal problem or anything that keeps your mind busy, it is better to first deal and find peace with it, instead of pushing harder trying to find your flow state. Similarly if we are in an open office space or trying to work at home with family members demanding your attention every couple of minutes, be aware that it takes 25 minutes to fully regain your focus.
- Being focused – flow state requires the ability to focus. It is the simply the outcome of not having any external nor internal distractions.
- TIP: regular self-reflection helps to enhance concentration and focus, even when being with others. Find your own meditation to clear your mind from any distracting reactions or external influences – it can be a walk, jogging, painting, dancing, sitting quietly etc. Experiment what works the best for you!
- To eliminate any external distractions – set up your working “cave” – a clean desk and turn off any notifications.
- Set clear communication rules with your team and/or family members while working.
- Too Complex or Too Boring Task. If the task at hand is either too boring and repetitive or overwhelmingly difficult, it is unlikely for the flow state to show up. In your job or role description, take a look and identify the “flow killer” responsibilities. Are there too many? Do I need more support or training? Could some of this be automated? And even if we can’t escape all these “have to dos”, can you do these more effortlessly with more fun?
- Complex and Exciting Task. Research confirms that we can most likely access flow, when the task itself is complex and stretching enough, yet exciting and matching our purpose and talents.
- TIP: If the task is exciting and aligned with your purpose, yet you still feel puzzled or hesitant, you might be overwhelmed or aiming for perfection. Focus on enjoying the process and not on the results. High-performance emerges effortlessly, when we are ready for it. Just like in the old proverb “the grass won’t grow any faster if you pull it”.
- Eat junk food or overeat
- Be dehydrated
- Eat nutritious fresh food, that trigger performance enhancing chemicals
- Drink enough water – our brain consists 75% of water and needs it to operate optimally
- Consider limiting your coffee intake to 2 cups of coffee or any other natural caffeine based drinks or supplements
- Consider taking a natural supplement called L-Theanine which supports staying calm and focused, without causing any dizziness
- “Unstoppable”, a book by Ben Angel offers plenty of additional tips on brain-friendly nutrition
- Sit at the desk and wait for the flow to happen
|Sleep & Rest
- Plan to work 8 hours non-stop
- Push yourself through at any costs with extra coffee or other means, especially if you had less than 6 hours of sleep
- Find regular sleeping hours that give optimal energy for you. For some people it is 6-7 hours, for others rather 8-9 hours.
- Experiment and find your biological peak time for flow state creative work.
TIP: Even if you think you are an evening person, try and test how you feel when you get up and work early!
- The best times to enter flow state are generally mornings or after a 15-30 min break. Thus, a short nap during working time can do miracles!
- Watch Ted Talk “Sleep is Your Superpower” by Matt Walker.
- Try to keep all ideas and tasks in your head
- Overwhelm yourself with random manual notes everywhere. There is nothing wrong with good old post-its, however keep these organized and tidy to maintain an overview.
- Overkill yourself with too many apps with similar goals and functionalities.
- Find your favorite productivity app, which supports you staying in the flow.
- These apps work equally well for both personal and business project management: Trello, Weekdone, Monday, Airtable, Serene, Google Tasks, Todoist etc. Find the one(s) that feel most fun for you to plan with, complete tasks and prioritize according to your purpose. A healthy time pressure also induces flow!
Find a “flow buddy”, peer group or coach to practice these 8 flow enablers. Sharing your struggles and learnings is mutually inspiring and empowering.
Finally, find your own ritual or cue that helps kindle your flow state best. In other words, do something special each time before you start working, learning or creating something new. For example:
- play your flow state playlist;
- light up a candle to symbolize upwards flow;
- clean up your desk;
- do a physical exercise; or
- focus on something energizing – what you are grateful for, your purpose, how you make a positive impact in the world.
Such a ritual or cue will create a neural connection in the brain and will support you getting into and staying in the flow state. Finally, don’t be disappointed if flow won’t happen every time. If you keep practicing these “flow enablers” – there will be other times when you unexpectedly enter flow! And with more practicing, you will find yourself in a sustained high-performance state for weeks and months!