5 NON-NEGOTIABLES OF FLOW STATES. Elusive high-performance state is actually quite simple. Flow state pre-flight checklist.
In flow states we deliver our best work, our best insights, our best performance. Some sources mention we are 5X as effective! I definitely noticed that flow states help me to get through work and studies at a rate that’s at least my 2X.
In today’s post we’ll talk about the essential cognitive components without which flow is impossible. In tomorrow’s post we’ll talk about the biology of flow, or brain-body practices that make flow challenging when not provided.
Let’s get into flow!
1. CLEAR GOALS
You got to have a very clear idea about the end destination to enhance focus and bring all the insights and resources to the task.
Let’s say you want to hit the flow state while writing something.
Don’t just sit down and write - set boundaries. Length, style, what “done” looks like. The more boundaries, paradoxically one might think, the more flow and more creativity inside those boundaries. You can’t start problem-solving mode (flow is your problem-solving mechanism) without having a clearly stated problem!
2. FOCUS AND NO DISTRACTIONS
If you aren’t focused - there’s no flow.
First step for strong, deep focus - setting clear goals.
Second, distraction elimination - sounds, visuals, errands, people, technology - eliminate all of it. Only then, you can hope for really deep focus required for flow states.
What might help to “hack” the focus? Danger, deadline and natural curiosity.
3. THE PLEASURE OF DOING IT
Flow is ONLY possible if the process is internally very rewarding, it’s meaningful, you feel it’s important. There’s no flow in meaningless, boring, mundane tasks.
You can find something meaningful and joyful in almost any task when you put some thinking into it.
4. CHALLENGING BUT NOT TOO MUCH
Speaking of danger. Things that are challenging will increase focus and our dopamine for the pursuit of the reward. Growth, learning, overcoming difficulties is actually very rewarding - that’s what our brain is designed to do. But only if the challenge is manageable. Otherwise, the brain jumpstarts another program - “abort the mission impossible”. Why?
Because brain’s primary purpose is to ensure our survival. Overextending resources without an adequate reward is potentially life-threatening.
So if something is too complex - hitting the flow is very challenging.
Your skills got to be on point. The ideal challenge has to be just slightly (20% or so) above your skill level.
5. CONSTANT FEEDBACK ABOUT PROGRESS
You got to know whether you are getting closer to the reward or further away. The way to flow is run by dopamine and dopamine is driven by rewards. Feedback is a kind of preview of the reward coming. If there’s no feedback, dopamine levels drop and with that the whole flow state biochemistry. Dopamine is in the driver's seat of flow and dopamine is driven by rewards. There’s no way to track rewards without progress indicators.
Those can be manufactured by you. Just set some intermediate progress markers, more frequent are better - the main idea written down, a plan for a longer piece, the first slide of the presentation or the skeleton.
Celebrate a little bit each small milestone. Dopamine loves celebration!
The next time you are trying to get into flow, make sure to have this checklist handy to check if you have all the conditions for flow to happen.
How often do you get into flow❓