Being in the zone, experiencing flow, is this awesome state where we feel at our best and perform at our best. In this state we are so fully engaged and absorbed with the task at hand that all else falls away and our performance goes through the roof.
Wouldn’t it be great to be able to get into this state more often to help us achieve our New Year resolutions?
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (1990), outlines that people are happiest when they are in a state of flow— a state of concentration or complete absorption with the activity at hand and the situation.
Steven Kotler in his book The Rise of Superman (2014), examines how extreme athletes — surfers, snowboarders, skydivers, and others — have used flow to lift athletic performance to levels unlike anything ever seen before. He then proceeds explaining that anyone can tap this state. “It’s ubiquitous. It shows up anywhere, provided certain initial conditions are met — and that includes the world of business”.
Athletes talk about “being in the zone”, musicians talk about “being in the groove”. How can we experience the same performance peaks at work or in our daily life?
The consulting firm McKinsey looked into this optimal performance state and what it meant for the business environment. In a 10-year study they found that top executives reported being five times more productive in flow. Isn’t this astounding? This means that if you spend just Monday at work in flow you’ll do as much as during the entire week in a non-flow state!
So how can we produce more flow in our lives?
According to Csikszentmihalyi flow is created by activities with a specific set of properties or triggers:
• They need to be challenging and require skill
• They have clear and immediate feedback (we know whether we are doing the activity properly or not) and have well-defined success or failure metrics
• They need to have the right challenge-skills ratio. Flow is a constant balancing act between anxiety, where the difficulty is too high for our skills level and boredom, where the difficulty is too low. The tasks at hand must be challenging enough to require us to stretch and there is a sweet spot called the “flow channel” that locks our attention on the task.
• We need to focus and give it our undivided attention. As we live in environments that chronically divide our attention and work circumstances that promote multi-tasking, it is important to be aware that these are not conducive to flow.
So as we reflect on and set our New Year Resolutions let’s keep flow and its triggers in mind. By directing our attention to what matters, by setting clear goals, by challenging ourselves in a way that makes us grow, we will increase our performance and get more life satisfaction.
Happy New Year!