How to Hack Your Flow (Environment Triggers)
Researchers define flow as an “optimal state of consciousness,” a peak state where we feel and perform our best.
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A 10-year McKinsey study found top executives are 5 times—i.e. 500 percent—more productive in "flow". In studies run by the U.S. military, snipers in flow learned between 200-500 percent faster than normal. Creativity gets a 7x boost. And this list goes on...
In "flow", we are so focused on the task at hand that everything else falls away.
So how can you hack your flow?
Flow states have triggers—i.e., pre-conditions that lead to more flow. There are 15 in total and they fall into four categories—psychological, environmental, social, and creative.
Environmental triggers—a.k.a. “external triggers” are qualities in the environment that drive people deeper into the zone.
#1 High Consequences When there’s danger lurking in the environment, we don’t need to concentrate extra hard to drive focus, the elevated risk levels do the job for us.
To hack the “high consequence” flow trigger, take intellectual, social, creative, and emotional risks. In the words of Harvard psychiatrist Ned Hallowell:
“To reach flow, one must be willing to take risks. The lover must lay bare his soul and risk rejection and humiliation to enter this state. The athlete must be willing to risk physical harm, even loss of life, to enter this state. The artist must be willing to be scorned and despised by critics and the public and still push on. And the average person—you and me—must be willing to fail, look foolish, and fall flat on our faces should we wish to enter this state.”
#2 A Rich Environment A combination platter of novelty, unpredictability, and complexity—three elements that catch and hold our attention much like risk. Novelty means both danger and opportunity. Unpredictability means we don’t know what happens next, thus we pay extra attention to what happens next. Complexity, when there’s lots of salient information coming at us at once, does more of the same.
Seek out complexity, especially in nature. Go stare at the night sky. Walk in the woods. If you can’t find big nature, contemplate the small. Or use technology to induce awe: surf your city with Google Earth or go see an IMAX movie.
#3 Deep Embodiment A kind of total physical awareness. Fifty percent of our nerve endings reside in our hands, feet, and face. We have five major senses.
Learn to pay attention to all these input streams in those environments. This isn’t hard. Zen walking meditation teaches open-senses/all-senses awareness. Balance and agility training (like playing hopscotch or running ladder drills) enhance proprioception and vestibular awareness. Yoga, Tai Chi, and just about every martial art blend both together. And if technology is more your speed, there are video games for both Xbox’s Kinect and Nintendo’s Wii that do the same.