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April 14, 2020

What is Flow State? The One Skill That Will Double Your Productivity

Flow state goes by a lot of different names like:

  • Being in the zone
  • Runner’s high
  • In the pocket
  • In the cut
  • Peak experience
  • Getting stoked
  • Samadhi
  • Blissed out
  • Sense of ecstasy

No matter what you call it, if you’ve experienced a time when you lost all sense of time because you were totally immersed in whatever you were doing, you’ve experienced flow state. Getting into flow state doesn’t have to mean you’re doing something monumental — you can get into that feeling simply playing with your kids. 

Flow state, or the ability to get into the zone, has shown to increase: 

  • Motivation and productivity by 400-700%
  • Learning and memory by 230%
  • Creativity and innovation by 430%
  • Meaning and purpose 100%
  • Collaboration and cooperation (TBD)
  • Increased empathy and ecological awareness (TBD) 

The most significant point is that if you are operating in flow one day a week, you could do five day’s worth of work in one day due to a 500% increase in productivity.

I used flow to help build all nine of my businesses, to become a headlining DJ at different clubs in Boston during college, to write my bestselling book Bling in five days (a story about ditching the struggling and living in flow), and even create an accompanying album for the book. 

All my work is a testament to the benefits of getting into a flow state—It’s the name of my company, it’s the thesis of my book, and it’s the theory I’m going to teach you in this article. 

As you can see, flow plays a considerable role in my journey and success, and hopefully, it’ll become a part of yours too. 

What is Flow State? The People Who Defined What Flow is Today

Before we dive into how you can utilize flow at work to uplevel your productivity, you need to understand the concept of flow by looking at the different scientists, psychologists, and thinkers who have contributed to what flow is today. 

Steven Kotler, “Flow is the Source Code of Human Performance.”

When we’re talking about ultimate peak performance, flow is the origin of how you get there. After studying extreme athletes over the years, he observed that a flow state is a combination of six psychological conditions: 

  1. Complete concentration
  2. A merger of action and awareness
  3. Loss of self
  4. Time dilation
  5. Sense of control 
  6. Autotelechic experience

He goes on to describe that a microflow is when you have at least one of these conditions, and a macro flow is when you have all six.   

Mihaly Csikszentmihaly, “Flow is Fundamental to Wellbeing.”

Mihaly was one of the first to study, recognize, and name flow concepts. In many ways, Mihaly is the godfather of flow, as his work dates back to the 1970s. 

He found that flow is something:

  • Definable 
  • Measurable 
  • Universal
  • Spectrum
  • Flowy
  • Fundamental

In other words, getting into flow wasn’t aloof or lofty, but instead, could be tangibly observed and measured. Mihaly’s findings evolved from something that people only experienced, into something that could be scientifically observed and valued. 

Mihaly also pioneered the idea that “Flow is fundamental to [our] wellbeing.” 

Flow was not only meant to boost productivity and be a cool trick to get more shit done. It could actually help our levels of: 

  • Happiness: Flow makes you live in the moment, which drives happiness
  • Enjoyment: You’re living a high flow lifestyle because you’re always in the moment
  • Meaning: Combining the high flow lifestyle with purpose gives your life meaning 

In other words, flow is the key to live a life full of happiness, meaning, and purpose.  

Dan Pink, “Creative People With a Drive For Perfection Often Work in Flow.”

If you know about Dan Pink, then you may have read his book DriveDrive helps us understand the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivators. He also defined that purpose is one of the primary intrinsic motivators that drive people to accomplishment. 

He also talks about how highly motivated, creative, perfectionists often work in a flow state driven by a desire to perfect their work. In his words:

“They pursue a task with the highest degree of concentration and passion, forget about the world around them and lose themselves entirely in their work.” 

Dan Pink’s framework will carry into the application of how you will get into a flow state when you’re working.  

Josh Waitzkin, “Flow is About Performance Psychology.”

The child prodigy in Searching For Bobby Fischer, Josh Waitzkin, wrote an excellent book on learning and intuition called The Art of Learning. In his book, he discusses how you can use performance psychology to do two things: 

  1. Train your intuition to free up your conscious mind

You can strategically utilize training to deeply ingrain concepts so your intuition can help you get into a flow state. That way, your conscious mind is free to apply itself to the problems within a challenge, not the mechanics.

A great analogy I like to use to explain this is driving a stick. 

When you’re first learning to drive stick, it’s tough to listen to music, talk to your friends, or have a complete awareness of the road because you’re still figuring out the mechanics of driving manual. You’re still learning to time the clutch and shift so you can seamlessly change gears without stalling.  

But with practice and training, you eventually master stick to the point where it feels intuitive and almost unconscious. You can quickly shift gears in the middle of a conversation or while maneuvering on the road. 

In other words, you can get into a deeper flow when you’ve intuitively learned something and can free up more mental resources to problem-solving. 

  1. Manage your ability to focus and relax

Now, this isn’t your Netflix-and-chill relax. It’s a very strategic relaxation to help replenish your energy and get back into the flow. With the performance psychology methods Josh talks about, you can learn to manage your ability to focus and relax. And more importantly, develop the ability to switch between them as needed for optimal flow. 

Elliot Aronson, “Flow Happens at Internalization.” 

Elliot Aronson may be a little less known, but he wrote a book in the ’70s called The Social Animal. The book was another seminal piece of work about how people are influenced. It’s an applicable book in the theory of flow the following reasons: 

  1. He explains how you can train your intuition. 
  2. He describes the research behind the power of influence. 
  3. He explains the research behind influencing others.

From his work, you can learn how to influence yourself. That way, you can change your habits and belief systems that may prevent you from getting into flow. It’s also a great resource to utilize when you’re trying to make an influence on others in your business.

Like Josh Waitzkin, he also discusses internalizing skills, but goes deeper to show you that internalization happens at three levels: 

  1. Compliance: You do something you don’t want to do. You appear to agree with others but actually keep your difference of opinion private. 
  2. Identification: Mid-level internalization occurs when you want to do something because you are emulating someone you like, love, or respect. 
  3. Internalization: The deepest level of learning that occurs when you publicly and privately believe the skill is beneficial for you. 

Thus, when we look at flow, there are different skills and components you’ll need to learn to get into flow. And according to Elliot, how deeply you value those skills and where you land in the three phases will determine how deeply you’ll learn and be able to get into flow.   

The Question is, ‘How Much Do You Believe in The Value of Flow?’ 

You have to ask yourself where you are in terms of your desire to learn. 

Are you trying to emulate others and want what they have, or do you actually believe in the value of these skills, and now you need to know how you do it? 

Reflecting is crucial because it’ll ultimately drive your commitment to take action on the skills I teach in my entire webinar about flow state and the upcoming articles. 

There are obvious benefits to getting yourself in a state of uninterrupted concentration and tapping into your creative source. 

Again, flow can help boost your productivity by 500%. 

I know it personally helped me achieve ambitious goals and fast forward my vision to reality. So what would happen if you could get more done in one day than you have in five? 

If you’re saying, “OK, I’m ready and committed, but how do I do it?” 

The next step is to learn about the Flow State Canvas in my  Flow at Work Webinar, then download the canvas and fill it out. 

If you have any questions about flow state, then leave me a comment or send me a message.  

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