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June 2, 2020

The Golden Rule To Help You Stay in Flow State

What’s the ultimate business skill for 2020?

Getting into flow state to increase your productivity, creativity, and fulfillment.

If you’re interested in building this skill, then it’s time for you to cultivate flow, a period of time where you’re completely absorbed in the task at hand. 

Mihaly Csikszentmihaly, the grandfather of flow, was one of the first psychologists to identify and research the flow state. 

He found that not only will flow state boost your productivity 500%, but he also argued in his book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience that, “Flow is fundamental to our wellbeing.” 

In other words, our happiness levels can increase by getting into and staying in Flow more often.

I took a deep dive into how you can achieve a flow state in my articles: 

If you haven’t already, I encourage you to download and fill out the free flow state canvas and create a daily routine that will allow you to get into the zone every day. 

However, if you’re experiencing flow state and you’re curious how you can replicate the experience more often or stay in the zone longer, keep reading.

The Golden Rule: Without Struggle or a Small Challenge, You Can’t Get into Flow State

Flow is a cyclical process of balancing recovery, struggle, and release. To get into the flow state, you have to go through all three phases: 

The phases of flow

Though every phase is vitally important, it’s important to note that we need to “struggle,” or we won’t tap into our optimal performance. 

In other words, to experience flow state, we have to challenge ourselves. 

Mihaly noticed that when you’re doing something that slightly exceeds your skillset in a way that isn’t too easy or too hard, you can tap into a flow channel.

Flow Channel

The Golden Rule is an overlooked yet fundamental principle to flow theory: If your task is perceived as too challenging for your current skill set, you’ll trigger anxiety or stress. 

When your work isn’t challenging enough or is too repetitive, you can find yourself in a state of boredom or passivity. Both of which prevent you from operating in a heightened state of focus, clarity, and presence. 

Thus, the Golden Rule is all about finding the sweet spot between your skill level and the challenge of the task at hand so you can get into and stay in a flow channel longer. 

The 4% Rule is Fundamental to Finding and Staying in the Flow Channel 

Getting into the flow means that you have learned to be slightly uncomfortable but not too uncomfortable. Because again, if the work is too hard, you’re going to trigger a stress response, and if it’s too easy, you’re working out of compliance. 

To ensure you’re working in the flow channel, you need to push yourself a little more every day. That way you’re not overly tasked, but not working from autopilot.

That’s where the 4% rule comes in. 

Every day, you need to do something that is 4% greater or a little bit harder than your current skillset. The small challenge will cause a cascade effect, creating the struggle that triggers the focus and mental energy to create a deeper longer flow state, improve learning and retention, and become 4% better the next day. 

How to Create Your 4% Plan

There are three time-based methods you can challenge yourself 4% more every day:

  1. Evaluate what percent of your day you spent in flow state the day before and add 4%.
  2. If you weren’t in flow state, evaluate what percent of your day you spent concentrated and add 4%.
  3. If you weren’t very concentrated, then pick a time block where you can stay focused and eliminate interruptions.

You can also challenge yourself to improve your skills by 4% every day:

  1. Pick one activity from the day before and Google search for tactics to improve your skill.
  2. Decide on one activity you need to do today and run your Google search to see what you can do to push yourself a little extra.
  3. Look for a strength or weakness that you want to improve and Google ways to get better at it. Then implement one of the lessons.

As an example, this past weekend I was looking to improve operational decision-making and am very comfortable with financial measures. The thing is, those measures only get me so far. 

I needed new data but I didn’t know exactly what or how to get it.

So I took a Udemy course on Throughput and Lean Accounting. It cost me $11.99 and in 2 hours, I learned the metrics I needed and built them into my scorecard. The next day, I figured out how to get one of those pieces of data. 

Breaking down your time or skills into bite sized pieces allows you to truly challenge yourself that much more each day.

How Will You Challenge Yourself Every Day? 

To get into a flow state, you have to go through struggle first. You have to have something that is defined as slightly more difficult than your current skill set. 

Without a challenge and the frustration that comes with it, you can’t get into a flow. 

Sometimes people are worried that struggling with a task will prevent them from focusing and getting into the zone, so they back off or force their way through their work. But here’s the thing:

Challenging yourself is critical to operating your peak performance. 

This principle of flow theory is often overlooked. Yet, it is crucial in times that require us to push ourselves to develop our ability to control our awareness, improve our focus, master new skills, and be a force for good. 

Ultimately, challenge makes us feel better while improving our capacity to do better work while becoming better people. 

Tell me, how will you challenge yourself a little more every day so you can ride your flow? What’s your 4% plan? Don’t forget to add it to your flow state canvas. 

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  1. Mr. Seth,
    I have loved the word “flow” for a very long time. This year, I decided to make it my “word.” I have it written on my golf balls (of all things), I use it my morning mantra, I ask for it for my children and grandchildren. I think I was already conscious of that state between boredom and stress for a long time, but only since retiring from full-time work, have I had the opportunity to find ways to dwell in that in-between. I love it there. I wish I had known about it sooner. I hate feeling unprepared or ill-equipped for something and all this time, I’ve been using stress to propel me out of that challenging space. I learn what I need to learn fairly quickly – but I was always so scared I wouldn’t get the knowledge I need fast enough. It feels so good to get it and then what seemed hard gets easier. That’s the best part of my day really.

    It’s just so thrilling for me that you are talking about this space!

    Coincidentally, I’m a writer and just found an opening with Flow for which I’ve applied. This is my dream job at this stage of my life!

    Thanks for validating me and I will read more on the topic!