5 November2021

An Introduction to the Concept of Flow

How flow helps individuals achieve and sustain peak business performance at work

byJason Haller

What is Flow?

Flow is an altered state of consciousness where we feel our best, perform our best, and experience complete immersion in a given task or situation. As flow researcher Steven Kotler puts it​ “those moments of rapt attention and total absorption when you get so focused on the task at hand that everything else disappears. Action and awareness merge. Your sense of self vanishes and your sense of time distorts.” Part of what allows our brain to reach this altered state is some neuroanatomical and neurochemical changes, some of which affect the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain that is involved in self-identity, self-criticism, and sense of time. By reducing thoughts of self-doubt, self-awareness, and what may or may not happen in the future, the ability to reach deeper levels of concentration in the current moment becomes much easier.

What neurochemical changes are actually taking place? Performance-enhancing chemicals are released during the flow state that increase the senses, information processing, creativity, motivation, learning, pattern recognition, and lateral thinking. This is what allows “flow” to be such a performance-boosting experience. This also happens to be an extremely potent mixture of feel-good chemicals leading to flow being called “the most addictive state on earth” by author and flow researcher Steven Kotler.

Why Do We Care?

If you want to master the art of accomplishing more with less, flow is the tool you want access to. At Five to Flow, we refer to people as the most valuable resource a company has. The cognitive state of flow and the principles involved with achieving it is by far the best way to maximize that resource.

Flow has many names: runners high, being in the zone, peak experiences, the forever box, and the list goes on. It is experienced by all kinds of people in varying situations and to varying degrees. How we achieve flow isn’t like turning on a light switch though, it takes a very intentional lifestyle and some extreme circumstances to induce. For this reason, we aren’t expecting everyone to be able to get into flow at all times or even any time soon. But, by understanding how a high-flow lifestyle works and the triggers and environment it requires, we can definitely improve productivity, engagement, and efficiency for ourselves.

Flow is also a “feel good” state. It is intrinsically motivating, meaning it is enjoyable not for some external outcome, but just for the experience itself. Creativity, learning, and motivation are enhanced during flow, making this a powerful tool for anyone or any company looking to reach higher levels of productivity and performance. It has been my experience that the things I enjoy doing and am most motivated to do end up being done at a much higher level than the things I am merely required to do.

“It is when we act freely, for the sake of the action itself rather than for ulterior motives, that we become more than what we were.” Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

What Actions Can You Take?

Flow is not for the faint of heart. The triggers, hacks, environment, and all-around circumstances it takes to maximize the potential for flow can seem overwhelming at first. Some assembly is required, but by no means do you need to dive into the deep end right away. You don’t actually have to be in flow to experience the benefits of a high-flow lifestyle. The benefits come more from developing the habits than from “trying really hard” to accomplish any specific task. It’s about setting yourself up for success rather than reacting to a challenge in a frenzy of effort. Flow is a state of relaxed high performance.

Here are some preliminary tips to get started on before we dive deeper into flow in future articles:

  1. Limit distractions during your work blocks.​ This includes notifications, pings, emails, noisy environments, and distracting visuals.
  2. Practice unitasking. I know we all take pride in how well we can multitask, but for flow, this is actually training the brain to do the wrong thing. If you’re doing something, practice doing it with focus and to the best of your ability before moving on.
  3. Read or learn about things you’re curious about on a daily basis.​ Twenty minutes a day on topics you’re interested in really helps ramp up your curiosity and leads to better pattern recognition down the road, which is a key component of flow.
  4. Practice active recovery.​ Burnout is more common than ever and has devastating effects on achieving flow. A daily or at minimum weekly commitment to active recovery will help you build resilience to burnout and help set yourself up for better cognitive performance.
  5. Incorporate flow triggers into your life.​ The more triggers you have access to, the easier it will be to perform at your best. A couple of noteworthy triggers to start with are clear goals, curiosity, passion, purpose, autonomy, mastery, complete concentration, and risk.

For more information on flow please visit the Flow Genome Project. You can also follow this topic on our social channels using the hashtag #flowcabularyfriday. Each week, we will be focusing on one term within the flow framework and how it can improve your performance at work. For more information about Five to Flow’s solutions that increase intrinsic motivation, flow, and business health, please contact us.




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