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Why Is ‘Flow State’ the Key to Easy Success?

by bottlez

It’s hard to explain. When coding, you lose a sense of time. The problem feels solved even though it’s not. If you encounter any problem, you almost immediately know what to do. At the end of it, you feel exhausted, but strangely, really happy – as if you have achieved something. It’s a high that can get addictive at times. Newton while writing Principia Mathematica regularly forgot to eat and sleep for days. It’s not the sacrifice of food and sleep that made him great. It’s the activated flow that caused it.

Flow is a state of enhanced performance and intense focus. It’s a concept of positive psychology, regularly seen in high-performing people. How can normal people like you achieve flow? Here are the 5-conditions to activate your flow state:

1. Intrinsic Reward: doing what matters to you

If an activity is meaningless to you, you can’t tap into flow. You can’t tap into flow in a boring job or while studying something that doesn’t interest you. The crucial requirement for flow is to pick an activity that’s meaningful to you. You can know your meaningful activity by knowing where your interests and strengths lie. For example; If your strength is being creative and you are interested in graphic design, pick that.

If your strength is extroversion and you are interested in event planning, pick that. It can be disappointing if your present job or education doesn’t align with this rule but see this as a chance to find your meaningful work and excel in it. If you excel enough, you can make the flow activity into a career.

2. Focus: as nothing else matters

You won’t get this level of focus in a week or a month. In the beginning, it will take conscious effort. But if the activity is meaningful to you, your focus will start to intensify until it’s automatic. You can start 2-things to cultivate your focus:

Cutting out distractions: For an untrained mind, external distractions are hard to ignore. It’s better if you cut them out at the beginning of your flow journey. Silence your devices, lock your door, and only focus on the task at hand.

Master Internal distractions: Blocking the outside distraction won’t save you from your over-active mind. You need to practice a mindful activity before a task to ease your mind. You can take a walk, listen to music or meditate to prepare your mind.

3. Uncriticised: the freedom to make mistakes.

There is no room for self-scrutiny in the flow state. “Am I doing it right?” “Is this going to work?”  — These questions must be avoided. They are important questions but shouldn’t be asked during work, only after completing it. Self-doubt and Internal criticism are an instant block of flow. Performance and mistakes both come out together. If you try to block the mistakes you will block your performance.

Once you drop the fear of bad skills, you will have the potential to improve your skills. Be okay with the idea of making mistakes and work in a judgment-free state.

4. Feedback: have a clear objective

You need a simple objective to compare your results to and check if you are making progress. Rock-Climbers’ objective is to climb without falling. A chess player’s objective is to meet the enemy’s king. If they have their simplistic objective in mind, they can decide their next step. Keeping in check with the objective is different from self-doubt. First is an analytical tool to adjust your action to meet your expectation whereas self-doubt is the fear of not meeting your expectations.

You can’t get back on the right track without a map. Similarly, this tool is the map to find your way to the right track in your task. If find yourself moving away from the objective, you simply adjust your actions. Whatever your work is, make a defined process-oriented objective.

5. Challenge: make the task 4% difficult

You need to find a balance between too easy and too difficult. If your task is too easy, you will get bored. If your task is too hard, you will give up. Steven Kotler another flow researcher found that a flow state is triggered when the difficulty is 4% greater than your skills.

A Chess player needs a 4% better player than him, a singer needs a 4% more difficult song than his last. Similarly, find the 4% difficulty in your work. The difficulty depends on the nature of your work. For writers, it can be writing on a difficult topic. For a hiker, it can be hiking on a difficult hill. There is no defined guideline to find your 4%. Because it’s different for every task.

Think, “What would be the next level for you?” The 4% rule works because the half-the time you will meet your objective and half-the time you won’t. This possibility to win will keep you engaged every time you practice.

credit: sanq4


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