Psychologist, speaker, author & renowned coach, specializing in leadership agility, virtual effectiveness and CreateMoreFlow.com
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Before you doubt this, think back to a time where you felt fantastic: You were in the zone, delivering great work, and feeling like a million bucks. You were in the state of flow.
Flow is the state of feeling and performing at your best, when your work is effortless, when you are lost yet completely present, immersed, and focused.
What if you could reliably get more of that, both personally and professionally? Not only would it feel great, but it could amplify your effectiveness. McKinsey researchers revealed that individuals could double their productivity if they spent 20% more time in flow.
How can you understand what sets you up for this optimal experience? As a coach, I want you to both understand first, what positioned you for success, and second, how you can reliably recreate experiences like that.
And yes, a donut, or at least a donut metaphor, can help you do this.
Through advances in neuroscience and flow research, we understand how to optimize our ability to get into flow. And we can’t get into flow unless we can get beyond our terror’s edge, or where we push our boundaries.
I have a flow hack to help you rethink how you work and redesign how you function, which will allow you to reclaim feeling and performing at your best. It’s about knowing how to push yourself to be better and to make tasks more manageable to get into your flow.
Imagine life as a donut.
There are certain things that come easily to you: you feel comfortable, confident and at ease when doing things. These activities are things that fall within your comfort zone, or “within the donut hole.”
And, there are things that are so far outside our comfort zone that they are beyond our learning zone and approach “terror’s edge.” This is the outer edge of the donut. When we spend too much time here, we feel stress, paralysis and potential burnout.
People who consistently take on the big challenges ultimately reap the greatest rewards. This is true personally and professionally: People who leave their comfort zone, stretch themselves, constantly seek out learning opportunities, and go past terror’s edge are more successful. In doing so, we awaken ourselves to incredible new endeavors and opportunities. However, too much stress can cause performance to decrease.
Great leaders develop self-awareness to tap into, gauge their level of stress(understanding where we are on the curve), and then push or pull themselves back so as to be at the “right level” of stress. We can’t get into flow without hitting that sweet spot. So how do we do it? How do we get past terror’s edge and into flow without plummeting into anxiety and stress?
These five strategies should come to your aid, both personally and professionally:
1. Be quiet. In our quest for clarity about the path forward, it is very easy to be affected by what everyone else thinks we should be doing, to be constantly confronted with distractions and information overload, and to be completely overwhelmed in the process. How we live conspires against our ability to get into flow. The first step to pushing ourselves is to actually slow down and find the space and time to be alone and unplugged.
2. Develop your game plan. Once you know what you want, you need to develop a game plan to get there. Want to be CEO? Think backwards: What are the steps it will take to get there? Want to write a book? How and when will you work on it? You should also think like an athlete: If you want to run a marathon, how might you lay the groundwork for that? How many miles do you need to run every day? What is your training schedule? Think about the actual steps involved in reaching your goals and write them down.
3. Create metrics to hold yourself accountable. Once you are clear on your goal and have your game plan, break it down into actionable tasks that are what I like to call “at level 4″: challenging enough to stretch yourself, but not so terrifying that you resist taking action. Knowing both what you need to do and how you will see that you are doing well is important to get in (and stay in) flow.
4. Be agile. My motto is “be clear on the outcome, flexible on the approach.” This is leadership agility. You must be flexible on how you achieve your goal. The best leaders are able to assess situations, adapt their strategy, and adjust actions to consistently target their outcomes. Things rarely work out the way we plan. This ability will see you through the many stumbles and obstacles that crop up.
5. Eat more donuts. Being in a state of flow can become addictive: neurologically, our brains are producing five neurochemicals to create this state. While the brain is typically only 2% of our body weight, it demands 20% of our resting metabolic rate. (Yes — thinking can be hard work.) The point is to give your body something to sustain itself, and the occasional treat (even a donut) is a good idea
Not everyone can immediately push past terror’s edge into revelatory success, but these five strategies can help you get in (and stay) in your state of flow. Using the tactics, you can harness your strength to achieve great success professionally and personally.