If we want to perform at our best, it’s important that we pay attention to the environment in which we work.
Do you work better in an office or outside? Do you have your best creative insights in the shower or while hiking in nature? How frequently do you move throughout the day (or do you sit?)
Whether we like it or not, our environment plays a big role in our productivity. Sometimes in order to perform at our best, a simple shift in location or addition to your workspace is all you need.
Better yet, we can actually engineer our environment to “trigger” productivity. We can set up our space in a way that is designed to make us more productive and make it more likely to find flow.
In the world of Flow states, this is called “external flow triggers” — AKA using your environment as a way to trigger flow (or make it more likely to happen).
How can you engineer an environment that has the perfect ambiance for flow?
In many ways, these external conditions are ways of forcing you into the here and now. A way to shell-shock you into presence because quite frankly, you don’t have any other option.
That’s the goal here — to have an environment that eliminates distraction and propels us into intense focus on the activity at hand. An environment that gives us the ability to tap into our heightened senses and use them to our advantage.
In his book Rise of Superman, Steven Kotler identifies three external triggers or conditions that make flow more likely to happen: Danger/risk, a rich environment, and deep embodiment.
Let’s dive into these one at a time.
Fear is always a great way to get the heart pumping and focus you into the present moment. When you’re standing on the edge of a cliff there is no room for thinking about what your boss said to you at work that made you angry.
Risks, danger, and fear all have a way of shuttling us into the present moment. They have a way of ramping up our neurochemistry too!
As risk increases, so do norepinephrine and dopamine, the feel good chemicals the brain uses to amplify focus and enhance performance.
As a catalyst for flow, risk and danger drive the focus that we need to fall into the zone. It helps us to focus on only the task at hand and block everything else out…an important precursor to flow.
Keep in mind though that risk is inherently dangerous. Playing with risk as a catalyst for flow is like playing with fire. Do it responsibly and take caution to the best of your abilities in all flow pursuits.
Have you ever lost yourself in a view at the top of a mountain? Walked through a forest in awe? Watched the stars in the sky or the clouds pass by?
This is what we mean by “Rich Environment”. A place that is visually breathtaking, novel and unpredictable. Every step around every nook and cranny is new, and you don’t know what will happen next.
Again, this brings us into a state of presence, where we are immersed in the moment at hand and not thinking about anything else.
A rich environment can facilitate the transition to flow as it brings us the heightened focus and attention to detail we need. It’s the nudge needed to get out of your head and into flow.
Some activities require you to use every part of your body at once. Think of surfing or gymnastics or any form of martial arts. You have to control different parts of your body all at the same time.
This focus on the entire body all at once is a form of full body awareness — one of the conditions we often see in flow.
When we’re immersed into our bodies, there isn’t much room for thought. We have to think about bending our knees, keeping the hips open, shoulders wide, and take in the incoming information of the external environment all at the same time. There’s no way the conscious mind can keep up. If you start thinking, you’ll fall off or mess up.
The natural world is filled with opportunities to use this to our advantage. We can ride waves, climb mountains, kayak rivers and more. We can use our natural environment to force us to use our entire body at once…and ride that wave into flow along the way.
This is why deep embodiment is such a powerful channel to find flow. By getting into our bodies and out of our heads, we can slingshot ourselves into the zone and then see how long we can stay there afterwards.
Our external environment can play a large role in helping us get into flow more easily. Risk heightens our awareness and drives focus. Natural beauty opens our eyes and leaves us in awe. Playing with our external world gets us into our bodies and out of our heads.
When you open your eyes to it, there are opportunities to use your environment and improve your chances of finding flow.
Applying to life
What we can learn from external flow triggers is that environment plays a HUGE role in performance. Where you work and how you work will affect your ability to drop into flow.
What does your office look like when you work? Is it visually stimulating (rich environment)? Do you remain seated at your desk all day (deep embodiment)?
Have you ever taken a phone call while walking? You’ll notice that the call is smoother and flies by without you realizing where the time went. Why? You were using an external flow trigger of deep embodiment to tap into your environment and use your body.
Or take risk for example — knowing that you have a deadline can shuttle you into flow. Or knowing that you’re working on a a very large deal could shuttle you into flow.
Know those people who are the perpetual procrastinators who wait till the last minute to do everything? They are actually using risk as a flow trigger to get more work done more quickly!
Across all aspects of human performance we see the triggers of flow working in the background.
If you’re seeing productivity lacking, if you’re seeing a need to improve focus, take inventory of the physical space you work within and see where and how you can make changes to add in more external flow triggers.
The best part
What’s even better? These are only three of the external flow triggers — and there’s about 21 of them in all!
Want to learn more about all 21 Flow triggers so that you can learn how to use them to your advantage? Join my Free Course Foundations of Flow. In it I teach you all of the methods to get into flow on command.
Good luck in your pursuits! Keep these in mind, use them to your advantage, and BE SAFE!
Also published on Medium.