Over the last few weeks I’ve been enjoying the exploration of flow triggers. The things that you can do to drive yourself into the zone. Into a state where you are laser focused and can get more done in less time.

Today’s topic will continue on this tangent 🙂

For some background context, in case you are new to this material, in the world of Flow States there is a topic called “Flow Triggers.” These are the things that we can do to drive ourselves into flow. The “triggers” we can pull that will drive us into the state. They come from the work of people like Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Herb Benson, Robert Sapolsky, Keith Sawyer.

In a nutshell, when we use these triggers, they are doing one of two things.

1) Pumping neurochemicals like dopamine and norepinephrine into the system – AKA chemicals that drive focus, excitement, and engagement.

2) Lowering cognitive load – AKA the # of things I am trying to pay attention to in a moment. By lowering cognitive load I free up more energy that can be better used for focus.

Moreover, flow triggers are different for everyone. They depend on what gets you excited/stressed/curious/interested etc. Therefore, understanding what your individual flow triggers are, and how you can use them to drive yourself into the state, is an essential piece of learning how to perform at your best.

What are the various flow triggers/what they do in the brain and body? Here’s a quick oversimplified breakdown of them all.

  1. Curiosity/Passion/Purpose – Dopamine
  2. Autonomy – Dopamine/reducing cognitive load
  3. Complete Concentration – Reducing cognitive load
  4. Risk – Norepinephrine
  5. Novelty – Dopamine
  6. Complexity – Dopamine
  7. Unpredictability aka surprise – Dopamine
  8. Deep Embodiment – Reducing cognitive load
  9. Immediate Feedback – Reducing cognitive load/dopamine/norepinephrine depending on feedback
  10. Clear Goals – Reducing cognitive load
  11. Challenge/Skill Ratio – Reducing cognitive load/dopamine/norepinephrine depending on feedback
  12. Creativity/Pattern Recognition – Dopamine

If you want to dive into how to discover what your own flow triggers are and how to apply them into your life, I’ve already written on that topic at length here, so I won’t dive into it too deeply here, but for the purpose of today’s article I want to explore the idea that flow triggers can be looked at as an “arsenal”. An inventory of weapons that can be used based on what the situation requires of you.

Just because you know what your triggers are, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to use them all at the same time. You want to have contextual awareness and use only what the situation demands of you.

You want to keep something in your arsenal so that if you can feel attention slipping away, you can pull out the big guns when the previous weapons are no longer working.

It’s like having a hammer vs a gun vs a bazooka. There’s no reason to be bringing out the bazooka every day to work when a hammer can suffice. More importantly, that nuke is fucking heavy!

I often find that the simplest weapon that requires the least force is always the most effective.

For example in my article on using flow triggers at work, I talk about how while I am on sales calls I will use techniques like going for a walk, rolling golfballs under my feet, using HRV breathing, and other techniques that all help me to remain present and prevent my attention from slipping away.

But the larger point is that I only use them if I need them. I don’t use these techniques if I’m already in a naturally focused state of mind. I only use them if I feel like I have low energy, can’t focus, or I’m bored.

Think of it like drinking a cup of coffee. Ideally, you should only be drinking it if you’re tired and need energy. If you already have great energy levels, if you’re already stimulated, you shouldn’t need the cup of coffee. You want to save it for when you need it most for maximum benefit.

I think of using triggers in the exact same way. For example, as I’ve been writing this article I’ve been writing in silence. I just noticed my attention slipping slightly, so I went onto Spotify and put on some music. The slight addition of music is enough to change the mood without taking a hard break, and I’ve continued this tangent of writing, thus maintaining my focus and energy levels.

I only use the flow trigger when it becomes necessary. I tap into the arsenal as needed so that I get maximum benefit from it. I don’t rely or lean on the trigger, I use it as a supplement when the situation demands it.

Some days its easier to get in the zone than others. Cultivate awareness of using the minimal force needed so that adding in more triggers is more effective as needed. Sometimes we only need 2 or 3 triggers, and we want to save the other triggers for when we can feel our attention slipping in order to SUSTAIN flow.

I believe that many people lean on their habits too heavily and watch them become less effective over time. They need coffee every day, music every day, walking every day, etc etc. While I am a big believer of habits and consistency, just like coffee, you will build up a tolerance over time, and the flow trigger will become less effective each day that you use it.

I don’t change to a new and novel environment every single day, I use it when I feel like my current workspace is getting boring. I don’t go for a walk on every sales call, I go for a walk when I feel like I need some additional focus or a state shift. I don’t do HRV breathing for every task, I use it when I feel like I am stressed. I don’t smoke weed before every writing session, I smoke weed when I feel like I have a block and nothing wants to come out of me.

You get the point. I use them when they are needed so that I don’t build up a tolerance to them.

I always like to say “don’t lean too heavily on the medicine”. Just because it works doesn’t mean that you have to rely on it and use it every single day. This my friends, is what we call addiction. Don’t be too addicted to your habits.

Try to take inventory of which ones give the most bang for their buck. Which triggers are the daily reliable ones vs the ones you pull out when you need to perform at a high level on command? Map out the frequency with which you can use them in the sense of daily, weekly, monthly, etc. Ask yourself if you’re using the right triggers in the right situation as a result of this, if you’re bringing out the nukes where only pistols are needed kinda thing. Course correct accordingly.

So how do we use our triggers in a sustainable and reliable way?

By SAVING our triggers for when we need them most. By having a fat arsenal of weapons that we can use when we need them. Knowing what weapon to use in what moment and in the precise quantity that you need it. The precision of a Samurai warrior. This is the true Kung-Fu of Flow my friends.

Now get out there and build your arsenal 😉

Curious to learn more about how to apply flow triggers into your life? Schedule a call with me and see if you’re a good fit for Zero to Dangerous.

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