If we want to have flow as a consistent part of our lives, it’s important that we understand how it works. What are the conditions that lead to and create flow? Can we consistently create it for ourselves? If so, how?!
Luckily, Steven Kotler and his team at the Flow Research Collective have already done the work for you. They looked into the data and reverse engineered flow. In his book Rise of Superman, Steven discusses the “flow triggers” that lead to flow states, both internally and externally.
I’ve already covered External Flow Triggers in a different article, so today we want to focus on the Internal triggers of flow. Your inner world, and how to harness it to improve your chances of finding flow.
Like most things in life, the “inner game” plays a big part in results. The mindset we bring to the table matters, and that mindset either enhances performance or becomes a barrier to it.
Let’s dive a bit deeper. What are the internal flow triggers, and how can we use them to our advantage?
Clarity creates certainty. It improves focus as we don’t have to think about additional unnecessary information. We don’t have to worry about unpredictability OR we can react better to unpredictability because we have clarity in the other areas.
Confusion is a surefire way to snap yourself out of flow. Knowing what you need to do and how you need to do it is an important part of creating the conditions for flow.
Too often we create goals, but not clearly. Not refined and detailed. Broken down into it’s smallest pieces so that each part becomes a series of micro movements. This prevents flow from happening.
If you want more flow in your life, make sure that you know what you’re doing, how to do it, and why you’re doing it. It will help you to tighten focus and block out the additional information you don’t need and focus on what you do.
In order to improve at anything we do, we need feedback. The faster you can get that feedback, the more reliably you can use it as a shortcut to flow.
If the activity is so intense that you don’t have space for your mind to wander, you’re on the right path.
For example if you’re driving a race car at full speed, you need to be aware of every micro movement of the steering wheel. A slight jerk of the wheel too heavily might send the car spinning.
Or if you’re surfing and need to catch a wave, if you try to balance slightly differently you will find out immediately how that changes the trajectory of your surfboard.
In these situations the environment is giving us immediate feedback to our movements.
Think about this in work as well – work too long on a project without feedback and it will go awry. The more that you have clarity (clear goals) and get feedback on the work you’re doing, the greater the chances that your work will quickly get flowy.
The more you can tighten feedback loops and get the information you need to improve and make changes, the more likely you are to use it as a catalyst for flow.
Challenge to Skills Ratio
This one is arguably the most important trigger for flow – which is why I already covered it in detail here.
In a nutshell, the challenge to skills ratio is the balance between how difficult something is, and how your skills match up to that challenge.
If the activity is too difficult and above your skill level, it will trigger stress and anxiety. If the activity is too easy and below your capabilities, you will get bored and disengaged.
Ideally you want the activity to be somewhere in the balance of slightly more difficult than what you previously thought you were capable of.
It’s not an exact science, but it’s a framework for us to understand the likely conditions that lead to flow. This ratio of challenge to skills is largely the most accurate predictor of your ability to get into a flow state.
While these triggers don’t necessarily guarantee a flow state, they give us an idea of the conditions necessary for it to happen. We can play with these triggers to improve the likelihood of achieving a flow state, and then learn from it so that we can replicate our success for the future.
However, we must also be careful in our pursuit of flow. Just like a gun, when we pull the trigger it can have immediate consequences.
Immediate feedback sometimes comes in the form of a wave crashing down on you and taking you for a ride.
Push the challenge/skills ratio a bit too far and you’re likely to injure yourself or worse.
We often don’t realize how “unclear” our goals were until we see our gaps in planning staring us in the face.
It’s easy to pull the trigger and have it backfire. Be careful.
If you’re interested in learning about how you can use these triggers in a responsible, safe way, and if you want to learn about all 21 flow triggers, Steven and his team at the Flow Research Collective have developed Zero to Dangerous – A course teaching you how to have longer, deeper, and more consistent flow states. Schedule a call with me here to learn more.