With so many of us fixated on the journey of personal development, it comes to no surprise that guidelines for achieving “flow” have become widely popularised. It is helpful to recognise that; “flow”, is a process. Flow can be identified as a highly ordered and optimal state of being — a heightened state of consciousness. When a person is in “flow”, they feel and perform at their best. Typically, a person may experience the momentum of “flow” when completely immersed in an activity. Both laser focus and experiencing a deep sense of enjoyment are key indicators that a person is in the flow-state. We see this phenomenon frequently when we observe high-performing athletes or composers in action. It is important to note, however, that being “in the flow” or “in the zone” is not a new concept. In fact, this state of flow has been well documented from around the world, for centuries. Even in spiritual traditions; they talk about achieving this state. With extra-ordinary processing capabilities and heightened sensory perceptions; it is no wonder that so many of us are seeking ways to unlock this potential. To truly understand the power of flow, we must first take a closer look at what it feels like to be in this optimal state. What is the experience?
Many surfers recall accessing a state of flow when they are feeling; “in the zone”, and catching their wave. According to Steven Kotler, author of Stealing Fire; “It’s the moment of total absorption. Time speeds up or slows down like a freeze-frame effect. Mental and physical ability go through the roof, and the brain takes in more information per second, processing it more deeply.” It’s in this flow-state; that we seem to have access to a higher level of intelligence and an increase in awareness. This is reflected in our effortless actions. We melt into the moment; intrinsically absorbed in the task at hand. Even our sense of time and our sense of self seem to dissipate. We experience oneness; an altered state of consciousness — there is a great sense of deep embodiment. Intuitive awareness, mental clarity and enhanced creativity are all by-products of experiencing this optimal state of flow. According to Dr. Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi, our human brain can consciously process up to around 120 bits of information per second This is the capability of our conscious mind. Our subconscious mind, however, is able to process over a whopping 1 million bits of information per second. Yes, you read that correctly. The key point to acknowledge here is that; if we access the flow state — we essentially are able to tap into the ability of our subconscious mind.Through altering our state of consciousness we have the opportunity to access this intelligence and experience this extraordinary potential. Interestingly it has been discovered that our prefrontal cortex, located at the top-front of our cranial brain, slows down when we access into this flow state. This process is referred to as ‘transient hypofrontality’. The prefrontal cortex can be thought of as the part of the brain which is our sense of self. It is responsible for how we make meaning of the world, our sense of morality and our ego. Hacking into flow states provides us with the ability to silence our inner critic which stems from the prefrontal cortex. In flow, our mind’s typical Chit-chat begins to quieten and we move into a realm of connectedness.
When we enter the “flow state”; we are entirely absorbed in that moment. Our inner critic is silenced and we completely lose track of the outside world. All the meanwhile — our performance is extraordinary. To take this further, it is important to note that there is a distinctive change that occurs with our brainwave patterns and our neurotransmitters every time this state of flow occurs. The flow-genome project have been able to document this process particularly well. They call it the flow cycle. The flow cycle consists of four stages.
At this initial stage, our mind is usually involved in trying to solve a challenging problem or learning a new skill. It is likely that we have higher doses of cortisol and adrenaline deposited into our body. The activated sympathetic nervous system raises our heart rate in preparation for the challenge at hand. This can be experienced as healthy stress or frustration. Depending on our level of skill and if we have applied the challenge to ratio principle, we will either be boosted up to stage two and geared towards entering the state of flow, or if the challenge is too much it will just feel overwhelming. Typically in this alert state we will be operating with BETA brainwaves. The important point to note here; is that when the brain is highly aroused and engaged in mental activities it will produce BETA waves.
After the initial stage of struggling, our mind will want to take an opportunity to reset, release and come back into a state of balance. This means that the increased levels of stress hormones begin to diminish and the BETA brainwaves start slowing down. This is the moment where our brainwaves transition from BETA to ALPHA wavs of 8-12 Hz. If we take time out to reflect after completing a task — our brain would be in an ALPHA State.
Once we have reflected, we may choose to have another attempt at solving the initial problem. Since we have already experienced the first wave of struggle, we are now more prepared to go a little further to overcome the challenge by entering the zone. This is the point where the initial level of difficulty of the challenge decreases, as we stretch and develop our abilities with our full attention. In the flow-state our brain is flooded with endorphins and dopamine, giving us that motivational feeling and sense of euphoria. This is the space between ALPHA and THETA - a dream-like state at 8hz. This is the moment where we have successfully found the sweet spot between what we find too easy and too challenging. It is ecstasy!
Once we have experienced the peak of the flow state, our mind brings us back to our usual state of being. Our sense of time, space and self returns. This is where we feel a sense of reward and fulfilment. This is reinforced by the release of serotonin and oxytocin. Our mind has gone in to full recovery.
Perceived stress is one of the major reasons we may not be able to achieve a flow-state. Stress is a natural response when the brain and body picks up information that something is potentially problematic or dangerous. This is our survival mechanism and it is a huge factor in our evolution; it has helped us to stay alive as a species. Today, however, the threat is not comparable, yet the mind/body still reacts with the same stress response as if the danger were real. Stress has a degenerative effect over time and usually consists of an imbalance in your autonomic nervous system (ANS).Every human being has what is called a sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system, once activated, increases our heart rate but is also known to generate what is referred to as a “fight or flight” response within the body. In contrast, the parasympathetic nervous system is primarily responsible for the body’s ability to relax. Interestingly, when we are in a state of flow; both of these systems work synergistically together in a highly ordered state. This level of coherence generates a cohesive balance within the autonomic nervous system.
When we are not in a state of coherence or “flow”, our ANS is in consistent flux between both systems. Pro-longed stress can result in higher levels of activity in the sympathetic nervous system which can lead to a number of health issues. When we experience “fight or flight”, aside from the increased heart rate, there is usually high levels of cortisol, adrenaline and other “stress hormones” pumped into our body. Although adrenaline usually depletes after a short amount of time, cortisol can stay in the body for days at a time. This is the main reason why sometimes we can feel wired and on overdrive. It is because our body is flooded with cortisol. Harbouring these high levels of cortisol in our system can impact our state of mind and prevent us from reaching the flow-state.
To truly harness the potential of achieving the flow state; it is important that we first create the right conditions. Take note in mastering these four key flow triggers and make sure you keep these in your Productivity toolbox!
In order to maximise your potential of cultivating flow; it is important that you have your goals clearly set out. You need a clear, concrete objective. If you lack clarity in what you want to achieve, it can cause unnecessary setbacks. You need to know exactly what you are doing — and why you are doing it. Intentionally set actionable goals that make it easier to block out distractions. Remember, setting specific goals can prevent your mind from wandering. Keep in mind if you are too concerned with the outcome it can hinder your performance.
Receiving immediate feedback is essential for achieving and sustaining flow. Having immediate feedback is curial so you can change direction when required. Creating a Feedback loop will not only provide you with real-time results; but it will give you a chance to make the necessary adjustments to stay in the flow. Ultimately - immediate feedback leads to fast growth and innovation.
Elon Musk shares a beneficial insight into the importance of feedback loops; “I think it’s very important to have a feedback loop, where you’re constantly thinking about what you’ve done and how you could be doing it better. I think that’s the single best piece of advice: constantly think about how you could be doing things better and questioning yourself.”
In order for the flow-state to occur, you need to make sure your skill level is well-suited to the challenge. You have to know that the task is challenging but feasible. Balance is key. If the challenge level of the task is too high — it can cause you overwhelm and distress. If the challenge level of the task is too low — you are likely to get bored, distracted or have your mind wander. Make sure you develop your skills to meet the challenge appropriately. As csikszentmihalyi says, “if challenges are too low, one gets back to flow by increasing them. if challenges are too great, one can return to the flow state by learning new skills.” Slightly stretching your current abilities and skill-set in a challenge can result in cultivating a flow-state. as ““Flow shows up when we’re stretching, pushing our skills to the max.” - Kotler
It is incredibly important that you maintain a high level of concentration and a laser-focus when carrying out your task. Maintaining this level of attention can help you reach a flow state. Don’t allow any internal or external distractions to lead you astray from the task at hand. Remain attentive for the entirety of the session — allowing yourself to become completely absorbed into the activity. Sustain this high level of focus and you will momentarily forget about everything else, including your sense of time, sense of surroundings and even sense of self. You have to learn to control your consciousness. Make sure you singularly focus on one task at a time only — multi-tasking is considered a procrastinators dream! Multi-tasking is perhaps one of the greatest obstacles we face today, with so many distractions at the tip of our fingers. Concentrating on a single task increases our productivity, increases our accuracy for the task at hand and increases our power of retention.
To achieve and maintain flow requires us to step outside of our comfort zone. This is the growth mindset that will empower us to take necessary risks. We need high consequences for what we do. A method we can adopt to ensure we keep ourselves uncomfortable; is to make ourselves socially accountable.
As individuals; we tend to access a flow-state when we are doing something we enjoy and are skilled at. After reading this blogpost, you may have a better idea of what makes you happy and what has the potential to bring you into this state of flow. What are the specific activities that you do in your life that drives flow? Remember— everyone accesses this flow-state differently. Are you more likely to access flow when you are moving your body or just thinking? Knowing what really gives you joy and focus can increase your chances of cultivating this flow-state. Jot all of these answers down to give you a snapshot of what is working for you. Sometimes it can be fun to let your curiosity take you into exploration of other activities you have not yet listed that may also spark your creativity. Flow is like a muscle, the more you train it — the easier it will be to access this state more frequently.
Time Management is defined as ‘the practice of using the time that you have available in a useful and effective way, especially in your work'. Time management relates to prioritization. If you know how to prioritize things you will have better time management skills.
If you learn how to conquer time management effectively- you’ll be able to get more quality work done in a shorter amount of time. So, just to reiterate -effective time management can give you... better work quality, more productivity in less time so you can still have a balanced life with less stress... sounds good right!?
If you neglect to tend to improving your time management skills- it may have a negative impact on your daily life- with experiences such as:
My old boss (and mentor) always managed to everyday, without fail, shout at me in a military fashion... “You have 24hours in a day, 168 hours in a week”.
And although it did make me view time as a valuable resource, this like many other beliefs that we have been conditioned to hold on a collective scale are limiting us- without us even realizing it.
Having the belief that we need to break our backs, working nonstop to achieve success, creates hard to manage standards with reference to work.
Working every hour of the day leads to burn out, lethargy, low self-esteem and bad moods because we are either not meeting our extremely high standards (thus we our judging ourselves negatively for it), or, our work quality is poor because we haven’t taken the fundamental rest needed or experience a healthy work/life balance to produce optimum ‘flow’.
*Flow is a state of complete immersion in an activity- also known as “being in the zone.”
In his book the 4 hour work week: author Time Ferris believes the current 9-5 grind in exchange for weekends, and the occasional one-week (no more than 2 weeks) holiday model is flawed. Like many others, he has hacked the system and developed his relationship to time due to mastering the laws of Pareto’s Principle.
What this law states is that 20 percent of your activities will account for 80 percent of your results.
To put it more bluntly; the ten tasks that you have planned to progress your project are not necessarily equal in value.
In fact, what Pareto’s principle says is that out of a list of ten things, two actions will contribute majority to the outcome that you aspire to achieve, and the others which most likely take equal amount of time to complete are holding you back in terms of efficiency.
Ferris builds on the notion work smarter not harder; “The goal here is twofold, find your inefficiencies in order to eliminate them, and secondly find your strengths and those critical few tasks so you can multiply your output.” It is really important to be honest with yourself but also free of overly negative self-judgement. You may be exceptional at many things, you may be trying to expand your skillset in other unfamiliar areas – but in terms of efficiency for getting a project done, running a complex business- please be honest yourself. What are you skilled at? What do you find does not come so naturally to you?
In other words, ask yourself: what am I doing that someone else could do better?
This frees energetic space to focus all of your energy into your skills that will support, drive and grow your projects in a very efficient way.
It is common to mask progression with “busyness” to feed your ego by claiming a false sense of accomplishment, yet do not fall into the denial trap of setting more tasks meaning that you are moving forward. Some tasks could be entirely unnecessary and therefore limiting your great resource: Time. You’re too busy completing a task that will have little or no effect towards your output, that it may be stagnating your energy and motion.
Could this be something you are doing unconsciously in a self-sabotaging manner? Ferris says: “the important thing is to shift from presence to performance, cut out the static, all the things that consume time and income without contributing back, and focus on the critical few. You’ll find that very few things matter.” The offspring of success is efficiency, efficiency regarding all the small details. Knowing where to place your power (energy).
If we can get clear about which 20% of our work input will contribute the most to our goals, we have a great foundation for utilizing time in an efficient way and cut out the unnecessary. We do not have to work 100% of the 24hour day to feel as if we are accomplished, but we should make sure the time we do invest in work needs to be concentrated, focus and present.
1. Be intentional for productivity – have yourself set up for success.
Get 7-8 hours of sleep, drink plenty of water and have a healthy balanced diet to support optimum performance.
You wouldn’t put cheap fuel into a sports car, then expect to get to your destination across country with the smoothest ride possible. Take care of your mind and body to lay the foundation for success, to increase focus and presence when it comes to your work flow.
2. Set SMART goals. Goals that are; Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound. Setting SMART goals is a great way for you to keep on top of time management. It reduces the risk of time wasting that could be due to setting unrealistic goals or not having clear deadlines.
It is helpful to check in with the progression of your goals by reviewing your list of SMART goals regularly.
Everyday be clear about what your intention is. Set an intention for each day for what you would like to achieve, or experience.
3. Prioritize your mornings for the most important tasks. At the start of each day, review what your list looks like and analyze which are the most highly leveraged tasks that you could tackle fist.
Renowned author Mark Twain once said, “Eat a live frog every morning and nothing worse will happen to you for the rest of the day.”
Twain refers to the biggest and most tedious task and compares it to ‘eating a frog”.
By eating the frog first thing in the morning, the rest of the day you can work off the smaller things, those tasks that do not require so much brain power.
This method helps beat procrastination which could later on in the day due to the looming pressure of those arduous tasks. Once it is completed, you earn a sense of accomplishment giving you great energy to carry through your allocated working schedule.
4. Time blocking is an effective strategy to manage time in the most productive way. Sales tycoon and author Jeb Blout encourages his readers to “protect the golden hours”. After researching and working with companies in various industries across the globe Blout came to the conclusion that in terms of productivity – what employees achieved in a whole day could often be achieved in a few non-interrupted “golden” hours. Infact through blocking the time out for high energy and focus many people tripled their productivity levels.
Time management is self-management, plan your day wisely and block out timeslots or ‘power hours’ to enhance your productivity.
Make an appointment with yourself at a specific time to complete important work, you can make it official by logging it into your calendar.
This should be a meeting with yourself by which missing or delaying is absolutely not an option. Treat this meeting as you would any client with respect and significance.
Parkinson's Law states that work tends to expand to fill the time allotted for it, without concrete time boundaries work tasks can often can expand to fill your whole day.
‘Horseman's Corollary’ is the opposite of Parkinson's Law. It describes how work contracts to fill the time allotted.
A good example of defying large amounts of work into a small-time frame is the notion ‘cramming’. Although we do not encourage cramming due to being a poorly managed and panic strategy. It is evident that students who cram in their university dissertation in the last few days before hand in, even though they had been given months to complete it and get top marks, show that quality work can be completed in shorter periods of time leveraged off the looming pressure of completion. Time blocking can be transformational in supporting a better work-life balance. It supports the realization that it is better to work 100% of the time allocated by chunking down into time block than to work 100% the whole day... (which often leads to burnout and low morale).
5. Don’t lose your state of flow. Make arrangements ahead of time to prevent a distraction from happening prior to starting your work. Think about all the possible distractions you could have in advance and that way you can have a really productive day by limiting it to just you and your laptop.
6. Avoid Multitasking - A research suggests that only 2 percent of people can multitask effectively. Therefore, the act of multitasking actually wastes time and limits productivity. Be present and focus all of your attention on the task in hand, do not allow yourself to feed the ‘accomplished ego’ which buys into busyness by reverting to pursing multiple tasks simultaneously as productive when actually it’s usually the contrary.
7. Delegate or Outsource work.
Amber McCue, founder of the CEO school proclaims: “self -made millionaires and billionaires outsource nine out of ten times when there’s someone out there that can do it better. Other people tend to DIY everything- that's just not an efficient use of time.”
Outsource work that isn’t your expertise. Many entrepreneurs make the mistake of misusing all of their precious time by taking on all aspects of the business: making the website, writing the copy, editing the film, sending out newsletters and making the sales. People who tend to have a ‘growth mindset’ fall under the false assumption that to be great is to be skilled in everything that supports their business. Personal development is a key driver, and its important to build on skills in different areas yet you can dilute your focus by taking on too much. For the time and energy it would take to learn how to build websites, you can purchase one for a fair amount by someone who is an expert in that field and perhaps avoid risking all that time for a potentially amateur looking website.
Be clear on how you can drive your work or your business to success without the need to be wearing all of the hats, because ultimately this will make the process to completion longer (sometimes unnecessarily). Delegating confronts how you scale yourself. It gives you the opportunity to get more work done in the same allocated work slot. It is natural to find delegating or outsourcing hard to do, especially when you are prone to a perfectionist streak. It will require you to let go and trust other people so you can focus on the most important tasks at hand, and the income – producing activities while at the same time reducing mental clutter.
Just by shifting your perception of time and how you relate to it will create dramatic changes in your approach to the day and work flow.
Journal your thoughts to the following questions to help you explore your relationship with time:
At the core of every waking moment is the state (mood) that you hold. If you can master being on the right side of time and connect to a grounded and productive space; you can leverage time to achieve set tasks in an efficient consistent way.
Track your work progress by setting a few alarms throughout your allocated work schedule.
When the alarm bells: take a deep breath and check in with yourself?
Am I feeling in the flow?
Have I committed to my power hours without distraction?
Have I spent the last hour productively?
Is what I'm doing right now the next most significant use of my time?
Is there any work that can be delegated/outsourced?
Did I eat the frog?
How can I support this process?
Am I drinking enough water for optimum mental function?
By creating this awareness from regular reflection- It facilitates the formation positive habit of managing your time efficiently.
When you are being consistently present with your work space, systems and flow- it opens the door for adjustments and tweaks of strategy to consistently support you for the best quality of work. *If you have placed your phone in another room to avoid distraction, you can set alarms on your computer. There is an online site called; www.kukuklok.com
Imposter Syndrome is characterized as persistent self-doubt, inadequacy and not ever feeling good enough. There is an underlying, nagging belief that whatever you have achieved is mostly down to pot-luck, other people, good timing and external resources. You feel like a fraud, who at any moment, could be discovered for what you’re not. An anxiety comes over you that people will find out that you aren’t who they think you are, and expose you as average or worse, a failure. Others may hold a strong image of you, and sometimes you feel uncomfortable in this space of expectation.
Imposter Syndrome is a known phenomenon, first identified in 1978 by psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes. Studies suggest that around 70% of people experience Imposter Syndrome at some point in their life.
Imposter Syndrome is common among perfectionists who set their bar very high. Standards they may hold themselves to are often unreasonable. Thus, when they miss target feelings of shame and failure often consume them and contribute to negative self-judgement and low self-esteem. People who experience imposter syndrome typically focus on their mistakes rather than their successes.
Some people who suffer from Imposter Syndrome will limit themselves by being less ambitious with their goals in an effort to protect themselves and avoid looming rejection. Setting lower goals, and having low morale keeps them from fulfilling their true potential.
Journaling allows you to clarify any thoughts, feelings and perspectives that come up while you experience imposter syndrome. Awareness is always the first step because if you are not aware, there is nothing you can change. By reflecting upon your experience, you give yourself the opportunity to create valuable self-awareness, detect any mental or behavioral patterns, and problem solve. When we put our thoughts down on paper it is easier to witness our experience from a neutral observer perspective and it opens the door to become aware of any blocks and subsequently any potential solutions.
Whenever you start to experience feelings of inadequacy or persistent negative thoughts of self judgement, write them down to acknowledge them. Let the words flow out and dive deep- explaining why you feel this way. What are your beliefs? Where do they come from? Unconsciously we take on beliefs from our parents and peers in childhood. Did you form a belief when you were younger which is no longer true yet leads you around circles of self-sabotage? Where is the evidence for this belief... is it really true, or just your perspective?
Power lies in naming your feelings as you experience them. When the feelings come to the surface, notice what is happening in your body, can you feel any sensations? What internal dialogue do you have going on? Write down any negative self-talk. The more you do this the more you are able to spot reoccurring patterns in your life. Remember not all thoughts are true, it’s not reality but your perception of it.
Meditation is a tool that allows you to enter a different level of consciousness. By being still, breathing and focusing your awareness in the present moment you allow yourself to silence your inner critic which lives in the manic everyday mind. When you enter this space, you become the observer of your thoughts. You can disassociate with them and see them from a neutral perspective. Just allowing the thoughts to be without emotionally reacting to them or attaching any meaning to them connects you to your inner power.
Meditation is beneficial for imposter syndrome because it trains your brain to become this observer. When you are the observer you gain more power and control over how you interpret situations and feel about experiences. This is the realm in which you can access your intuition and inner wisdom. It is a place of deep relaxation and can help you untangle from any self-limiting beliefs that do not serve you.
Meditation should be practiced daily over a period of time to experience the deep healing benefits and personal transformation this tool gifts you. Just like any positive action that we want to implement in our lives, meditation should be practiced repeatedly so it becomes an unconscious habit that betters your life experience.
To be a perfectionist is limit yourself to an endless game of self judgement. To place your value on the work you produce is condemning yourself to tie your identity with each performance you give.
Perfect is not a destination, it is not a state – because it’s not even a real thing. You can’t attain perfection because it does not exist, so to chase it and build your life around being the perfect version of yourself will leave you disheartened and short-changed. We aren’t all good, we aren’t all bad, we are humans with dynamic emotions, thoughts, behaviors and experiences that live in a universe that is ruled by the law of polarity. There will always be positive and negative. You can’t just be perfect.
FAIL is an anacronym for First Attempt In Learning. This is a powerful concept to understand because it gives you the ability to reframe your experiences- to disconnect the measure of your self-worth from the results that you get at any time. Thomas Edison, one of the world's greatest innovators bestowed the gift of his invention of the incandescent light bulb in 1878. At school teachers ridiculed him saying he was” too stupid to learn anything.” If Edison had taken these words as truth, the world we be a very different place today. In fact, Edison lived in the art of flow, the art of creativity. He did not allow self-limiting beliefs hold him back. He was no different from any other but he had the power to disassociate, that his value as a human being was not dependent on his work. It is rumored that it took Edison 10,000 attempts before he created the incandescent light bulb.
“I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.”
― Thomas A. Edison
Edison wasn’t concerned about success in himself but success in his products. He placed his focus on creation rather than ego. He enjoyed the process and his success stemmed from his state of mind. If you feel deep down that you have no reached your destination, remember the power and joy lies in the process, not the product. It was the perseverance, courage and ability to fail and fail again, taking action without condemning yourself to harsh judgement for missed expectations that allowed great people to become success stories.
Ask yourself: are you holding back for fear of failing? What if you re-frame your perception of “failing”. Fail is such a loaded word with a collective bias of defeat. Yet if you can see fail as an action step. A step which is part of the process, not something to be scared of but something to be proud of – for it does not reflect yourself worth, yet it does prove your character to be driven, and strong regardless of the result.
Where are you placing your power?
People who experience Imposter Syndrome often attribute their successes externally: other people or access to efficient resources. They rarely take the credit as an internal success, but rather it was a success because “I was at the right place at the right time, and knew the right people.”
When you filter all of your experiences through this limited lens, you give away your power.
You are the culmination of every decision you have ever made. Decisions create options which take you down a certain path. This decision making is internal and ultimately you are the creator of your life- for where you find yourself now is a reflection of your internal self. Where attention goes, energy flows. Literally what you focus on expands so take caution on where you focus your energy.
You can overcome Imposter Syndrome by repeating daily affirmations to step into an empowered state of being. Look into the mirror and repeat “I believe in myself and my abilities.”