Flow state is a psychological and physiological state of sustained peak performance. It’s where we perform at our best mentally and physically. Some people refer to it as being in the zone or being hyper-focused.
It’s that state in which you are fully immersed in an activity or task, and nothing else seems to occupy your mind. Your sense of time takes a back seat as you’re deeply concentrated in the now.
Steven Kotler, the author of The Art of Impossible, says that during flow, “mental and physical ability go through the roof, and the brain takes in more information per second, processing it more deeply.”
Unleash Your Superhuman Performance
A 10-year McKinsey study on the effects of being in an expended flow state found that top executives are five times more productive during flow. That’s a 500% increase in productivity.
This means that if for the entire week, you spend 2 hours per day in a flow state, you’ll get as much done as most people do in an average 40-hour workweek. Now, what if you optimize your environment to remain in a flow state for extended periods of time? Think about how much you could accomplish in a week.
Whether you’re coding, writing, or researching, flow allows you to be more productive, create higher-quality work, and complete your tasks much faster. When you enter a flow state, you don’t need to work harder or longer; you’re working smarter.
Information Overload and Distractions
Working in a flow state requires a distraction-free environment. So, turn your smartphone notifications off, put your phone out of sight or at least turn it over so you can’t see the screen, close all unnecessary browser tabs (email and social media), and put on your noise-canceling headphones.
If you want to reach peak levels of mental performance and increase productivity, you need to be disciplined about this.
On top of the information overload and outside distractions, most spend little time in a flow state because operating at a heightened mental capacity is energy-draining.
This is why it’s critical to do your flow state work when your mental energy levels are at their peak. For myself, that time is the early morning hours.
Most people fill their morning with scrolling their social media feeds, checking email, meetings, and other tasks that would be better handled in the afternoon. When you perform many of these lower-valued tasks before getting into your most valuable work, the brain has already depleted the energy necessary for entering into a flow state, thus severely limiting your focus and productivity.
My personal rule is that the morning is for content writing, and the afternoon is for editing other’s work and managing other admin tasks. Every morning, I protect 2 to 3 hours for deep, flow state work on getting my first article of the day edited and published and the second article started.
Then, I use the afternoon for rough drafting of my next day’s work as well as administrative work that requires less mental energy and focus. This rule has been a game-changer to my productivity.
So, How Do We Stay In a Flow State For Longer Periods Of Time?
Distractions are the number one enemy of getting into a flow state. Each distraction, whether it’s a phone call, checking email, viewing notifications, or scrolling social media leads to what they call ‘attention residue.’
Attention residue means that some of your attention is left behind at the previous distraction your brain was dealing with and can last about 22 minutes.
That means for 22 minutes you’re operating with reduced cognitive performance (a lower-performing brain). In other words, the brain can’t shift from a distraction back to a task without some form of mental degradation.
Therefore, you need to create a distraction-free environment if you want to enter into a flow state for an extended period of time. The moment you starve your distractions, you begin to feed your focus.
Controlling Your Internal Distractions | The Monkey Mind
In Buddhism, there is a principle that describes a racing, uncontrolled mind as a ‘monkey mind.’ Just like a monkey swinging from tree to tree, our mind is continuously swinging from thought to thought causing worry and anxiety. Neither is conducive to the flow state and productivity.
According to a Harvard study, 47% of our days are spent with an uncontrolled ‘monkey’ mind. It’s important to control your random thoughts because an untrained monkey mind leads to mental fatigue, making it nearly impossible to work in a deep flow state.
Controlling these thoughts can be easier said than done, but here are a few tricks to try and tame your mind.
- Take regular breaks to reset your mind and eyes
- Limit your media consumption
- Keep a physical notebook close by for recording random thoughts to ponder on later
- Limit excessive caffeine consumption
Cognitive Optimization, Now The Fun Begins!
Now that you’ve created a distraction-free environment that encourages a deep flow state, it’s time to optimize your brain for peak performance. Sounds like something from the Jason Bourne movies or the movie Limitless.
Cognitive optimization means boosting your brain’s performance through a range of different actions. These cognitive boosters give you that extra edge you need to reach maximum cognitive performance for the day.
These are the actions I recommend you take to optimize your cognitive performance for the flow state:
- Make use of your peak productivity time, which is the natural time in the day in which you are most mentally sharp, focused, and productive. According to research, this is the morning for most people. That’s when willpower tends to be highest, and mental energy levels haven’t been depleted yet.
- Listen to a specifically designed focus playlist to boost your focus. I found a playlist on Spotify for all the musical scores on the movie Limitless. How fitting is that! And it really is a great playlist that promotes focus and does not distract.
- Strategically consume coffee to boost your cognitive performance. Coffee is scientifically proven to increase human performance. For me, 1–2 cups seems to be the sweet spot.
- Drink enough water throughout the day to prevent brain fog from disrupting your cognitive performance. Most people go through their entire day in a constant state of dehydration and brain fog. Every morning your body is naturally dehydrated from going 8 hours without water. Start your day with a glass of water before that first cup of coffee.
I personally use a few different supplements throughout the day to keep my body and brain operating at peak performance. First thing in the morning I drink a glass of water with a scoop of Strong Greens. Strong Greens supports an increase in natural energy and improved cognition and focus. For my first cup of coffee, I add a scoop of Laird Superfood Creamer. Then usually in the afternoon, I’ll add a packet of LMNT Recharge electrolyte mix to a glass of water.
Wrapping It Up
In a world where most people are continuously distracted, learning to optimize mental performance and remain in a flow state for an extended period of time can be a great competitive edge.
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