Flow – Part 1 (General Information)

Summary: “It’s time to learn about flow.” 

If you are a leader of people, and you haven’t already done so – it’s time to learn about flow. Flow is the term coined by Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csiksgentmihalyi describing a favorable state of consciousness where people feel their best and perform their best. I believe future-minded leaders will seek to thoroughly understand flow.

According to a 10-year study by McKinsey and Company, top executives in the state of flow were five times (500%) more productive than those not in a state of flow. The study was conducted on executives, but apparently flow does its magic from the assembly line to the executive suite, and in many areas of your non-working life.

In a nutshell, flow is all about focus. When something grabs and holds your attention, your brain begins demanding more of your body’s available energy to maintain your focus. At some point, the brain begins shutting down certain functional parts of your neuroanatomy that compete for energy, but are not critical to the flow process. This energy exchange turns out to be a key factor in terms of inducing the flow state. For example, the brain area that serves as your inner critic shuts down, as does the area that handles temporal awareness, and the area that monitors your sense of self. When you no longer experience self-criticism, and you become totally in the moment, and you are, in effect, “one with your area of focus” (for example, one with the wave, mountain, or task); your creativity and productivity skyrocket.

As for the feel good aspect of flow, that seems to be due to the massive neurochemical dump that occurs when you shift into this form of altered consciousness. Norepinephrine, dopamine, serotonin, endorphins and anandamide, all among the most potent reward chemicals the brain produces are released. Read Steven Kotler’s book The Rise of Superman, or watch some of Steven’s online videos, to learn more about this fascinating process. If you want to incorporate flow into your leadership style, I believe there is value in gaining some understanding of the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neuroelectical (brain waves) aspects of inducing the flow state described in Kotler’s book. More on these topics in subsequent postings.

Through various reverse-engineering techniques, Kotler and his colleague Jamie Wheal identified 17 specific flow hacks. Of these, nine are considered group flow hacks which should be of particular interest to those in leadership positions. In general, anything you can do to grab and hold someone’s attention and focus has the potential to induce flow. The most discussed flow hack involves matching workers’ challenges and skills. High challenges and low skills typically produce anxiety. Low challenges and high skills typically produce boredom. But when challenges ever-so-slightly exceed skills, people often experience flow.

This is a big topic for a short article. As I mentioned, I will expand on the various aspects of flow in other blog postings. Step one is simply becoming aware that flow can produce amazing leadership results and can do it in a way that is quite beneficial to those you lead.

I encourage you to consider learning more about how flow works.

Joyfully participate in life today…Chris

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