I got to hang with fellow author Steven Kotler at Mindvalley City Campus Tallinn. Kotler is an amazing Pulitzer Prize nominated writer who popularised the study of ‘flow.’
I loved Steven’s books like Bold, Rise of Superman, Stealing Fire and Abundance. So, I thought I’d share some advice he shared with me.
We were talking about why to be in flow states, you need to constantly challenge yourself — despite the risks of failing. Now, for those of you unfamiliar with the idea of flow, here’s how Steven describes it in his book, Bold.
Flow describes these moments of total absorption, when we become so focused on the task at hand that everything else falls away. Action and awareness merge. Time flies. Self vanishes. All aspects of performance — mental and physical — go through the roof.
I’m willing to bet that you’ve experienced this state before many times. But is there a way to consciously trigger this state?
According to Steven, there are several ways to put yourself in a state of flow. But here’s what he shared with me that really caught my attention:
When Peter Diamandis and I were working on our books we interviewed dozens of superstars. And I noticed that all of these people were not just constantly running towards something. They were also running AWAY from something.
Steven explained that those top performers needed a goal. But they also needed a crisis or challenge to drive them forward. In Rise of Superman, Kotler wrote this line:
To really achieve anything, you have to be able to tolerate and enjoy risk. It has to become a challenge to look forward to. In all fields, to make exceptional discoveries you need risk — you’re just never going to have a breakthrough without it.
And so top performers constantly push themselves to greater and greater challenges. This is true of Elon Musk, Richard Branson and others. But how much of a challenge? Kotler says…
Flow appears near the emotional midpoint between boredom and anxiety, in what scientists call the flow channel — the spot where the task is hard enough to make us stretch but not hard enough to make us snap. How hard is that? Answers vary, but the general thinking is about 4 percent. That’s it. That’s the sweet spot. If you want to trigger flow, the challenge should be 4 percent greater than the skills.
That advice is really powerful. I apply it to everyone on my team to push them to tackle bigger and bigger challenges. Because if I don’t—not only do people stop growing—but they fall out of Flow.
I try to do this to myself too.
Every time work gets easy, or we, as a team, pull off something big like Mindvalley City Campus, we raise the bar and focus on something even bigger.
This is to hack the challenge-skills gap. In short, to ensure our challenge is always ahead of our skills. This keeps you in flow. And also helps you grow.
Here’s a quick summary of the 13 triggers to induce states of flow according to Steven, in his book, Bold — they’re divided across four key categories.
1. Environmental Triggers
Put yourself at risk of failing. This is not restricted to just physical risks either. Emotional, intellectual, creative, and social risks work just as well.
Create an environment where you’re surrounded by a lot of novelty, unpredictability and complexity.
This is all about putting yourself into a multi-sensory immersion. For example, don’t just read about a new idea, but also start putting it into action at the same time.
2. Psychological Triggers
Clarity is the key here. When you understand exactly what your immediate goal is, your mind does not need to worry about what to do next and your focus naturally tightens.
Create a feedback loop that can help improve your performance in real-time. This way your mind is focused in the now and not wondering how to make something better.
If the challenge far outweighs our skills, fear seeps in. If it’s too easy, we’ll get bored. Find that sweet-spot between anxiety and boredom, and flow will kick in.
3. Social Triggers
If you’re working in a team, get everyone on the same page so you can establish a common knowledge base and communication style.
Steven describes this quite succinctly as, “a collective version of humility” where no one is hogging the spotlight and everyone is involved.
Sense of Control
This is all about combining autonomy and mastery. Choose your own challenges and have the necessary skills to surmount them.
Be fully present in the now when engaging in conversation. It’s all about allowing organic, real-time responses to unfold.
Always Say “Yes, and…”
Make your interaction additive as opposed to argumentative. Build momentum by continually amplifying each other’s ideas and actions.
4. Creative Triggers
Allow your brain to link new ideas together by tackling problems from completely different (and sometimes outrageous) angles…
… And have the courage to bring these new ideas to the world. No matter how improbable you think it’ll succeed.
What’s your approach to staying in flow? Share your thoughts with me in the comments below.