I was leaving the Decathlon Club early one Saturday morning. I had just finished working out, and I was walking to my car.
Just then, a beautiful woman drove into the parking lot. She had a wonderful smile on her face. All, I could think was, “Park your car next to mine.”
I got to my car at the same time as she was opening her car door.
Time seemed to stop.
In fact, everything and everyone in the world seemed to go away. It was just the two of us.
I was in flow. I just didn’t know it at the time.
I smiled at her and then said, “You have a beautiful car, but you should clean it sometime.”
Smooth, wasn’t I?
We ended up talking for twenty minutes, but time felt like it stood still. We exchanged business cards.
We got married two years later.
Now, we have a beautiful daughter and a great life together.
I owe it all to the elusive state of flow.
So, this flow thing might be a pretty good to learn about.
“Why are you brushing your teeth left handed?” My wife asked me last night.
“I’m trying to make it easier to get into a flow state.”
“ A flow state. You know, when you’re so in the moment everything else fades away?”
“And brushing your teeth with the wrong hand is going to get you there?” She was looking at me like I was a little nuts. It’s not the first time she’s given me that look.
“It’s going to help,” I responded.
I had just finished reading (actually listening to the audiobook) Steven Kotler’s book, The Rise of Superman. Kotler studied extreme sports athletes such as big wave surfers, skateboarders, and skiers who literally had to be in flow or they would die.
One of the keys to getting to flow is forcing the brain to focus more on mundane tasks such as brushing your teeth.
Try brushing your teeth with your non-dominant hand, and you will see what Kotler is talking about. I really had to focus on brushing my teeth to do a good job.
Try taking a route you’ve never taken to work tomorrow morning. I’ll bet you’ll really have to focus on the road.
The more focused you are, the easier it is to get to flow.
But why is flow so important?
Well, wouldn’t you like to be, say, five times more productive at work?
Or wouldn’t you like to make a breakthrough on that project you are working on?
Or wouldn’t you like to get your organization performing at its peak?
Or meet your spouse, like I did?
Well, getting to flow is a way to solve these and many other problems.
And the interesting thing is that most of us have experienced flow. We just didn’t know it at the time.
We might call it being in the moment or being in the zone. Make no mistake about it; that’s flow.
Oh, and there’s one more really important benefit to being in flow:
We are at our happiest when we are in flow!
In the 1960’s, Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi began researching what makes humans happy.
Dr. Csikszentmihalyi , in fact, came up with the word “flow” in the book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. He found that:
- Money, after a certain amount, doesn’t make people happy.
- Personal possessions don’t make people happy.
- Being in a flow state ALWAYS makes people happy.
The brain releases large quantities of five of the most powerful feel-good chemicals it can during a flow state:
- Norepinephrine and Dopamine -- increase focus and boost your imagination
- Endorphins – pain-blockers that allow us to work longer and harder
- Anandamide – increases lateral thinking and pattern recognition
- Serotonin – helps you bond in team settings
So, how do you get into flow? Well, as Dr. Judson Brewer said in his TEDx talk:
“Just get out of your own way!” In other words, don’t think, just be in the moment.
A Harvard study determined that we humans spend 50% of the time regretting our mistakes from the past and worrying about the future.
In other words, we get in our own way:
You can’t be at peak performance when you are regretting the past and worrying about the future:
You need to be focused on the here and now.
I know this better than anyone because I am an expert on regretting my many past mistakes:
“If only I had done made that one phone call to that investor, maybe...”
“If only I had not hired that one person, maybe...”
“If” is the enemy of flow.
“If” is the enemy of being happy.
Being in the moment is just part of getting to a flow state.
You need to be challenged. In other words, you need to be put in a difficult situation for flow to occur.
However, the situation cannot be too difficult. Kotler believes a 4% increase in difficulty is about the right amount to get into a flow state.
So how do you know if the task at hand is 4% more difficult?
I’ve been wrestling with that question, and I think an answer is trial and error.
You just have to practice.
Take the coffee challenge:
Now, I didn’t come up with the coffee challenge. Noah Kagan, founder of AppSumo, did.
Here’s what you do:
- Go to your local coffee shop or Starbucks
- Order coffee, tea, water, whatever
- Ask for a 10% discount
It's simple, but it takes you out of your comfort zone.
It took me two weeks to gather the courage to take the coffee challenge.
I did the coffee challenge yesterday at Starbucks, and much to my surprise, the barista gave me a 10% discount.
$0.18 saved! Very cool!
And, much to my surprise, I entered flow. The world disappeared, time seemed to stop, I had no fear, and I felt great.
Just like when I met my wife.
Happy Anniversary Blossom,
I Love You!
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