“Being Completely involved in an activity for its own sake.”- Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
The 17 flow state triggers that I'm going to explain today are ways of driving our attention into the now, or as researchers call it, ‘THE DEEP NOW’. This “Deep Now” is a state of present heightened focus, that has been known as the Zone, as others call it the Pocket. And it is becoming more commonly known as “The Flow State” which I prefer calling it. Why?, because when you’re in IT, that’s the best word to describe the sensation.
The following 17 flow state triggers come from research undertaken by the Flow Genome Project lead by Steven Kotler and Jamie Wheal. There are 4 groups of Flow Trigger: (4) Psychological; (3) Environmental; (9) Social and; (1) Creative.
By including some, or all, of these triggers, you can push yourself into a state of peak performance. Your performance will increase, whatever sports you are in, and your creativity, innovation, learning, and memory will all be enhanced. You will become happier!
Note: If you prefer to read more visuals, I attached a comprehensive infographic at the bottom of the article.
These are internal strategies that draw attention to the NOW and keep you there.
- Intensely Focused Attention – One of the primary purposes of flow state is to help you focus on a particular task, however, to hack into the flow state in the first place, you must be in a position that allows you to strongly focus your attention to your goals. This also means multi-tasking is out. Flow demands singular and solitude action.
- Clear Goals – When you have clear goals, your mind doesn’t have to wonder what to do next. You know what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. Also, don’t focus on the finish line, focus on running the race, the NOW, the present moment. Many are getting distracted by their past, future, or self. Focus on the clarity of your goals. It gives you certainty.
- Immediate Feedback – This trigger is a partner with clear goals. Clear goals tell us what we’re doing, immediate feedback tells us how to do it better. If we know how to improve performance in real time, the mind doesn’t go off in search of clues for betterment.
- The Challenge/Skill Ratio – You may have heard about the concept of stress curve where there is a scale of low stress and low performance. At the other end, is the high stress and low performance but in the middle of the scale is the optimal level of stress correlating to peak performance. The Flow Challenge/Skill ratio exists near (but not on) the midline between boredom and anxiety. We need a progressive balance between boredom and anxiety or tension and relaxation. If you can keep yourself in that sweet spot, then you can drive attention into the present and maximize the amount of flow in your sports career.
These flow triggers are all external. Triggers that surround you physically, and drive you deeper into the zone.
- High Consequences – If your neck is on the line then you are driven into the zone. An athlete, big wave surfer, for example, may need to drop into a 50-foot wave to pull this trigger. But the shy guys may only need to cross the room and speak to an attractive woman to pull this trigger. This doesn’t always mean physical danger, this can also be an emotional, mental and social risk. You must be willing to take risks. It’s that sense of adventure and potential for failure that will drive you.
- Rich Environment – This means an environment with lots of novelty, unpredictability, and complexity. Novelty means surrounding yourself with a rich environment that involves finding things that will catch and keep your attention. Unpredictability means being able to step outside your comfort zone and facing the unknown. While complexity means increasing the depth and breadth of your knowledge by seeking out information from many different sources or viewpoints.
- Deep Embodiment – This means total physical awareness. When you can harness the power of your whole body paying attention to the task at hand, you will feel unstoppable. This also means paying attention to multiple sensory streams at once. Not only our 5 senses but also our proprioception and vestibular awareness.
We have been focusing on triggers that affect an individual, external and internal. Now we will examine the triggers that a group might use in order to get into the zone as a group or GROUP FLOW.
- Serious Concentration – In extreme sports, for example, concentration is highly required or injury or even death could happen. You need to be aware of your teammates and opponents. If they lose focus and start thinking about what it is for dinner, or other things, they’ll quickly be overrun. It can also help to ensure that everyone has their maximum attention to the here and now. Blocking off other distractions.
- Shared, Clear Goals – Groups need to be clear about what their collective goal is in order for the flow state to be achieved. Group flow is a progressive balancing act. Creating a goal that provides enough focus so each team member can tell when they are close to a solution, but one that is open enough for creativity to exist.
- Good Communication – A group flow needs constant communication. The conversation must flow forward. Listen closely to what being said, accept it, and build upon it. Nothing blocks flow more than ignoring or negating a group member.
- Familiarity – A sports team may compose of a group with different languages, cultures, and belief but everyone needs to be familiar with each other. Everyone needs to share a common language, a shared knowledge base and communication style based on unspoken understandings. There must be unity, in thoughts and in action. Everyone must be on the same page, and, when novel insights arise, momentum is not lost due to the need for a lengthy explanation.
- Equal Participation and Skill Level – When you have a team with an equal role in the project, flow is most likely to happen in your group. Teamwork is the key, and everyone must be involved. All members should have similar skill levels.
- Risk – It applies to groups in the same way that it applies to individuals. When there is an element of risk, people are more motivated to work hard and make things happen. Without challenges, the tasks may appear boring. There’s also no creativity without failure, and there’s no group flow without the risk of failure. This risk can’t be just physical, it also applies to mental, creative, etc.
- Sense of Control – It’s important to combine autonomy (being free to do what you want) with competence (being good at what you do) in group flow. Whatever the sports situation you are in, getting to choose your own challenges and having the necessary skills to surmount them is beneficial.
- Close Listening – When you are listening closely to the present conversation, your responses will flow, and conversation will progress naturally. Innovation shouldn’t be blocked in a group flow. But if one or more team members are talking simultaneously, you keep yourselves away from listening to what is really said and working from there.
- Always Say Yes – Now, don’t mistake this for always saying yes to everything. This means that interactions should be additive more than argumentative. This element is about being open to trying new things, even if they sound like a bad idea. All input into the group should be additive, not negative. The goal is the momentum, togetherness, and innovation that comes from intensifying each other’s ideas and actions.
“Creativity triggers flow, then flow enhances creativity.” There are two major components of Creative Trigger:
Pattern Recognition – the brain’s ability to break down existing patterns, colors, data, shapes, movements, sounds, concepts, successes, risks, failures, etc., and create new ideas using those patterns by linking new ideas, and
Risk-Taking – the courage to bring those new ideas into the world. Will the new concept be well received or will it be scanned? All creativity requires an element of risk and courage.
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If you want more and more information, you can also watch my short 20 minute documentary about the Flow State and how it affects overall Performance.
To be able to hack the Flow State, one must be able to perform all or some of these 17 Triggers of Flow. These triggers are grouped into four: Psychological, Environmental, Social and Creative Triggers.
View 17 Flow Triggers Infographic
17 FLOW TRIGGERS Intensely Focused. (n.d.). Retrieved January 20, 2016, from http://www.slideshare.net/StevenKotler/17-flow-triggers/31-17_FLOW_TRIGGERSIntensely_Focused_AttentionGood
Understanding Flow Triggers, with Steven Kotler | Big Think. (2015, February 25). Retrieved January 20, 2016, from http://bigthink.com/videos/understanding-flow-triggers-with-steven-kotler