You're busy. When can you possibly find the time to learn something new or brush up on your skills when there are a thousand other things on your to-do list?
Oprah and Bill Gates follow a five-hour rule, in which they dedicate at least five hours a week to deliberate learning. But how much can you really learn in a few hours a week? As a human behavior scientist, connector, and host of the Influencers Dinner, I have worked with many entrepreneurs, companies, and successful people to help them make the most of their time. Research suggests that the secret to learning twice as fast may be in something called flow state.
Flow state is similar to being "in the zone," a phrase people use to describe their peak performance, when they're completely absorbed in the activity they are doing and effortlessly handle it as a result. It is also in moments of flow that people experience happiness.
The term was coined by psychologist and researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and was further explored by Steven Kotler in his book The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance.
Learning how to hack into flow state can increase your productivity, accelerate learning, and boost creativity. How do you achieve it?
1. Take risks. Be willing to be uncomfortable.
Oftentimes, we psych ourselves out of doing something that has a low chance of causing harm, like skydiving or pitching to a roomful of investors. This is because we think that it is scary or risky. However, you have to just dive in and do it. The longer you wait, the less likely that it is going to happen. Once you've taken the leap, you'll probably realize that it wasn't as scary as you thought it would be and feel relieved that you did it.
2. Venture just outside of your skill level, but not too far.
If you are trying to teach yourself how to code a website and have absolutely no background in it, it's going to take a lot longer to learn. In other words, when an activity is unfamiliar to you, it is going to take longer to reach your flow state.
You need to start small, especially if it is in an area in which you don't already have experience. As you start to learn the basics, you can get into more complex areas, which will be easier and faster for you to understand because you have built up the background needed.
In his TED Talk, Csikszentmihalyi says that your chances of entering flow increase when your "challenges are higher than average and skills are higher than average." It still shouldn't be so far from your ability that you will never be able to do it.
3. Try new things.
Although it is important to have the skill set and capabilities to perform challenges, those challenges must also be exciting and out of the ordinary in order for you to enter flow. Research has shown that our brains have a higher response to novel experiences than those that are predictable.
When something is too routine, we may be able to accomplish it, but we won't be excited about it. Focus on learning something that excites and surprises you, because it will increase your chances of reaching peak performance.