Growing up as an athlete, the goal was always to achieve a state of flow. Some coaches called it "finding your flow," others called it "getting in the zone," and others called it "peak performance." And while that was always the desired state--that combination of intense focus and effortless power--it was very rarely achieved, even among the greatest athletes.
But the flow state isn't just in high demand in the swimming pool or on the basketball court. Especially in our digitally powered world, flow is increasingly sought after in the workplace--and for good reason. Flow helps you stay engaged, have motivation, a better performance, and even happiness.
Achieving a flow state isn't easy, but this is how you might optimize your chances of getting there.
1. Set interconnected goals.
According to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the psychologist and professor widely considered to be the "father of flow," a key prerequisite to achieving flow is setting realistic goals. When we set goals, we are better able to focus fully on our tasks. Startlingly, far too many workers don't set work-related goals.
Yet while setting goals may lead to a single flow experience every now and then, the ultimate objective is to achieve consistent flow, what Csikszentmihalyi calls a "unified flow experience." To achieve consistent flow, all our goals must be connected such that the interdependencies between them are clear. And goals that are too lofty should be broken down into smaller ones, ideally through objectives and key results (OKRs) that are connected to one another and tracked over time.
2. Find work that is intrinsically motivating.
The research is clear--extrinsic motivation doesn't increase flow. Instead, flow is driven by intrinsic motivation. In the workplace or in athletics, this intrinsic motivation is often best fueled by passion. When you immerse yourself in work that you're passionate about, flow is more likely to follow. Managers need to recognize this and prioritize fueling their workers' passion over extrinsic rewards like bonuses or promotions.
3. Minimize interruptions, especially meetings.
One of the key characteristics of flow is a feeling of control over your tasks. In the workplace, interruptions are a key way to lose those necessary feelings of control. Often, the interruptions that pack the biggest punch are meetings.
All companies can benefit greatly from doing a meeting audit and systematically understanding the inevitable meeting bloat. Sometimes you need to completely start anew and rebuild your meeting culture from the ground up.
4. Prioritize your mental health.
Flow is a mental state and--not surprisingly--it is intimately linked to mental health. Our chances of achieving flow are increased when we prioritize our mental health.
In recent years, workplaces have made a positive transition from mental health's being considered a taboo subject to its being considered an important topic of conversation. But there's another transition that needs to happen--from mental health being the responsibility of each individual employee to it also being the responsibility of managers. Managers need to be equipped with the training and tools to help empower their employees to take control of their mental health and build the right mental foundation for achieving flow.
Flow is characterized by effortlessness, but that doesn't mean that it can be achieved with minimal effort. By making the conscious commitments outlined above, you can achieve that state of peak experience that is the pinnacle of success and also well-being.