Harnessing the Power of Focus and Flow
My life seems to grow more beautifully full every day.
(At least, that’s the positive spin I give myself when I’m feeling more than a bit overwhelmed.)
In all seriousness, I am so thankful for the many new opportunities in my life—the new courses I’m participating in, the launches I’m planning for, the book I’m writing (more on that soon!).
But with each new opportunity, I can just as easily find myself spread thin; struggling to focus on the task at hand so I can get one thing—let alone 20!—done… and done well.
Does that sound familiar? I know I’m not the only one.
You’re probably familiar with “flow state”, even if you’ve never actually heard the term before. You know those moments—whether they’re spent working on a new project or playing with your kids—where you look up and realize that a few hours have passed . . . without your even noticing? You were in flow state, my friend.
In his book, The Rise of Superman, Steven Kotler says:
“In flow, we are so focused on the task at hand that everything else falls away. Action and awareness merge. Time flies. Self vanishes. Performance goes through the roof . . . In flow, every action, each decision, leads effortlessly, fluidly, seamlessly to the next.”
Sounds amazing, right? It is . . . when it happens. But for the “non-Supermans” among us, it can seem near impossible to harness the power of this intense focus when we really need it. According to Kotler (and the grandfather of flow, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi), though, it’s easier (or at least, more possible) than we think.
So, given the plethora of incredible opportunities on my to-do list these days, I turned to Kotler’s book to help me figure out how to harness flow in my own, everyday life.
Here’s just three ways you and I can tap into this peak state of consciousness—and use it to get more done at work and at home:
1. Get Clear on Your Goal
You can only imagine how happy it made me to read that a clear goal is key to focused attention.
Why? Well, when you get clear on what you want to accomplish—spending 25 minutes writing chapter three of your new book on dog training, for example—you tend to be more focused than when you say “I need to write today”.
Being this clear also helps you to stay present to the task you’re trying to accomplish, instead of being distracted by the myriad of people, things, and social media sites that are grasping for our attention from minute to minute.
Kotler says: “When the brain is charged with a clear goal, focus narrows considerably, the unimportant is disregarded, and the now is all that’s left.”
He also notes that the emphasis is not on the goal itself, but on it’s clarity: “Clarity gives us certainty. We know what to do and we know where to focus our attention while doing it.”
2. Update Your Environment
People tend to focus better in different environments—some prefer clean desks, some prefer clutter, some prefer lots of white space and pretty tulips (cough, cough).
But Kotler says that your environment is bigger than just your office space when it comes to flow—a true state of flow stems from the environment of your life. He says living a (slightly unpredictable), risk-seeking life is imperative to triggering a state of flow.
Hmm. An unpredictable, risk-seeking life doesn’t sound so appealing to this mama of three (even as unpredictable as my life often is!), but I tried to keep an open mind. Fortunately, Kotler says none of us need to take life-threatening risks like the adventure sport athletes he profiles in his book. You can risk failure, rejection, humiliation, and more to help you enter into flow state.
That still doesn’t sound too appealing, but it’s a lot more along the lines of what we all already are called to do every day. Asking your crush out on a date, dropping your book proposal in the mail, leaving your steady 9-to-5 job to work for yourself—we have a lot of opportunities to seek risk every single day. And apparently, it helps us focus better, too.
Kotler says that by varying your routines, you’re forcing yourself to pay attention—to new inputs, new days of doing or being, new information. You’re taking yourself off of autopilot, and you’re better able to slip into a state of focused awareness on the new task at hand.
No risk, no reward, right?
3. Design Your Schedule
This last one is important, if not always easy. In order to get into a state of deep focus, we have to make time for it. That doesn’t just mean clearing your calendar, it means making the time, clearing the space, and giving your full attention—no interruptions allowed.
(P.S. Setting up a few systems might free up some time, too!)
That’s a tough one to hear, though. For those of us with full-time jobs, kids, and, uh, Instagram, distractions and interruptions abound. But according to Kotler, studies show that it takes at least 15 minutes to get back into a state of flow once you’re interrupted—if you’re able to return to that state at all.
It’s not always easy to get rid of distractions. Trust me, I get it. But if something is important enough to warrant your deep focus, you’ll likely find the time, space, and attention that it deserves.
I know I will.
* * *
I don’t know a single soul that doesn’t have a lot on their plate—and I trust that includes you. So when you want to devote focused time and energy to the big stuff, call on one (or more) of these flow triggers to help you get there.
I hope they help you reach the laser-focused state that really lets you get stuff done!
Have you ever found yourself in a state of “flow”?
What were you doing—and how do you get yourself back into that state?
Share your tips in the comments below!
Thanks for a great post! I feel I get into a state of flow when I’m single minded about what I’m doing, and also when I have deadlines around my goals. Constantly trying to find balance between the to dos and must dos – prioritizing is also a key thing when it comes to getting into that beautiful state of flow xx
This is my life every single day. I start my mornings focused on the Lord, then I shift gears into feeding myself and “working”, once i get into work mode, I look up and noticed that it’s already 1:30. Lunch was not prepared or eaten, not sure what I’ve got done now that the peace and quiet is about to end in an hour or so… I usually take a break around this time, refuel, and determine the task that needs to get done that afternoon. Determining the goal/task, taking break and breather away from what you’re trying to achieve and jotting down thoughts, that helps me to refocus myself. Great post!