If you’ve ever been hyper-focused in the heat of a sports match, participated in an extreme outdoor activity, or lost yourself for hours while playing a musical instrument, then chances are you’ve experienced Flow.
Flow is best defined as, “A mental state that gives rise to great performance – in business, sports or the arts – and fully employs humanity’s core capabilities to meet a goal or challenge. Your focus is intensified and stays squarely on the task at hand, action and awareness merge, our sense of self vanishes, our sense of time distorts, and performance goes through the roof.”
Essentially, Flow is an optimal state of consciousness where we feel and form our best.
But sports, music and extreme activities aside, more and more research is proving why Flow in the workplace could be one of the single greatest transformations businesses have ever seen. Don’t just take our word for it. McKinsey ran a 10-year study into the impact of Flow in the workplace, and found, “Executives reported being 5x more productive in Flow and peak-performance.” Moreover, the study revealed that if we can “increase the time we spend in flow by 15-20%, overall workplace productivity would almost double.”
When you’re in a Flow state, the frontal cortex (specifically the dorsolateral frontal cortex) slows down, causing the “self” to disappear and distort time as we know it. Scientists call this “transient-hypo-frontality,” which simply means a temporary under-activity of the brain’s frontal cortex. For instance, when athletes talk about being “in the zone,” we now know they’re really talking about being in Flow.
To shift gears, it’s well-known that the workplace has seen perennial attempts to improve productivity, efficiency and overall well-being. So if you’re looking to bolster employee engagement and create a more motivated and hyper-focused workforce, here are five ways Flow can help you in the workplace.
We’ve already seen that the pre-frontal cortex of the human brain actually slows down during Flow states, meaning you’re able to focus much more intently on the task at hand. In fact, Flow states induce an almost trance-like single-mindedness without needing to be a forced, conscious effort. Instead of drinking 6 cups of coffee a day to force yourself to finish that spreadsheet on time, when you activate a Flow state you can double your productivity and keep your mind fresh.
When we’re talking about creativity in the workplace, we need to first understand that most business have subconsciously been set-up to stifle creativity and encourage uniform thinking. It’s why cubicles, offices and desks are often identical, and why we’re all encouraged to dress the same and follow a specific chain-of-command. Flow, however, helps you break through the monotony. It allows you to think in a lateral way and come up with creative solutions to problems you might others miss.
Efficiency is often considered the “holy-grail” of workplace productivity. We champion quick-learners and fast-workers, yet we don’t actually equip our teams with methods and strategies that serve efficiency. To break through the morass of daily activities, you need to start accessing Flow in order to work in a more proficient manner. Remember, McKinsey’s 10-year study into flow proved that “when we increase the time spent in flow by 15-20%, overall workplace productivity would almost doubles.”
Communication is one of the biggest factors in a company’s long-term success. Think about small start-ups that rapidly become billion-dollar organizations (Uber, Spotify, Facebook, etc.). Communicating with and managing a small team is hard, let alone trying to align thousands of employees across countries and continents. Flow cuts through the barriers and enables more fluid, open conversations amongst colleagues. This not only encourages innovation and the sharing of ideas, but it ensures that every employee feels his or her voice can be heard.
Anxiety and over-thinking are two of the biggest office killers out there. When we self-critique and over-analyze every little decision and action, we’re hindering productivity and stifling growth. Not to mention we’re pumping our bodies with stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. Flow is perhaps most impressive for its ability to reduce anxiety and silence the “inner-critic”. In fact, it’s been scientifically proven that when the dorsolateral frontal cortex of the human brain slows down, the “self” or “ego” dissipates and we’re able to focus and relax more in the present moment. Action and awareness merge, which means performance goes through the roof.
Guest post by Trevor Vaughan.
Editor's note: To learn more about flow and it's triggers and blocks, check out the video below and join in May 16 in Hoboken for What Is Flow, a TED talk-style event that will stimulate your senses, raise your awareness and connect to your optimal self.
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