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April 1, 2024

Finding Flow

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We’ve all had moments where we’ve been so engrossed in something that we lose our sense of time. We can all relate with moments of creative genius or brilliant insight that seemed to come through us involuntarily. It’s one of the most potent, most enlivening experiences we can have, and experts call it being in a state of “flow”.

Popularized by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, people have dedicated their life to figuring out how we can create the conditions of flow to facilitate peak performance. And they’ve arrived at 4 Fs that help anyone discover moments of tapping into their greatest inner potential: Focus, freedom, feedback and 4% challenge.

As it goes for that last one about challenge, there is something called the Flow Channel. You can find yourself in the Flow Channel when you have two things - The right amount of challenge and the right amount of skill. When your skills are being tested to the appropriate amount, and not being over-tested, that’s when one experiences flow.

This theory becomes clearer when you think about the other parts of the spectrum. When someone’s skill is beyond the challenge they’re facing, they experience boredom. Being better than the task does not require that you are engaged in it, and therefore underwhelmed by it and disinterested.

The other part of the spectrum is present when the demands of the challenge far exceed your level of skill. This initiates anxiety as you’re set up for failure and simply incapable of doing the task well.  It’s so far beyond your current skill level that you can’t even learn from it because you’re so disoriented and out of your league.

The formula for finding flow is similar to the one proposed by Anders Ericsson about “Deliberate Practice”. When you practice something that is just beyond your means, just beyond your comfort zone with it, that right amount of challenge is a fertile soil for skill development. Too little challenge and you’re bored, and too much challenge and you’re overwhelmed.

So as it relates to the skill that you’re most dedicated to developing in your life right now, where’s that sweet-spot of engagement? What’s the right amount of challenge? Because if you find it, you’ll lock in deeper than you thought possible!

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