The Ingredients of Flow (The Flow Quadrant)

There has been a lot of talk recently about high-performance productivity or flow states and with good reason.

Ever since Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi popularized this state in 1990, high performers have been trying to cultivate as many flow states as consistently as possible.

The reason why flow states are so powerful is they enable you to produce at seemingly supernatural levels.

Flow states have been scientifically proven to:

  • Increase productivity by 500%

  • Increased creativity that lasts 1-2 days AFTER flow state occurs

  • 230% increase in learning and retention

  • Increased happiness (Flow states and happiness are correlated)

Given all the benefits, flow states are worthy of pursuit and cultivation through their triggers (if you want to know more about flow triggers, respond to this email and let me know) but adding and applying more triggers is only half of the flow equation.

Trying to apply the triggers without regularly performing Flow Quadrant activities, listed by Steven Kolter in his book The Art of Impossible, is like trying to utilize a recipe without the ingredients.

You have a plan to follow but no materials to apply them to. This is where the Flow Quadrant comes in.

The Flow Quadrant consists of 4 activities that you can perform daily to better cultivate stronger, longer, and more productive flow states.

The four activities are:

  1. Sleep

  2. Gratitude

  3. Meditation

  4. Exercise

Seems too simple to be true, right?

Keep reading to see why you need to purposefully incorporate these activities into your days to get the full benefit of flow states in your work life so that you can both master your time and create your best work.

1. Sleep

Flow states are extremely energy-intensive and if you lack enough energy in reserve, your flow state can be cut short. Getting optimal amounts of sleep (7-9 hrs for most people) is mandatory for maximizing the number and duration of your flow states. A couple of tips on sleep:

  • Develop a bedtime routine

  • Place sleep time on your calendar to reserve that time

  • Determine what time you want to wake up first, then subtract time to determine when you need to go to bed to get adequate sleep

2. Gratitude

When our minds are focused on negative things, we tend to get less creative because negativity pushes us to focus on what is rather than what could be. This practice will stifle your flow states because it will keep you stuck at a "thought wall", a seemingly unsurpassable idea that you cannot think around or through. To combat this, develop a daily gratitude practice. Focusing on the positive in your life through gratitude will reprogram your brain to find positivity more regularly, liberate you to think non-linearly, and help you not get mentally trapped by ideas. To create your gratitude routine:

  • Daily write out 10 things you are grateful for and feel your gratitude as you write them

  • Combat negative thoughts by actively thinking 3 positive thoughts for each negative

  • Say "Thank you" more often

3. Meditation

Meditation or mindfulness is essential to the high performer. Aside from all of the proven benefits of meditation such as anxiety reduction, attention, and mood regulation, the real benefit of meditation and mindfulness is the effect it has on your analysis. It teaches and allows you to practice increasing the time between stimulus and response. How does this help your flow states? It prevents you from shutting out an idea immediately without really thinking about it. While your initial idea may not be the solution, the thought process it sparks may lead to your ideal outcome. You have to consider your ideas before labeling them. To start your meditation practice:

  • Daily spend 5-10 min in silence and focus on your breath (You can use a guided meditation app as well)

  • Slow down your thoughts to think about your ideas before putting them in mental "boxes"

  • Be patient. Thoughts will rush in during your meditation time. Acknowledge them then let them go.

4. Exercise

The last component of the flow quadrant is exercise. Exercise releases a plethora of endorphins that help to put you into a more positive, productive, and energetic state while also reducing your stress. Some of the endorphins are serotonin (a mood regulator), dopamine ("feel good" hormone), norepinephrine (increases alertness, focus, and memory retrieval). Exercise also reduces cortisol, your stress hormone, which allows you to feel more relaxed and therefore more creative. Exercise helps you to cultivate the release of chemicals to support your flow state at a neurological level. To start your exercise practice:

  • Pay for a gym membership and find a workout plan. This makes it easy for you to start exercising regularly.

  • If you desire to work out in the morning, set your clothes out the night before.

  • Get a committed workout buddy or pay for a trainer to help you stay accountable.

Regularly apply the Flow Quadrant to your life and watch the quality and duration of your flow states skyrocket resulting in your best work in less time.

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