Companies and individuals now more than ever need to out-create, out-innovate and out-market their competition. The narrative in business has shifted from “how do we keep doing the same thing but to more people”, to “how do we stand out and offer something unique”. This evolution in business puts pressure on the human capital that exists within corporations to step up.
How do we handle this pressure?
The answer is Flow. We have all had moments when we feel like we are in the zone. Where we are focused, completely engaged, exhibit positive emotions, have a mindset that is optimistic and creative, where time disappears and we feel in control of what we are doing. When we have moments like these we are in a psychological state called Flow. The new science of Positive Psychology is showing that Flow is the key to high performance.
Who can achieve Flow?
In my research I have seen people of all walks of life exhibit Flow. From CEOs running a company, musicians playing music, to butchers taking pride in making sure their products are cut to the best of their ability.
In essence Flow is where you are emotionally engaged and completely focused on the task at hand.
What are the characteristics of being in this state?
There are numerous characteristics, including having clear goals and a clear strategy for what you want to achieve; not being self-conscious about your performance; being present in the moment and immersed in what you are doing; and, have a positive mindset and low stress levels.
How can we get into the state of Flow?
Control your environment so you have the ability to be focused on the task that you are doing. Practice being present – this means being in the moment where you are only focusing on what you are doing. Not worrying about yesterday and being anxious about something you have to do later in the day.
Have passion for every task that you are doing. Be completely engaged in each task and endeavour to do it to the best of your ability. Rather than being driven to do the task by what you can get out of it (praise, recognition) or fear of failure and ridicule, do the task for the satisfaction of doing it well.
Aim for positive emotions. Experiencing positive emotions like happiness, excitement, enthusiasm helps set us up for Flow by stimulating the sophisticated, high-level, executive parts of our brain. Negative emotions such as fear, anger, rage and resentment cause our brain to shift into a flight or fight mode where these sophisticated parts of the brain shut down and our performance dips.
Practice regulating your emotions. The ability to control and alter your emotional state is a mental skill and can be developed, much like our muscles in the gym. The more you work them the stronger they get. When you feel anger and resentment, practice feeling compassion and tolerance. Or when you feel fear and helplessness, practice feeling calmness and composure.
Psychological research shows us that many people have automatic negative thought patterns that are pessimistic, unrealistic and inaccurate. Negative thought kills our chance of Flow, as it leads to negative emotion and poor behaviour.
Start to be more aware of your thinking style and challenge it when you think it is off. For example, when making a mistake often people say to themselves, “There you go again, you are always screwing up, why do you have to be such a loser?”. The trick is to recognise this and challenge it. Rather than falling into negative thought, say something like, “You made a mistake, but most of the time you do a good job, you just happened to screw this one up. We all make mistakes from time to time”.
Dr Adam Fraser is one of Australia’s leading educators, researchers and thought leaders in the area of human performance. Author of Sugar Daddy & The Third Space and a regular in the media and has been featured in the Australian Financial Review and Business Review Weekly. Dr Fraser will be speaking at the AIME 2014 education programme, known as AIME Knowledge. Contact him at dradamfraser.com or visist aime.com.au