The best performers in any field strive to find “flow,” that elusive state where time disappears and creative insights give us the direction to achieve stunning results. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi tells us flow occurs most often when we meet complex challenges with intense concentration and the skills to master them.
When we are in flow, or “in the zone,” as athletes like to say, our senses, feelings, actions, and thoughts become perfectly aligned. This can result in extraordinary breakthroughs. In fact, peak performance and flow are so interconnected as to be almost indistinguishable. Once you’ve been in flow, you want to return to this blissful state, but getting back there is not always easy.
Interruptions are the enemy of flow. We can’t find our way to the focus required for flow when we are distracted by the noise in our world. Studies prove we are interrupted as many as 90 times every day, most of which are self-inflicted. We allow our phones, colleagues, schedules, and pets to take us off task. All these come between the work at hand and hyper-concentration. Once interrupted, it takes a bucket of time to reset and get back on track.
Once distractions and interruptions are eliminated, the key to increasing the likelihood of flow is to understand the consequence of social evaluation. Flow is most commonly achieved when people are sequestered because the isolation eliminates any concern about how they are performing. When we don’t feel evaluated or judged, we can focus exclusively on the task at hand, becoming absorbed without the thought of what others might think. It is this complete lack of evaluation that gives rise to flow.
Anytime a leader allows team members to work on tasks where social judgment and evaluation are eliminated (at least in the short-term) flow has a better chance of occurring. Help others achieve flow by creating judgment-free zones where the only feedback comes from the work itself. Remember to do this for yourself as well.