This video and post are from a series about how to focus from my online course, the Science of Finding Flow.
Although we usually assume that a state of deep concentration is hard to achieve (and getting harder these days, as the interruptions from our smartphone/email/texts mount) the truth is that we can access this wonderful state much more easily than we often realize. We just need to create a little routine for ourselves. You’ve already created most of it by making a plan to minimize interruptions and distractions. There are three more things for you to do:
1. Clear mental clutter. What is going on in your mind that will keep you from finding flow?
Take a quick look at your task list, and decide what you will do today and when you will do it. When our subconscious mind doesn’t know when we will complete a task, it will often interrupt our flow state with intrusive reminders about what else we need to do. Research shows that our unconscious isn’t actually nagging us to do the task at hand but rather to make a plan to get it done. So scheduling a task can make a huge difference in our ability to focus on something else.
Another precursor to getting into The Zone is knowing where you are in your workflow. “That constant awareness of what is next is what keeps you focused,” Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, told Entrepreneur magazine. “That’s where the engagement comes from.”
So note what you’ve just accomplished, what you hope to accomplish next, and what you’ll work on after that.
As I approach my tasks, I also find it helpful to take a quick peek at my calendar and email to clear mental clutter. Is there anything urgent? The idea isn’t to respond to emails; it’s a check that keeps me from worrying while I work that I should have checked my email, and keeps me from wondering if there is anything on my calendar that I should be preparing for.
2. Prepare your brain to go into a deep state of focus.
3. Ritualize all this behavior.
You’ve planned out your focusing ritual already, by building a focusing fortress — now you need to enter it. Do this ritualistically and habitually—in the same order every single time. Eventually, you’ll start your focus routine and your brain will start doing this on autopilot. This routine signals to your brain that you are about to drop into a state of flow, and soon you’ll be able to drop in more and more quickly.Rituals like these make it possible for ordinary people to do extraordinary work. #flow #thezone Click To Tweet
After I go through all my little desk-clearing, fortress-building tasks (same order every time, remember), I have a funny little calming ritual. I take three to five very deep, slow breaths, to signal to my brain and nervous system that I’m safe and calm. This gives me better access to the most creative and intelligent parts of my brain.
While I’m breathing deeply, I think about what I’d like to accomplish, and I ask a higher power (or my highest self?) for assistance. This is an act of openness and faith I don’t fully understand, but it works for me. There is research that indicates that prayer, which this is akin to, can be powerful. But it could also be that it is just a little intention setting ritual that tells my brain what to focus on.
Also while I’m breathing, I fill my consciousness with loving and playful thoughts, taking a moment to think about what will be fun about the task I’m about to do. I literally do a mini loving-kindness meditation, sending myself and all beings everywhere joy and ease. You’ll learn more about this in Unit 7: Flourish, but this is a VERY effective way to prime the brain for performance. (I know, sounds woo-woo, but try it. It works. And there is solid science to back it up.)
Elite performers—from Stephen Curry to Maya Angelou—train themselves to drop into The Zone unconsciously by performing little rituals like this. (Angelou said that she used her pre-writing routine to “enchant” herself.) Indeed, rituals like these make it possible for ordinary people to do extraordinary work.
This “class” is from “The Science of Finding Flow,” an online course I created as a companion to my book The Sweet Spot: How to Accomplish More by Doing Less. Want to go on to the next class or start the course from the beginning? It’s free! Just go to The Science of Finding Flow course page. Enjoy!