What is under the hood of that flow profile? What is under the hood of that flow audit? Turns out flow states have triggers. These are preconditions that lead to more flow. This is a lot of the work the flow genome project has been involved in. For those of you who know anything about our history, we started out working with top action adventure sport athletes, people who need flow to perform at a high level, they need flow to survive. If you're a professional free skier you're not getting from the top of the mountain to the bottom without a flow state, right? So we had a real problem in the early days of flow research because how the hell do you know if your study subjects are really in flow? Sure, we had a psychometric questionnaire and it was well validated but it's still a questionnaire, right, a little squishy. With the action sport athletes, it was really simple. If they actually were alive at the bottom of the run, we knew they were in flow. Gave us a hard data set with to work.
We took that data set, we took all the neuroscience and we worked backwards. And what we now know is flow states have these triggers. Now we're going to spend a lot of time today walking through different triggers and how to apply them and when, but the one thing I want to tell you right now, place to start, flow follows focus. Only shows up when all of our attention is focused on the right here, right now. That is what these triggers do. They drive attention into the present moment. To put this differently, these are the 20 things that evolution shaped our brain to pay the most attention too. For example, passion and purpose, alright? Passion, purpose, these are words that get very mystified. Oh, find your passion, what's your purpose, and all that. Why does it matter? The only really passion and purpose matters is because it drives attention to the present moment. We pay more attention to those things we believe in. That's why it matters. Alright, it drives flow. Where are we going next? Ah, good. Alright. So this leads us to our very first mind hack. Firetruck off, I'm flowing. When we work with organizations, when FGP works with organizations, the very first thing we do is we walk in and we say if you cannot hang a sign on your door that says fuck off, I'm flowing, you cannot do this work. If you work for a company or run a company and you're making your employees message you back within 15 minutes of getting a message or email you back within an hour of getting an email, that's a fricking disaster, alright? Talk to your bosses if somebody is making you do that. If you're making your employees do that, change that. Flow requires moments of uninterrupted concentration. In fact, research, Csikszentmihalyi, a bunch of years ago teamed up with a guy named Kevin Rathunde. University of Utah education researcher. And they went looking for what are the highest flow environments in the world outside of action adventure sports. Monastery education was number one. The reason why, monastery education is built around 90 to 120 minute periods of uninterrupted concentration. It's what surrounds monastery education. There's a couple other things they do, and we'll talk about those things a little bit later, but what the research shows is really, really profound flow states, especially if we're doing creative things, requires 90 to 120 minutes of uninterrupted concentration. So when I talked about protecting your schedule, this is the first reason you're going to need to protect your schedule. You're going to need those blocks of time, especially as creatives. Now interestingly, Tim Ferriss says this and I think I agree with him. He says while the 90 to 120 minutes are important, if you're actually a creative, if you're really doing this for a living, you're gonna need a couple four to five hour blocks every week for just mind wandering, for rumination, right? So 90 to 120 minutes maximizes flow but there's gonna be a couple of times a week probably where you're gonna need longer chunks of concentration and you're gonna have to shut your door. My office is sort of at the back ends of my field. I am very, very, very isolated. I get up at four o'clock in the morning, why? Because nobody calls. My phone is unplugged, everything is turned off. It's dark outside, it's quiet. You really need those conditions. Alright. Let's talk about the most important of flows triggers. So this is often called the golden rule of flow. It's the most critical of flows triggers. It's what's known as the challenge skill balance. Flow follows focus. You pay the most attention to the task at hand when the challenge of the task slightly exceeds our skillset. So you want to stretch but not snap. Alright, if I were to say this emotionally, I would say flow exists not on but very near the midpoint between anxiety and boredom. Boredom, not enough stimulation, I'm not paying any attention. Anxiety, whoa, way too much stimulation, I'm paying way too much attention. In between is what's called the flow channel. If you are interested in physiology you may have heard of the Yerkes-Dodson curve. This is the idea that attention will get more and more and more focused up to a point and then there's too much of it, there's too much anxiety, and then it starts to fall off and performance declines with it. That's where the flow channel sits. Interestingly, Csikszentmihalyi teamed up with a Google mathematician a couple of years ago and they performed back at the envelope calculation. They were trying to figure out, well, what's the exact ratio between challenge and skills. And they came up with a 4% gradient difference meaning the challenge of the task at hand, to maximize flow, needs to be 4% harder than your skillset. Now that seems like a random number, we found a way to actually test it more rigorously at the flow genome project and we've conducted two or three years worth of studies on this number with people and what we've found is that it keeps people in sweet spot, it works consistently over time. Interestingly, so as an athlete, for example, a seasonal athlete, meaning like ski season shows up once it snows. Typically, before I had this information, what would happen is, I would find myself in a really powerful flow state, maybe the third or fourth day of the ski season, and then I wouldn't have another one maybe 'til the end of the ski season, right? Two major ones, one at the beginning, one at the end. Once I figured out that 4% was the sweet spot, each time I showed up to the hill I tried to push a little 4% harder, a tiny little bit harder than I did last time, I can now get into flow pretty much every time I go skiing by staying in the sweet spot. I've to say quadrupled this is an understatement. Massively maximized the amount of flow in my life. Now 4% is a tricky number, 4% for people who are a little more timid, a little more shy, a little more of an underachiever, this is outside your comfort zone. You are pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone. For really high performance, for anyone who's a hard charger in here, for type A types, the problem with 4% is you'll blow by without even noticing it. You'll take on challenges that are 10%, 20%, 30% greater and by doing that, you will lock yourself out of the very state you need to be in to actually achieve those challenges. So one of things we say a lot at the flow genome project, with this work, you want to go slow to go fast, right? It is a 500% boost in productivity, right? So you don't need to take on giant challenges. A little bit better today than I did yesterday, that's what we're looking for. A little bit, right? As a writer, by the way, as a creative, one of the things I know about writing, one of the things I've learned along the way, is tell the truth, tell the truth, tell the truth, tell the truth. Honesty works best in writing, right? No matter what you're writing. I want to be honest enough that I'm a little uncomfortable knowing what's coming, right, knowing that I'm going to publish this book and other people are going to see it, I want to be a little uncomfortable, I want to be a little uneasy with how much of myself I am putting into my creativity, right? If you are a little uncomfortable with how much you're showing the world as a creative, you're probably in the right sweet spot, right? You're nervous but you're not overwhelmed.