The flow state, sometimes known as the "zone," is a state of peak performance treasured by athletes, artists, and high performing businesspeople. Fields like Sports Psychology and NLP study this “peak performance” state in order to help people create it more consistently and utilize it for higher achievement.
Can you remember times when everything seemed to flow? When you were immersed in what you were doing and lifted by inspiration?
With our attention scattered by multiple devices and a steady stream of emails, learning and implementing the peak performance flow state has more relevance and strategic advantage than ever.
If you'd like to know a simple recipe for peak performance, read on and let's consider a simple 4-step process for bringing more of it to your life, your team, company, or wherever else you'd like to apply it:
The 4 Steps are:
Define - Discover - Analyze - Implement
1. Define the state of peak performance
Charles Garfield, in his book Peak Performance, defined that state with these 8 characteristics he calls "neurophysiological cues of peak performance feelings" which I here summarize and paraphrase-
- Mentally Relaxed - inner calm and peace
- Physically Relaxed - no undue muscle tension
- Confident/ Optimistic - expecting success
- Focused on the Present - attention on the here and now
- Highly Energized - feeling "charged" with energy, more than enough for the task at hand
- Extraordinary Awareness - acutely sensitive to the sensory environment
- In Control - directing mind and body to do what is needed
- In the Cocoon - In an envelope of power, undistracted by the irrelevant and extraneous
Garfield used these criteria to help both athletes and business people better recognize their personal peak experiences with exercises like rating them on a 1-10 scale. Drills like that help to clearly "mark out" peak performances from lesser ones, clearing the path to having them more often.
2. Discover a set of peak experiences
Make an inventory of the best personal peak experiences you can remember. You can use Garfield's 8 characteristics above as criteria. Remember specific times when you were really in the zone and feeling extremely focused and successful about whatever it is you were doing. What you were actually doing and whether or not you succeeded in the eyes of the world isn't as important as your own feelings of success. Find at least 3 or 4 personal peak experiences and give each one a name and short description that will jog your memory.
Now, as we would say in NLP, "elicit the state" of peak performance to bring these experiences fully back to life. Relax and fully immerse into each one and relive it with all your senses engaged . . . see what you were seeing . . . hear what you were hearing . . . feel what you were feeling . Notice how your body position, posture, and facial expression shift with feelings like confidence, focus, and control reawakened.
3. Analyze your peak experiences
Once you have a few peak experiences closer at hand, analyzing them helps you learn they didn't just happen by chance. There are things you did and thought that helped create the climate that high performance thrives in.
Doing a "mind map" is a good way to better understand how you created these experiences and can create more in the future.
As you think about one, let your thinking flow as you use a mind mapping app or just doodle on a piece of paper, listing all the things that were going both physically and mentally before and during that time. Afterwards, as you review several, you will see things you did or thought that were consistent between them that can become your personal keys to peak experience.
4. Implement what you have learned.
Studying these mind maps of your personal peak experiences and inventorying the controllable factors that brought them about helps you arrange your life to be in "the zone" more consistently and consciously.
Design your environment and actions so peak experiences happen more often. For example, if you found that having a coach was a common to your past peak experiences, you know to build a coach into your current plan.
By knowing the definition of peak performance, discovering such times in your own life, analyzing how they came about, and implementing what you learned, you can live at a higher level of inspiration and success.
How will your life be different, rallying and amplifying your highest state of peak performance and then consistently focusing it on the activities and outcomes important to you?