Photo by Ivan Bandura on Unsplash
Reach peak performance by putting yourself in the right state of mind
Every once and while I log onto Medium and see a post about the “flow state.” What is it, and why is it so important for writers? It seems like the secret sauce that all successful writers dab onto their blog posts.
The flow state is the gold standard of work efficiency. Where there is flow, there is productivity. From what I’ve read, finding one’s flow isn’t easy, but it doesn’t have to be hard either.
This may not sound intuitive at all. If I want to write, shouldn’t I be able to sit down and do the damn thing? That’s not what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a psychologist at the University of Chicago, would do. He studied peak performance and asked people around the world when they felt and performed their best.
And everyone he spoke to, regardless of culture, class, gender, age or level of modernization, felt and performed their best when they were experiencing the state he named “flow.” — Steven Kotler (2014)
My interest in the flow state stems from a post I read by
Tim Denning a few weeks ago. I knew I wrote my best when I eliminated distractions, but I didn’t realize just how much my preparation mattered.
Rather than just sit down in my chair, and leave my productivity up to the universe, there are steps I can take to reach my peak. Now that I’ve read a few articles on the flow state, I have a better idea of how to achieve it. I think everyone is different, and certain methods work better for some.
I’m here to list a few alternative methods that I use to reach my flow state. There is no one method that I use, rather a compilation of methods and trains of thought.
No one method should ever fully lock you in. Like a squat with good form, you don’t just move one muscle. Instead, you move various limbs and joints in tandem with each other. Squatting is a compound exercise for a reason. You have to combine different actions into one explosive movement.
Like a squat, entering the flow state is accomplished by combining a calm environment with mental preparedness. How you acquire these is up to you.
Workout before you write
I can’t hold a flow state for long without feeling a little anxious. This is especially the case if I don’t workout first. Anxiety leads to distraction. I don’t want to feel uneasy when I’m writing. I want to feel calm and relaxed. I want the words to flow out of me.
This is my time to forget the woes of the world and write my heart out.
It’s essential to workout in order to get the fidgets out of the body. Plus, knowing you’ve already accomplished something during the day helps take the pressure off the writing. Even in today’s gym-less world, it’s still possible to take advantage of your resources at home and get some exercise.
If you can find the time to get a solid workout in, then you’ll have confidence knowing you’ve already done something productive. With less pressure to produce your best writing, you’re more likely to find peace in your flow state.
Put the snacks away
Denning’s article talks about putting away all distractions. He lists phones, which is a given, but goes as far to say you should cut the cord on your doorbell. I think that’s a bit extreme, but he has a point. It’s not worth losing your flow because the Amazon delivery guy rang the doorbell.
Anything can be a distraction, but there is an obvious one to me. In my opinion, snacks are a vice that will keep us out of our flow state.
Imagine sitting down at your computer to type away at an article. You plan on spending the next hour as productively as you can. You’ve had your coffee, you went to the bathroom, and you’re ready to work. Before starting, however, you pour a heaping bowl of Skinny Pop popcorn and place it next to your keyboard.
You take a handful, plop the popcorn into your mouth, and crunch away at the keys and kernels. Seconds go by, and you reach for another handful. You keep reaching for that handful, dragging your mind from your story to the savory taste of your mid-afternoon snack.
Again, you make for the popcorn, but the bowl is empty. Now you’re thinking about the vacant vessel and how you wish you had more. Now you’re in the kitchen, away from your story, to peruse the pantry for something else to eat.
You sit back down at your computer with another bowl of popcorn. It’s been 15 minutes, and you’ve hardly typed 150 words. Does that sound effective to you? Humans aren’t great at doing two things at once. Snacks, although they provide much needed energy, are a distraction.
A simple solution is to fuel up before writing. Don’t put any food near your keyboard. Eat beforehand so you don’t have to think about it.
Sit by an open window
I don’t like sitting in windowless rooms. It makes me feel disconnected from the world. There’s a fine balance between being disconnected from distractions and connected to the earth.
Open a window to the sky. Feel the breeze and listen to the sound of the wind. These sights and sounds aren’t distracting, but immersive.
Politics, societal pressures, and egging responsibilites are nothing compared to the soothing qualities of a little nature. Obviously, this all depends on where you live. We are still in a pandemic, so you might be quartered to your room for the moment. The important thing is to expose yourself ever-so-slightly to the elements. It’s better than secluding yourself in a dark room.
Write in different places
Like I mentioned earlier, there’s a virus outside, and it won’t let us sit inside the coffeeshop. There are still places we can go like the beach, your car, or the park. We just need to be a little creative.
I think we forget that we don’t need an internet connection to write. At the very least, you can pull out your phone at tap away in the notes app. It’s not ideal, but if you’re feeling desktop fatigue, then it might be worth it.
I don’t have a laptop. Instead, I rely on a desktop iMac. Although I do my best work at my computer, it tends to get monotonous. For this reason, I often write my Medium blogs on my phone. It’s easy to pull it out of my pocket and let my thumbs take over. Sometimes, when the stars align, I find my self tapping away for 45 minutes before I notice any discomfort in my joints.
Variety is the spice of life. Even within your own living space, it’s possible to experiment and find new places to work. The flow follows you everywhere. It isn’t bound to one location. You can call upon it from anywhere and anytime.
Take a nap
The right nap can do wonders for your mind, body, and writing. If you’re feeling fatigued from work or a workout, try a power nap.
Shut the blinds, turn off the lights, and get under your covers like you usually would at night. Drink a bunch of water before going to sleep so you don’t wake up with cotton mouth. Set a timer for 23 minutes, and you’ll wake up feeling like a new person. Take the nap and you’ll be a more conscious writer because of it.
Adhere to the 5-minute rule
Something I’ve learned is that the first five minutes of whatever you’re doing usually sucks, and it doesn’t matter if it’s a fun or mundane activity.
Take running for example. If you go on jogs from time-to-time, you know that starting out isn’t a pleasant process. As you go through the motions, trying to find your stride, it hurts getting the muscles loosened up. No matter how much you stretch, there will be a brief period of pain before you hit your stride.
Just like running, it might take five minutes to get into a flow state. I never once sat down to write and felt great during my first five minutes. No matter how much I prepare: phone turned off, snacks eaten, etc., I’m definitely not doing my best writing during the first five minutes.
This isn’t necessarily a way to enter the flow state, but its a thought process to help get you there. I’m usually nervous when I first start out. I make mistakes, and I wonder if I should even carry on.
The trick is to keep going. You’re just getting the kinks out. You’re just dusting off the rust. The words will come, and you’ll see how much progress you’ve made after a 25-minute writing session.
If you want to reach peak performance, you must find your flow state. There are multiple ways to find it, many of which I did not mention or even know about.
I know what works for me, and that’s what matters most. You need to figure out what works for you. Do you know how to enter your flow state? Have you ever been there? Have you ever tried, really?
In order for me to write as efficiently as possible I try to eliminate all distractions, workout beforehand, sit by a window, and take a nap if I get tired.
The flow state isn’t limited to writing. Peak performance applies to all aspects of life: cooking, public speaking, shopping, or running. There are different methods depending on the activity.
The flow state is always there when you need it. It isn’t the result of some psychological trance. It’s the product of prior steps taken to get there.
Where there is a flow, there is a way. And, when there is a way, our best selves come out to shine.