Flow Cycles

You are brilliant at something. You can reach world class expert levels if you engineer your life around that ability.

To do that you need to continually be pushing your limits with a defined, focused process.

Are you using one? Most people aren’t. By creating one and positioning your development process around your Flow state (the feeling of being ‘in the zone’) you can accelerate your abilities far beyond normal levels.

In this article we will:

  • Remind you of the conditions for a Flow state
  • Get you to think about your next development step
  • Explain the process to follow so you can create your own accelerated development plan

Let’s begin.

Certain conditions must be met to access a Flow state, including:

  • The activity must be engaging your complete attention
  • The task must be challenging
  • You have to believe that the outcome you are striving for is possible

The scientific optimum quotient for ‘challenging but possible’ is considered to be 4% beyond your current skill level. However, I appreciate this is hard to quantify for most skills. Instead I find it is more useful to consider the ‘challenge’ to be it an incremental improvement.

Reflect on your last Flow (‘in the zone’) experience:

  • What would have made you more effective in that situation?
  • What is the one skill you want to learn or practice to incrementally improve your ability?
  • Did you actually answer those two questions? If not then slow your mind down and do it now.

This gives you the starting point, here is the process you must follow what to accelerate your development. It is known as the Flow Cycle.

The four stages of the Cycle are;

Struggle – this is the learning and practising process which requires diligence and commitment, even when you don’t want to do it (hence ‘Struggle’)

I’ve recently been reading how hostage negotiators listen and encourage people to talk more (to get them to reveal important information). This skill is transferable to coaching because a great coach will facilitate the conversation to allow the coachee to fully express themselves.

My Struggle process therefore is to understand how they use this technique and then practice little bits of it in ‘normal’ conversations. This is about sticking to the learning and testing the skill, whether I ‘feel like’ doing it or not.

Prepare – setting your intention before you go into the situation that triggers your Flow State

Before a coaching session I set my intention to utilise a new technique, and then what I envisage the outcome to be.

Flow – to enter the state where I’m focused solely on the task before me

Because I’ve been coaching for eight years I have a solid foundation of skills and I know if gets me in Flow. The incremental (4%) challenge is to then bring in the new technique to augment what I’m doing and take my skill to the next level.

Recover – to give yourself reflection and restoration time

Once a session is over I need to take a break from it to let my mind recover. I reflect for 10 minutes on the events of the session and my own performance – did I introduce the new skill, use it effectively and what were the outcomes? Then I switch to doing something else that is an easy task or take a complete break, depending on the intensity of the session. Nobody can constantly be in Flow, your brain chemistry is not set up to do that and you’re kidding yourself if you think you don’t need recovery time.

The process to follow therefore is;

  • Be aware of what skills you use in your Flow State
  • Identify what you can do to take those skills to the next incremental level
  • Plan in your learning time (Struggle)
  • Set your intention before your Flow experience (Prepare)
  • Make sure you are challenging yourself to introduce the incremental ‘4%’ skill (Flow)
  • Give yourself space after the Flow experience (Recover)

This is not easy. It has to become habitualised to become truly useful, that requires effort and planning. You’re going to need somebody to hold you accountable because you will slack off, it is inevitable. If you do stick with it you maximise your chances of levelling up to become a world class expert.

World class expert or settle for what you’ve already got.

Make your choice.