What is Flow & Why Does it Matter?

Jun 2, 2021

We’ve all heard the term flow, I’ve mentioned it numerous times in posts but what does it really mean and why does it matter?

Steven Kotler describes flow as~


“An optimal state of consciousness where we feel our best and perform our best, the term takes its name from the sensation it confers.

In this state, we are so focused on the task at hand that all else falls away. Action and awareness merge. Our sense of self vanishes. Our sense of time distorts. And performance goes through the roof.”

Why does it matter?


From a productivity perspective, at 10 year study by McKinsey reported that top executives are 5 times more productive when in flow.  Additionally, by increasing flow by 15-20% overall workplace productivity would almost double.

Think about this from your own perspective, how much more productive and satisfied would you be if you spend more time in flow?


If you are anxious & overwhelmed or bored and disinterested, then you are more than likely out of flow.

Some people think of flow as when we’re doing something that comes naturally and whilst that is true, if it become too easy and lacks any challenge at all we can become bored and easily distracted.

On the other extreme when the task is too hard and we lack experience or skill then anxiety and overwhelm can kick in.

The ideal is the emotional midpoint between boredom and anxiety, in what scientists call the “flow channel the sweet spot that keeps attention firmly focused in the present.


Sweet spot, flow channel


The flow channel will vary between individuals.  For those who thrive on challenge and always aim for harder and bigger targets, the key is not speeding past the sweet spot, heading further and further into stress and ultimately burning out.

Those who naturally prefer the comfort zone need to be aware that ease can lead to boredom and that a challenge which is initially a little uncomfortable can indicate the path into flow, peak productivity and satisfaction.

As in all things in life, we are all unique, so we need find the sweet spot for ourselves and not just try to follow the ways of others.

What’s the science behind flow?


In flow, the brain releases norepinephrine, dopamine, endorphins, anandamide, and serotonin.


All five contribute to enhanced productivity, creativity and satisfaction.


💦 Norepinephrine and dopamine promote vigilance, enhance formation and retrieval of memory, and focuses attention.

💦 Endorphins block pain and can reduce stress, letting us challenge ourselves and move out of our comfort zone without burning out.

💦 Anandamide is thought to prompt lateral connections , boost creativity and memory.

💦 Serotonin contributes to a calm and contented mind.


When in flow the combination of chemicals allows you to absorb information, synthesise it, and integrate it, thereby boosting learning, motivation and creativity.


How can we produce more flow in our lives?


Flow states have triggers — pre-conditions that lead to more flow.

Environment Triggers:

💦 High consequences – flow follows focus, & consequences always catch our attention

💦 Unpredictability – not knowing what is coming next can activate flow


Psychological Triggers:

💦 Intense focus- no distractions or multi-tasking, singular tasks, solitude

💦 Clear goals & timelines – clarity of purpose allows the mind to stay focused on the present moment & present actions

💦Immediate feedback- knowing how to improve performance in real time allows the mind to stay present

💦Challenge/skills ratio —the midline between boredom & anxiety

💦Batch processing —batching processes & allocating the times of the day which suit your own rhythm


What takes us out of flow?

Some common factors which reduce flow include:

🚫 No passion or purpose
🚫 No tangible, measurable, visible outcomes
🚫  Email,notifications, messages, social media
🚫  Unscheduled interruptions by colleagues, the dog, family, Amazon deliveries ………

Do any of the triggers resonate?

I’m sure you’ve got others which you could add.

If you want to explore how flow can impact your life and business, then drop me a message and we can chat.