Flow is a state of concentration or complete absorption with the activity at hand.
It is when we are truly engaged and productivity levels go through the roof. We feel our best and we perform our best. It is often what people describe as being ‘in the zone’.
We can all achieve this state of flow – it occurs when we are being challenged whilst doing something that we enjoy. For example, think of a skier tackling a black slope, a writer starting a novel or perhaps simply pushing ourselves at work.
‘Feel-good’ and performance-enhancing chemicals are released during flow and dramatically affect motivation, creativity and learning.
Whilst in flow we:
- Process information more deeply
- Process information quicker
- Encourage lateral thinking
- Move short term learning to long term memory
The effects on motivation, creativity and learning are all huge but it’s not just while we’re in flow that we can benefit.
Flow explains the success of Google’s 80%- 20% rule; employees spend 80% of their time working and 20% engaging in fun side projects that may benefit Google in some way. This has shown to lead to higher job performance when back in the office and many notable Google products have been invented in this ‘20% time’. GMail, Google News, Google Talk, and AdSense were all invented during 20% time.
During 20% time I believe that the employees are regularly in a state of flow. The increased motivation, creativity and learning are the reason we have so many incredible innovations during the 20% time.
And the reason their job performance improves when back in the office?
Flow produces a state of accelerated learning that stays with us longer than when we are just in the flow state. Flow also enables our creative problem solving skills that we can hold on to after the flow state ends.
Malcolm Gladwel theorized it takes ten thousand hours of learning to master any subject. This ‘ten thousand hour rule’ can be halved for learners when in the flow state.
This can be utilised to create higher performing, more engaging and effective learning courses. We should strive to get learners engaged in the state of flow, as it makes for rapid learning and much higher engagement levels.
Flow runs on a cycle of a 4 stages.
If we were to implement flow into a learning strategy we could guide learners through this cycle to ensure they utilise the short term and long term benefits of flow.
The 4 stages of flow:
Struggle – In the struggle phase we are loading and overloading the brain, this is a difficult phase. If we were to think of a writer analogy, in this stage we would be researching and planning – possibly suffering from dreaded ‘writers block’.
Release – In this second phase we are changing from sub-conscious learning, where we may be thinking about many things at once and working inefficiently, to conscious learning, where the brain is very efficient and focusing on one thing only.
To achieve this we must enter a stage of release, where we take our minds off the task at hand. This could be going for a walk, doing some gardening or housework.
Flow – TA-DA! Flow. Tons of feel-good and performance-enhancing chemicals are released. This is when we are at our optimal state of consciousness; learning is accelerated, we are happy and engaged.
Recovery – In recovery all those feel-good chemicals have been depleted, and we can feel very low. It is important to not get stressed after the flow state as it can disrupt some of the super valuable after-effects!
Thanks to flow, we become better creative problem solvers and can experience a state of accelerated, and effective, learning.