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How to be brilliant with the neuroscience of the Flow cycle

Would you like to be 500% more productive? Sounds crazy, right? Researchers into the neuroscience of peak performance have shown that when we get into peak performance states our creativity and our productivity soars. And we can do that every day, deliberately. This article explains the basics.

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Would you like to be 500% more productive? 

That’s how much we can amplify productivity according to the author of Stealing Fire, Steven Kotler, when we are in ‘flow’. This term was coined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced Mee-high Chick-sent-me-high). It’s that amazing feeling when we are lost in what we are doing, completely absorbed by the task, where time stands still, and we are performing at our best. It’s when we are in the zone, totally pumped.

In our Amplifiers group this quarter, our theme is leading performance through flow. As leaders, we want to be elite performers, and we want to encourage our teams to be the same.

By paying attention to our biology, we can put ourselves in this regular super-productive, highly creative state.

Here are the basics:

Flow has a four part cycle: struggle, release, flow, and recovery.

Different feel-good neurochemicals get triggered in each phase.

Phase 1 – Struggle. In our leadership roles, we might experience this when we are starting strategic planning. Or developing a communications and marketing strategy. Or sitting down to write a Board paper. Or reviewing the promotions system.

It’s where we wrestle with big ideas. In this phase, we seek connections. We are doing research. We listen to podcasts, you-tube videos, gaze out the window. Jot ideas down. Make maps. We are trying to put order to chaos. Our brain releases dopamine, cortisol and norepinephrine to help with the task. These are alert and focus biochemicals.

Phase 2 – Release. When you’ve had enough, take a break. This allows our brain to rest. Let it go, go for a walk, do something different.

Phase 3 – Flow. That’s when the fun begins. We focus, we concentrate, and reach for the state where the brain dumps huge amounts of more dopamine, norepinephrine, anandamide (helps make new connections and insights while lowering our ability to feel anxious), endorphins (natural pain killers). Enjoy the rush of creativity that comes in this phase. After a couple of hours, we get the feel-good well-being neurochemicals of serotonin and oxytocin.

Phase 4 – Recover. Phew! Time to reboot the system. Good sleep, nutrition, plenty of water and exercise.

What do you need to change and prioritise to access flow more regularly?

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