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How Can You Increase Your Chances of Achieving Flow?

We learn some major lessons from the basketball player's recent, record-breaking performance.

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Keith Allison via Wikimedia Commons


If you’re interested in psychology, you’ve probably heard of the concept of ‘flow.’

Flow is defined as “the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.” The concept was named by famed Hungarian psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi (pronounced like this). Conversationally speaking, we often say those experiencing flow are “in the zone.”

If you’re curious what exactly that looks like, you don’t need to look any further then the sports world.

Take for example Golden State Warrior Kalyan Thompson. On countless occasions, Thompson has demonstrated the ability to reach flow in front of millions of onlookers. (You can see the highlights of Thompson’s performance at the end of this post.)

So, how can you increase your chances of achieving flow? Here are a few lessons from last night’s performance:

1. Focus.

Csíkszentmihályi’s research indicates that in order to enter flow, a person must have a series of clear goals on which he or she can intently focus.

Thompson knows his craft well, so you’ll see him relentlessly pursue small goals such as constantly moving without the ball, and taking advantage of teammates who set screens to get him open.

Lesson: Before beginning your work day, outline what you want to accomplish. Then, focus on one task at a time.

2. Start small.

When asked about last night’s performance, Thompson said this: “[I] think it started for me when I got a few layups in the beginning,” Thompson recalled. “That really opened up my game. Whenever I’m active off the ball, that’s when I’m at my best.”

Lesson: Use small, easier tasks as stepping stones to larger ones. Find a natural progression, and you’ll start to build momentum.

3. Take advantage of every opportunity.

Thompson seemed to benefit from the fact that the opposing team was looked tired. (The Pacers were surely fighting fatigue since they were playing their second game in as many nights.) Noticing this, Thompson continued pushing.

Lesson: If you see an opportunity, pounce on it. Don’t think; don’t wait. This will keep your momentum going.

4. Keep pushing.

As the game went on, Thompson didn’t get discouraged by missed shots. Instead, he just keeps shooting (and making, mostly), en route to a very efficient evening.

Lesson: Don’t get distracted by mistakes; rather, just keep pushing. If you must correct mistakes, do so later after exiting the state of flow.

5. Practice.

To be clear, following these steps might not get you to flow on the first try, and they won’t automatically put you in flow every single day.

But the more you practice, the more opportunities you’ll have, and the easier you’ll find it is to slip into this state.

Lesson: Hone your skills and follow these steps, and you’ll be able to work in a state of flow more and more often.

I know, because I’ve applied these steps myself and seen what it feels like. It’s an amazing experience–and how I’ve produced some of my best work.

If only I could do it on the basketball court.

Enjoy this post? Check out my book, EQ Applied, which uses fascinating research and compelling stories to illustrate what emotional intelligence looks like in everyday life.

A version of this article originally appeared on Inc.com.

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