Why Flow Triggers Have to Continually be Adjusted Based on Skill Level

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If you talk to any board sports enthusiast like a surfer or snowboarder, or any extreme sports athlete, what many of them will tell you is that they need bigger waves, bigger mountains, and bigger challenges to reach a state of flow. At a certain point, what once produced the “high” no longer does. The flow triggers have to continually be adjusted based on skill level.

The same applies for deep, meaningful, creative work. This is something I noticed when writing 1000 words a day was no longer leading to the flow states that it did before. According to Steven Kotler flow happens at “the midpoint between boredom and anxiety.” Whatever we’re working on has to challenge us enough that it’s beyond our current skill level, but not so far beyond our comfort zone it paralyzes us.

Because I’ve been writing 1000 words a day for so long, it’s no longer the challenge that it once was. It’s become such a part of my daily routine that I’m pretty much in my comfort zone. What I’ve found in the last few weeks is that in order to reach a flow state, it’s taking me anywhere between 2000–3000 words each day.

So the question then becomes, how do you adjust your flow triggers based on your skill level?

1) Know your current skill level

In order to adjust your flow triggers, it’s important to honestly assess your current skill level.

  • If you’re skiing or snowboarding primarily on greens (aka the bunny slope) and you decide to go attempt a black diamond, you’re probably going to eat shit a lot or get hurt really bad.
  • If you’re at the gym lifting 35lb barbells and you attempt to go back the next day and lift 50lb barbells you’re likely going to hurt yourself.
  • If you’ve never developed a daily creative or deep work habit, and you attempt to sit down and write 2000 words, you’ll want to throw your laptop against the wall.

Figure out what exactly you’re currently capable of. And get in the habit of repeating that.

  • If it’s flying down the bunny slopes, do that.
  • If it’s surfing 3-foot waves, so be it.
  • If its’ 200 words, make that your word count.

Before we can attempt to get outside of our comfort zones, it’s important we have a high level of confidence within them.

2) Identify the Point Right Outside your Comfort zone

Once you’ve achieved a level of confidence within your comfort zone (i.e. bunny slopes, 2-foot waves, 1000 words), identify a point just outside of your comfort zone, one that challenges you. In other words, a point that causes you to bend, but not break.

  • It could be 4-foot waves instead of 2-foot waves
  • It could be a blue instead of a green slope
  • It could 15000 words instead of 1000

What you’ll likely notice is that the ability to get into flow lies just outside of your comfort zone. It’s not just visible progress, but also some level of discomfort that is a precursor to flow.

3) Go to the edge until it becomes your new normal

Now that you know what the point of flow is, attempt to reach it every single day. Depending on what it is, after a few weeks, or a few months, this will become your new normal. Once it does, it will no longer lead to flow.

4) Rinse, Wash, Repeat

As you repeat this process over and over, what you’ll start to notice is that your skill level will increase exponentially.

Any surfer or snowboarder will tell you that if they’re in the water or on the mountain for multiple days in a row, by the last few days their risk tolerance increases, their muscle memory improves, and their instincts are much sharper.

The year that I started writing 1000 words every day, I self-published two books, planned a conference, and did a massive brand overhaul on what eventually turned into Unmistakable Creative.

As you repeat this process of adjusting your flow triggers, you will start to gain momentum, which is the lifeblood of any startup, creative endeavor, and habit.

Listen to Our Interview with Steven Kotler

If you’re interested in a more in-depth conversation about the neuroscience of flow, you might enjoy this conversation I had with Steven Kotler.

If your ability to experience flow seems sporadic, it might be because your current triggers aren’t aligned with your current skill level. Adjust the triggers. Rinse, wash and repeat.

Before You Go…

If doing the best work of your life is important to you, you’ll love my free guide: “Optimizing Productivity & Creativity.

The tactics I’ve packed into this guide allowed me to write over 1 million words in the last 2 years. What could it do for your life’s work? Don’t miss it.


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