If you are a regular reader you know I bridge the worlds of high performance in sports and high performance in business. These two worlds are not as different as you might think. The highest achievers in both places know the difference between using 99% of your potential and 100% is dedication, effort and a willingness to do what it takes to be the best. It can also be the difference between success and failure.
One of the most common questions I receive from high performers of all types is a variant of “How can I make sure I am ‘on’ when it matters the most?” In answering that question I am going to assume you have the knowledge and ability to do what it is you are trying to do. If you are giving a lecture on the intricacies of repairing nerve damage but you have been a bank teller your whole life, this post isn’t going to help you. However, if you are prepared and want to make sure you peak when the bright lights are on and everyone is watching I have some tips you can use.
First, what is “flow”? Flow is the balance between challenge and ability that results in an effortless performance where each moment is a singular moment with no future and no past. There is no evaluation and everything except the task at hand fades into the background.
Set a time – You never see a sporting event that starts “when the two o’clock meeting ends and if I can get back to my desk before the four o’clock conference call. At game time athletes are in their cleats and uniforms, they have their gear and they are rockin’ on go. They mentally know when they have to be ‘on’. No guess work.
Take care of your basic needs – You are not going to be able to concentrate if you are hungry, cold, need to use the bathroom or are otherwise uncomfortable. Don’t sabotage yourself by going in with the deck stacked against you. Take care of those things before ‘game time’.
Eliminate distractions – I am sure you are thinking “Yeah, duh”. But do you really know what distracts you? Have you ever REALLY thought about it? Here are a few obvious ones: Phones, it seems there are beeps, buzzes, vibrations and melodies about everything. Put your phone on silent (yes, sound all the way off) and place it face down behind you so you can’t see it light up. Close your email; you won’t be reading/responding while you are performing so you don’t need to be alerted when a message arrives. Put a note on your door/cube wall with the time you will be available so your teammates don’t knock. Start paying attention to the things that distract you and be creative about how to eliminate them in the future.
Have an end goal – Knowing what you want to accomplish and leaving the timeframe open ended is one option (as long as it is a doable goal). Tennis, baseball and golf are sports examples of this type of goal. Another option is to set a specific time with a timer to let you know when you are done (that way you don’t distract yourself by looking at the clock). Soccer, field hockey and basketball come to mind. Try different types of goals until you find the one that works best for you.
Have a routine – Top athletes have a routine they follow right before they compete; many of the use music to drown out everything that is going on around them. Do you have a routine you follow when you need to be in top form? When I need to be in writing ‘flow’ I turn on an instrumental Jazz station with no commercials or talking DJ’s because I know hearing language interrupts the flow of the words in my head and breaks my concentration. What signal can you create for your brain that says, “Focus”?
Don’t try to multitask – Clearly focusing and multitasking are mutually exclusive events. Do one thing and one thing only.
Quell your wandering mind – If it is practical, have a parking lot piece of paper where you can write down the random worries or off topic ideas that pop into your mind. If you struggle with negative self talk, having a key word can help bring your mind back to task (A mental performance professional can assist you in determining the cause of negative self talk and help you address and eliminate it.)
Enjoy the flow – There is little that is more rewarding than setting your mind to something and emerging some time later with a completed performance. When you are in the flow you will not think about it. It will just ‘be’. Only afterward will you look back and think “Wow, I was really on.”
When you realize you were in flow make a note of how you got there; you are going to want to be able to repeat it.
Do you have a method or pattern that helps you get focused and ready to flow? We would love to hear about it the comments!
Dr. Robyn Odegaard (aka Doc Robyn) is a nationally known speaker/consultant who is passionate about meeting people where they are and helping them advance to where they want to be. She holds a doctorate in psychology and is the CEO of the Champion Performance Development (www.ChampPerformance.com). She combines executive coaching, organizational development, sport psychology and her love for public speaking to help her clients achieve greater success in every aspect of their lives. She founded the Stop The Drama! Campaign, authored the book ‘Stop The Drama!’ (www.StopTheDramaNow.com) and speaks at high schools and colleges to provide the skills proven to produce success to students. She is avid in her support of driven, high performers and lives by the motto, “Worst case, I want to be a neutral to everyone I meet. My goal is to make a positive difference.”