Flow triggers explained: Challenge-to-skills ratio

As a reminder: Flow states have triggers we can use to make it more likely we drop into flow when desired!  Links below to the ones we’ve already covered!


Well, this might just be my favorite flow trigger, in both sports and life.  The idea is this: flow exists in this magical area between boredom and anxiety, known as the flow channel.

Whatever challenge we’re working on is hard enough that we’re paying attention (not bored), though not so far exceeding our skills that it kicks us into anxiety.  Some very smart people have identified this is when the challenge/skills ratio = 4% . . . the challenge is 4% higher than your skills, the activity is 4% higher than your ability. 

There’s a lot of ways we can use this concept:

  1.  If you’re feeling overwhelmed/anxious about the task at hand (and reframe to excitement isn’t’ working), consider how you can chunk it down and reduce the challenge level.  If you’re afraid of speaking, start with small audiences.  If you’re worried that your job might not be the right fit, rather than “rip the band-aid and quit,” start taking small steps to optimize your current experience.  Remember that leaving your comfort zone (boredom) is important to activate your nervous system and pay attention, but consider that a doing it consistently, though perhaps only a little bit over time, can be a very sustainable way to go about it, and the best way to engage flow to aid your pursuits!  
  2. Remember your 4% might change daily, and be influenced by other factors in life (sleep, menstrual cycle, hydration, other stress, etc.).  Thus, take the focus of achievement from a measure of what you’re doing (keeping up with certain people skiing, clearing the double on your mountain bike, leading the meeting with ease) and rather as a measure of your extension.  Work internally to find your 4% and always aim to function about 4% beyond comfortable.  
  3. Consider it’s less about “pushing” yourself – this rhetoric implies going beyond the flow channel into anxiety.  It’s more about “extending” yourself . . . stepping just a little further than you’re totally comfortable, but not so far that your cognitive load goes up to a point you’re blocked from flow.  Play with your edge such that you enroll extra cognitive capacity that comes from a playful state.  Go too far in the challenge, and the stress chemicals shut this down!

I could write for days on the challenge/skills ratio, and I’m sure you’ll hear plenty more from me on the topic!  Until then, PLEASE go out and play with this one on your own – it’s so powerful!!!!  Reach out if you’d like some help!

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Do you use this flow trigger? How is it most effective for you?!?!?
Did you miss the past descriptions?  Check them out!
FLOW TRIGGERS EXPLAINED:

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