5 FlOW TECHNIQUES TO BE AT YOUR BEST WHILE THE WORLD IS AT ITS WORST

by 
Johannes Mahler

One thing is clear, these are overwhelming times for all of us... 

How are you personally dealing with the situation?

Stress, burnout and anxiety are at a global high right now and apart from washing your hands & worrying about the future, getting into a state of flow might not be the first thing you think about. But it might be the most important thing in order to survive and thrive in times as such.

Don´t take our word for it… here is what science says about it

An australian study [1] found a 430% increase in creative problem solving after artificially inducing a flow state. Another 10 year study [2] of McKinsey & Company found that executives that spend more time in flow are able to 5X their work output. 

Those are just a few examples of what this state is capable of and there are plenty more studies out there to prove it. But now that we’ve got your attention, let's have a look at how we can leverage flow to thrive in the current situation.

From Fear to Flow

Technically defined flow is an optimal state of consciousness, a state where you both feel your best and perform your best. Therefore, it's such an important factor in times of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity - in short VUCA.

During flow states we have a clear plan, focus on what's important, process more information and as a byproduct it helps us to turn stress into productivity, creativity and wellbeing. We all NEED that clear state of mind right now.

One important reminder we have for you is to step out of your fear and mental separation! You are only susceptible to information equal to the emotion you're experiencing. That means, when you feel anxiety, you only notice frightening things.

All those emotions are programming your autonomic nervous system and keeping you from having a clear plan on how to deal with the information overload, make sense of the current situation and act accordingly.

When everybody else is experiencing fear, this is the time for you to maintain courage. When everybody else is in scarcity this is the time for you to reach out, give and support, but you can only do that if your own energy tank is full.

Active Recovery

Our team at ThriveX has been thinking a lot about how we can support you in this current pandemic. We came up with a simple process that we follow ourselves and hopefully is of equal value to you.

  1. Calm down & stay in control of your Autonomic Nervous System
  2. Analyze the situation 
  3. Build resilience 
  4. Energize yourself
  5. Help others

Every day of this week, you will get a deep dive into one of those steps. You will get tools and techniques to deal with the current situation accompanied by the underlying science behind it.

Let's start with the first and most fundamental step for you to make the right decisions & actions now:

1) Calm down & stay in control of your Autonomic Nervous System

So the big question here is, how can you get yourself in a state where you on the one hand feel good next to all that's happening right now and on the other hand access your optimum level of physical & mental performance to guide yourself & others through rough times.

Fear is your worst enemy and best friend

Fear, generically speaking, is something good as it is your primary autonomic survival mechanism. If a threat arises (say a tiger) your autonomic nervous system or short ANS (regulating involuntary body functions such as temperature, heart rate and metabolic activity) activates your fight-or-flight mode helping you get to safety. The only problem? When you can neither fight nor flee the situation and are completely overwhelmed – as is the case now with the corona crisis – your ANS activates a “freeze” or “shock” state like reptilians (i.e. a mouse running from an eagle feigning death) leading to hyper stress and hyper anxiety.

This leads to impaired and worst decision-making and ultimately to a loss of control over your life as all your decisions are based on fear and survival instead of optimal performance and thriving. You end up in a downward spiral in which a bad decision leads to more stress leads to the next bad decision… with no way out. Or is there?

Getting back and staying in control of your ANS

One of it, if not the easiest way to get back and stay in control of your ANS is using your breath. Numerous studies [3] found that just 2 minutes of deep slow belly breathing (like the 4-7-8 breathing technique) can calm the nervous system drastically, leading to better decision-making, less errors and ultimately more performance and well-being. Further research [4] shows that balancing your ANS may even help ease symptoms of mental and physical health conditions such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and pain.

Our top Exercise:

  • 4-7-8 breathing; Breath deeply through your nose into your belly for 4 seconds - hold your breath for 7 seconds - slowly breath out either through your nose or mouth for 8 seconds. Do this at least for 2 minutes 3 times a day to “train” your ANS to stay calm. Complimentary: Do it before making any important decision or when feeling stressed. 

How and why does it work? By exhaling twice as long as inhaling you increase parasympathetic system activity, responsible for calming your ANS. Paired with the slow holding of breath you allow CO2 to build up in your blood. An increased blood CO2 enhances your cardio-inhibitory response of the ANS when you exhale and further stimulates your parasympathetic system. This produces a calm and relaxed feeling in your mind and body almost immediately. 

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2) Analyze the situation 

The everyday information overload you are facing is one of the most distracting factors for clear headed decision making. Coming up next, we will share with you some of our most helpful tools for sense-making in the information ecology.

3) Build resilience

After you create your own situational assessment the most important thing for you is to build up your own resilience in this stressful situation, whether this is caring that you have enough healthy food or other important items for you in case of longer social isolation.  Remember that you can only help others or be there for your family and community, if your own tank is full. As soon as you let your energy drop you become a victim and a liability for yourself and others. We will provide you with a list of the most important, the 20% that help you 80% when things get really bad.

4) Energize yourself

This might as well be one of the most important steps, that's what we call active recovery & getting into flow. As soon as you yourself have covered your basic needs and even have a little bit left for others, that's the time where you can step in to help and support. We will provide you with a toolkit of techniques that can help you to keep yourself at a high level of energy, health and performance.

5) Help others

Now that your own needs are met and you even have more left for others, we will provide you with measures you can take from your own home in this time of social / physical isolation. Reach out, support, help, stay awake & build stuff. 

Together we can face this challenge as the countless riddles humanity solved before and we will all learn and grow in the process.

“It's the sides of the mountain which sustain life, not the top.” ― Robert M. Pirsig

References:

[1] Chi, R. P., & Snyder, A. W. (2012, March 13). Brain stimulation enables the solution of an inherently difficult problem. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0304394012003618

[2] Cranston , S. (n.d.). Increasing the 'meaning quotient' of work. Retrieved from https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/increasing-the-meaning-quotient-of-work

[3] De Couck, M., Caers, R., Musch, L., Fliegauf, J., Giangreco, A., & Gidron, Y. (2019, May). How breathing can help you make better decisions: Two studies on the effects of breathing patterns on heart rate variability and decision-making in business cases. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30826382

[4] Ma, X., Yue, Z.-Q., Gong, Z.-Q., Zhang, H., Duan, N.-Y., Shi, Y.-T., … Li, Y.-F. (2017, June 6). The Effect of Diaphragmatic Breathing on Attention, Negative Affect and Stress in Healthy Adults. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5455070/

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