Waking up at sunrise, focusing intently on the task at hand, and knocking things off the to-do list throughout the day are all indicators of a sound work ethic. We experience a flow state when we are concentrating deeply on a project and our skills become heightened. We’ve all experienced flow; when everything is in-sync, the brain is firing on all cylinders, and attention becomes so laser-focused that time seems to speed up as we’re captivated with our project.
We can achieve flow by stepping just outside of our comfort zone into what is known as “optimal anxiety”. Eustress, the good stress, allows us to be productive and fuels our ambition. However, if we accumulate too much stress, we arrive at distress, where productivity tanks and the fruits of our labor dwindle. Although the stress gives us the illusion of progress, our results are not correlated with the energy we exert. At this point, we lose mental clarity and the ability to make sound decisions quickly. Our productivity dies and amounts to little more than if we’re being lazy.
How do you know if you’re working too hard?
Reflect. If your mind is a whirlwind and you can’t piece together the parts of the day that just passed you by, that’s a bad sign. If writing emails becomes a convoluted undertaking, you’ve gone over the deep end. Benchmarking your mental state is necessary to determine how far your stress levels are being tipped. Caffeine can also stoke this cognitive whirlwind that clouds mental clarity, so drinking copious amounts of coffee daily may ultimately be counterproductive.
How to get back to equilibrium?
Put your life in minor danger. No, don’t go to sketchy areas of town. Get injected with 50 cc’s of adrenaline via surfing, mountain biking, or doing aerial acrobatics in an airplane. Action adventure sports professionals constantly reach a flow state because if they don’t make near-perfect decisions, they could get severely injured or even die. These activities force us to flow and get back into a state of optimal anxiety. For more ideas to accelerate into flow, check out Live Unbound.
Although a solid work ethic is necessary to accomplish any goal worth its weight in salt, working too hard should be taken with only a grain of salt. There is a fine line where too much stress paralyzes us. In the immortal words of Memphis Rains in Gone in 60 Seconds,
This is just tip of the flow iceberg. Dive into The Rise of Superman for more.