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How to Find a Flow State When Your Life Is Filled With Digital Distractions A prescription for quieting distractions and finding your flow from the new book "The Wolf Is At The Door."

By Ben Angel

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The Wolf Is At The Door is a new book by Ben Angel that examines the opportunities and threats of living in an AI-powered world. In the following excerpt, the author delves into the difficulties we find maintaining focus and getting into a flow state amidst digital distractions.

Adults spend roughly 2.5 hours per day using social media, inadvertently weakening their concentration skills. Social media not only manipulates our dopamine pathways and fosters addiction but also significantly affects our decision-making abilities—a core skill required for success in the years ahead.

Related: These Are the Top 10 Threats From Artificial Intelligence

A study by Michigan State University found a connection between excessive social media usage and impaired decision-making when it came to taking risks, a characteristic often seen in individuals with gambling addiction and drug dependency. Other research indicates that internet usage encourages attention-switching and multitasking rather than sustained focus. Studies have shown that only 2.5 percent of people can manage multiple tasks simultaneously. When our brain continually shifts focus between tasks, particularly complicated ones requiring full attention, we become less efficient and more prone to errors. This considerable effort leads to mental and physical fatigue, reduced task performance, and decreased concentration, known as the switch cost effect. Psychologist David Meyer suggests switching tasks can cost us up to 40 percent of our productive time. Other psychologists create analogies between task-switching and coordinating a dance or controlling air traffic, emphasizing that cognitive overload in these and other activities can result in disastrous outcomes.

In the AI era, we must clear our mental bandwidth and protect our most valuable asset—focus—so we can make well-informed decisions instead of shallow, fear-driven ones. To accomplish this, we need to look more closely at the concept of "flow" and understand how we can regain control of our focus and learn how to stay informed without being overwhelmed with information.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a Hungarian-American pioneer in positive psychology, was known as the "father of flow." His work focused on the scientific exploration of what makes life fulfilling. Though Csikszentmihalyi was not the first to recognize the flow state, he documented it as part of a broader psychological investigation. He coined the term "flow" from interviews with people who described the sensation as being carried along effortlessly by a river.

Throughout Csikszentmihalyi's remarkable career, he spoke with numerous athletes, musicians, and artists to pinpoint the moments when they performed at their best and to explore the emotions they felt during those extraordinary moments of clarity. He aimed to identify the factors that stimulate creativity, particularly in professional settings, and how they contribute to productivity and problem-solving. He concluded that flow is crucial for an efficient worker and indispensable for a satisfied one. Mihaly's interest in studying happiness emerged from the challenges he encountered in his early life. He experienced imprisonment during World War II and observed the anguish and distress of those around him. This sparked his curiosity about the nature of happiness and fulfillment despite adversity.

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We've all had moments in that flow state. I remember once for me it happened while doing research in the awe-inspiring Rose Main Reading Room of the New York Public Library. After finding an inviting spot to sit at one of the long wooden tables, I experienced what Csikszentmihalyi vividly portrayed in his extensive research. My emotions were harmonious, and I was fully absorbed in my work. I felt a sense of personal control and agency over my task; time seemed to warp and slow down, and I was able to tap into my creativity. In achieving my flow state, I had three vital components that Csikszentmihalyi had identified in his research:

  1. A well-defined goal: I had invested over $15,000 to travel to Manhattan and attend a summit, aiming to secure significant media coverage to propel my career forward. I was determined to make it happen and dedicated all of my energy and brain power to this singular goal. I had spent weeks working with a former Oprah Winfrey TV producer, crafting my media pitches, and grooming myself to make the most of the 60 seconds I would have with each media representative, roughly 100 over three days.

  2. I found purpose in my work, helping to teach entrepreneurs and individuals how to reach their potential. Contributing to someone's growth filled me with immense satisfaction because I had to lead by example for them to grow. That required putting myself into unfamiliar environments where I would be put to the test.

  3. I was ready to push my limits. With my life's savings at risk and a feeling of stagnation setting in back home in Australia, I realized it was time for a change. Pushing my abilities to the limit and evolving my skillset became essential. I was entering the cutthroat arena of U.S media, a challenging battleground that demanded all I was ready to give.

The forgotten skill of patience

The attention economy doesn't quite know what to make of Patience. Even though he is a hallmark of the enlightened, he doesn't seem assertive or driven enough to survive in the modern world. Yet it is impossible to access a "flow state" without his presence. Impatience, however, rejects the present, considering it flawed. Striving for a perfect future, it resists acknowledging and dealing with the now, paradoxically stunting the very change it seeks. This denial of reality leads to repeated frustration and suffering.

Contrary to common perception, patience is less about idly waiting and more about identifying alternatives and seeking opportunities. It challenges impulsive and addictive behavior that keeps us plugged in 24/7. It allows us to disconnect from the world, laying the groundwork for flow to occur and for our brains to make connections and find solutions that have previously evaded us. Maybe that is why Patience guards the New York Public Library and the Rose Main Reading Room, but more importantly, the "flow state" those who visit get to experience if only they allow themselves to.

The fast-paced tech industry leaves no room for patience, and, in our social media–driven world, neither do we. The relentless hustle culture urges us to aim higher, work quicker, and earn more money, often at the cost of our mental well-being. Social media and the rapid pace of AI rewire our brains to crave instant gratification. If we don't see immediate results, we either give up and label it a failure or, worse, place the blame on others, fostering a sense of helplessness within ourselves. But, as history reveals itself, we begin to see the connections between our past (the Industrial Revolution and the Great Depression, and more recently the pandemic), our present (social media), and our future (artificial intelligence).

In a world that often challenges patience, focus, and flow we are reminded through job loss, grief, change, or death that we need to pause, put down our phones, and stop what we're doing to reassess. By letting our thoughts settle, we can see what floats to the surface so we can choose our next steps wisely and act at the right moment. Patience also exemplifies wisdom. It shows that we acknowledge and embrace change and certain developments that need time to unfold at their own pace.

To deepen your understanding of the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead, pick up The Wolf Is At the Door, on sale now.

Ben Angel

Entrepreneur Network Contributor

Tackle AI's toughest questions with Ben Angel, mapping the business terrain for 20 years. Master the AI landscape and reach peak productivity and profits with insights from his latest work, "The Wolf is at The Door — How to Survive and Thrive in an AI-Driven World." Click here to download your 'Free AI Success Kit' and get your free chapter from his latest book today.

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