03 Mar 2024

Riding the Wave: Navigating Flow and Frazzle in the Modern Hustle

“Riding the Wave: Navigating Flow and Frazzle in the Modern Hustle”

 Self-care, self-awareness, self-moderation , self-growth, self-purpose are what we need to thrive, role model and constructively influence in a challenging environment.

 If you are interested in learning how to be a more purposeful leader we invite to check out our Leadership Connect programme here.

Ever found yourself so immersed in a task that time seemed to slip away, and you were performing at your absolute best? That’s the sweet spot psychologists call ‘flow.’ Conversely, we’ve all experienced the opposite—those times when distraction, stress, and fatigue converge, leading to a state of ‘frazzle.’ These two mental states are not just whims of our psyche; they have a neuroscience backstory that can illuminate our experiences and, more importantly, guide us toward more flow and less frazzle.

Enter the Yerkes-Dodson curve, a brainchild of Robert Yerkes and John Dodson dating back to 1908. Their discovery? A certain level of stress actually boosts performance. 

Picture it as an inverted U-shaped curve—the sweet spot where stress heightens performance and arousal. But here’s the thing: go too far up the curve, and you plunge into frazzle territory. It’s a delicate dance influenced by the release of endorphins and cortisol.


Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, from the University of Chicago, brought ‘flow’ into the limelight. It happens at the peak of the U, where the task’s difficulty matches or slightly exceeds our skill level, inducing a state of joy, deep concentration, and being ‘in the zone.’ The brain revels in this, enhancing the hippocampus, releasing dopamine, and boosting overall performance.

However, if stress continues to escalate, whether due to perceived pressure or an uptick in task difficulty, we teeter into frazzle. 

Our brains go into overdrive, endorphin release dwindles, and we’re left with negative stress—cue negative consequences. Prolonged exposure disrupts our hippocampus and prefrontal cortex, affecting planning and behavioural regulation. 

The amygdala, our threat detector, becomes hypersensitive, distorting our perception of threats and jeopardising our mental and physical well-being. 

Now, we might know what is happening to us but knowing is not enough. 

The leadership knowing–doing gap, which we define as a discrepancy between managers’ leadership knowing and the extent to which they transfer it into leadership doing, is a well-established phenomenon.

To close the knowing-doing gap, we need to have a felt need to act. Unless we truly accept our situation and feedback, we aren’t really ready to make changes and implement action. The ‘AAA’ model is a useful framework for helping people bridge that gap.

  1. Awareness: The first A prompts us to recognise when we’re slipping into frazzle mode. Keep an eye out for signs like hyper-focus, irritability, poor sleep, and underlying anxiety. Personalise your awareness by tracking your unique indicators.

  2. Acceptance: Instead of unleashing your inner critic, embrace a calm and caring acceptance of your current state. This isn’t about sugarcoating; it’s a strategic move to re-engage your prefrontal cortex and plan a thoughtful response.

  3. Action: The final A is all about dialling back the pressure. Adjust tasks to align with your abilities—extend timelines, manage output expectations, or carve out dedicated focus time away from constant interruptions. Research even suggests that collaborating with a supportive team can amplify your flow and diminish frazzle.

In behavioural terms, we are using metacognition to notice what is happening ( our hardwired behaviours), push past our rationalisations ( hardwired behaviours) and empower ourselves to make a different decision. (curious experimentation) 

This is a useful learning habit that can be practised and nurtured, particularly in cases of high pressure at work..

In the whirlwind of modern leadership, investing time in understanding where you are on the U curve and implementing self-leadership strategies might seem like a luxury.

 But ask yourself this: Can you afford not to? Riding the wave between flow and frazzle isn’t just a skill; it’s a survival strategy in the bustling landscape of contemporary challenges and pressures. So, are you frazzled or in flow? The choice, as they say, is yours to make.

If you are interested in learning how to be a more purposeful leader we invite to check out our Leadership Connect programme here.
































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































In conclusion, developing a growth mindset is a powerful way to achieve success as a leader . By embracing challenges, emphasising effort over talent, embracing failure as an opportunity for growth, cultivating a love of learning, and surrounding yourself with positivity, you can develop the mindset of growth and learning that will help you achieve your goals and live your best leadership life.