Finding and staying with the ‘flow’ – The Yerkes-Dodson Curve

Many of you will already have experienced this at some times in their lives: you are not really motivated to go to work or open your laptop. You feel not energized at all, everything seems to be taking longer than before. Whatever it is you are doing is demanding you so much less than you are capable of that you actually feel completely bored and useless. Sounds familiar? Well, let me tell you that persistent boredom is  also a form of stress which – as all forms of stress over longer periods of time – can make you sick in various ways.

Not being challenged enough is one extreme of the so-called “Yerkes-Dodson Curve” which looks like a reversed U.

Yerkes-Dodson Curve

Stress-Performance curve; source: Michael Chaskalson, The Mindful Workplace, 2011, page 59.

As we also know all too well, life nowadays is asking many of us a lot in terms of data overflow, multitasking, more and more global organizations, hence increased workload at demanding times, etc. When dealing with these sort of challenges but still being capable of handling everything, we move up the curve towards the peak. Pressure increases but so does our ability to cope with it in an effective manner.

Nevertheless, beyond a certain point, if the pressure continues to rise our performance will start to decrease. We feel less able to cope with the multitude of tasks we are to perform, details are lost in a sheer flood of information, we feel overwhelmed and unorganized. Our motivation drops and eventually, when this goes on for too long, we become sick. Obesity, burnout, depression, chronic pain, fatigue, cancer, heart disease are just a few key words to stress what an important impact stress can have on our wellbeing and our lives as a whole. Your body simply cannot cope with the permanent activation of the sympathetic nervous system… stress becomes distress.

At the peak however, when finding the right balance between personal resources and challenge, we excel. In this state you are creative and efficient and you feel very good about yourself. Usually this state is called ‘flow’.

You might be asking yourselves now: is there a way to prevent tripping over to the other side of the U? Well, yes there is! You have to find a “relaxation response”[1], that means a “(…)physical state of deep rest that counteracts the harmful effects of (your body’s) fight-or-flight response”. If you are able to do this, you might even discover a state of much higher performance than you ever would have imagined.

Mindfulness training, as a way of being present right here and now with your own thoughts, feelings and physical sensations, will certainly enable you to deal better with wherever you are on the Yerkes-Dodson Curve.

Don’t hesitate to contact me should you want to learn more about how mindfulness could help you! Jenny

Further reading:


[1] Chaskalson, page 63.

6 thoughts on “Finding and staying with the ‘flow’ – The Yerkes-Dodson Curve

  1. mindfulacting

    Thank you for posting this on my birthday 🙂
    I have been finding it very hard to focus on my work for some time now. I have had the same job for the past 10 years, and I am now gradually being replaced by computers. More and more of my clients are now asking me to check what the computers have produced (they want speed, not quality). I have acquired a lot of skills over the years, but my job has now become boring. For a long time I thought that I was becoming increasingly lazy. Your post has made it clear to me that I am actually being under-challenged. Is it time for a change of career, or is there another way?

    • Jenny Ebermann (bxljenny)

      Hi there, well, happy belated birthday! 🙂

      Answering your question: I think that it really depends where your priorities lie. What do you like doing and where do you see yourself. Have you thought about setting up a vision for yourself? I wrote about it here: You will feel much better when what you do is aligned to yourself and your vision. Whether it is changing the job you have or adapting the job to new interests. Let me know if I can help you with that! Thanks for stopping by! Jenny

      • mindfulacting

        Hi Jenny,
        Thank you for your reply. You are right. I do need a vision. At the moment, all I can see for my job’s future is decreasing rates (ie less income) and people being replaced by computers. I don’t feel valued at all. My other passion in life is psychology and I have applied for a life coaching course (I already have a certificate in counselling skills). As I freelance from home at the moment, my aim is to start working part-time as a life coach, without quitting my current job, and then see how it grows from there.

      • Jenny Ebermann (bxljenny)

        Hi there, I think this is a very wise approach… once you have written down your vision, you can do a mindmap using its main ‘qualities’ (I an show you how). If you do this in colour, you will then be able to see very clearly where your journey should be going so that you are aligned with yourself. Keep me posted! I am on the same road, by the way 😉 Jenny

      • mindfulacting

        Thank you, Jenny! I’ve been feeling very positive today thanks to your advice. I have clarified my vision for the future and I even managed to align my current job with that vision. I now know what I need/want to do over the next couple of years. I can’t share too much here as it is a public platform, but I just wanted to say thank you, and that I really enjoyed reading your blog.

  2. Jenny Ebermann (bxljenny)

    Hi there, wow you made my evening! I am so glad that I could help you… as a matter of fact, I have to tell you on another platform what I am currently going through and your comment makes me realise that I really am on the right path as well. So the ‘thank you’ goes to you as well! 🙂 Are you on LinkedIn or so to stay in touch? Jenny

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