Imagine being at your most productive and creative, but also at your happiest. This is achieved in a state called FLOW. In Positive Psychology, flow is a state when you are fully immersed in an activity, feeling energized, and completely absorbed in the moment.
Everyone can achieve flow, but we wanted to find out how experts and high achievers get into flow. This year we asked a panel of 11 experts and high achievers what flow means to them and how their mindset and equipment play a part in bringing flow into their lives. We’ve been studying flow states to help design more meaningful experiences for people. As designers, the deeper we understand people, the better we can create experiences that empower and inspire them.
Join us on 11th March 2021 where we present the findings of our FLOW X DESIGN study. In the meantime, enjoy our interview with the incredible Matt Heafy.
Matt Heafy is the guitarist and lead vocalist for the Grammy-nominated, metal band Trivium.
At 11 years old, Matt pointed at Metallica, who were playing on the TV, and said “Mom, I want to be that”. A year later he was performing in a band with people 7 years his senior. Now, Matt plays in Trivium, selling over a million albums and performing to thousands of screaming fans at gigs and music festivals. We interviewed Matt about his experience in flow states.
“I never knew that there was a thing called [flow], I love that, I strive for that in everything. That moment on stage, when it’s going well, when I’m not thinking, I chase that moment.”
One way to make people achieve flow easier is to increase the challenges of competition, which should be stimulating and enjoyable (M.Csikszentmihalyi, 2008). Matt relentlessly sets himself new challenges performing on the stage, while competing in Jujutsu, or even when streaming Valorant to his fans.
“I always want it to be at least at my level or higher. I never want it to be easy. When the competitive level or the challenge is too easy, my brain goes somewhere else.”
He continues, “When we used to open for bands, it was always let’s go top them, let’s be better than them. We’re opening for them, but we’re gonna smash them. And it’s not literally, but I think it’s good to set that kind of tone for yourself and make it difficult.” So, Matt inherently sets himself challenges to match his level of mastery – an important factor in achieving flow.
When selecting which guitar to play, Matt explains that the instrument itself is not as important as the need for familiarity
“If it comes down to touring and live guitars, I do want them to feel the same as always. But it doesn’t have to be the exact same. It doesn’t have to be that one, specific, superstitious item.”
Matt points out that naturally, an instrument’s sound is primarily defined by the person who is playing it. Even the most advanced instrument can’t replace the hours that one needs to dedicate to mastering a skill.
“Vocals or guitar, 75% of the time is me rehearsing, that was something Brazilian jujutsu showed me. A lot of people think when they look up their favorite musicians – Alright, if I get this pedal, I get this head, I’m gonna sound like my guy. But it really is the hands.” For Matt, individual mastery is what defines and sets apart someone’s particular sound.
That moment on stage when it's going well, when I’m not thinking, I chase that moment.
Matt has modified all his tour guitars; he wants everything to be more efficient and constantly looks for ways to make workflow better. When customising his live guitars, Matt always wants the interaction to be effortlessness.
“On the signature Matt Heafy Epiphone, I’ve switched out the guitar pickups, I’ve switched out the bridge, I switched to the Evertune. And it’s this really incredible piece of hardware. [My guitar] is set up in a way that it’s working on a system pulleys that no matter the pressure it’s going to be perfectly in tune.”
He speaks about having to compensate for the shortfalls in the gear. “My ear canals close the more I sing, and the ear monitors can even pop out. So, I have to compensate by warming up well first to improve the fit, or having the vocal volume much higher. Everything should be balanced.” Despite using great equipment and tools that he has modified, there are still times when the gear breaks Matt out of flow states.
Flow can occur by chance, yet there are activities that stimulate flow, like rituals or arranging one’s environment in a way that facilitates it. Matt likes his environment to be perfectly attuned to his needs, so nothing can accidentally pull him out of the flow. He’s even developed a mathematical approach to optimising his vocal performance. He has spent hours working out the perfect formula for warming up his voice before a performance so his singing and screaming sound great.
“When I perform fine, but the screaming doesn’t work, in my head I spiral down, I always want the screaming to sound great. I learned the formulas by testing the timing pre-show of when to start my warm-up.”
Getting broken out of flow states can happen very easily, so Matt follows rituals to try and quieten his mind and eliminates factors in his surroundings that cause him to think too much.
“It’s always me that takes me out of flow, if something doesn’t feel right to me, I think too much. Like if my monitors aren’t perfect – I like to have everything very balanced like a CD, and my voice is just a little bit over My barrier to reaching that state is too much thinking.” For Matt, a calm mind that isn’t thinking too much is a vital facilitator of flow.
Matt tells us that he is in a place in his life where he’s not comparing or criticizing himself, but instead he is putting in work to better himself.
“I used to beat myself up and compare myself to others. Now I’m focused on being the best version of Matt Heafy possible. I’m definitely an expert in exactly what I do – I am the best Matt Heafy in Trivium that exists, I think that’s a better way to prioritize things.”
We asked him about an accomplishment he’s very proud of.
“I always have a relentless pursuit of the extreme.”, he says. “My latest project is 11 years in the making. I set myself the challenge of – I cannot do any style I’ve ever done on Trivium. I’m very proud of that.”
Join Design Partners’ FLOW X DESIGN Master Class on 11th March. An opportunity to hear the insights of our 11 amazing experts and high achievers. We’ll reveal what flow really means to them, and the role that mindset and equipment plays. Plus, we’ll be exploring the implications of design in helping to achieve the highest levels of flow and happiness.