The Flow State
We live in a time of history when it’s easier than ever to access information. It’s literally at our fingertips.
We all know what it takes to have a healthy body: eat wholefoods, mostly plants, exercise your body, spend time outdoors, do work that matters, give something that makes a difference, practice gratitude etc.
What we lack is the ability to stay consistent and follow through.
We are drowning in information but we are starving for motivation.
So how do we take all that information and translate it into motivation?
We can start by looking at the people that thrive doing it all, and in spite of all the challenges they face, they enjoy everything fully.
When we enjoy doing something, we keep going as if self propelled into the future.
What they all have in common is this state of effortless effort we call flow, in the zone or in the groove.
The term Flow was coined 150 years ago by the German writer Goethe as “an overflow of joy” or “rausch”.
The English word Flow came up 100 years later in the 1970s and was coined by the positive psychology researcher Csikszentmihalyi.
Csikszentmihalyi was the head of the Psychology Department at the University of Chicago and conducted the most extensive research on happiness and creativity. He basically asked a huge amount of people to describe the state when they feel and perform their best.
What he found was that, when being completely involved in an activity for its own sake, we drop the inner critic and self consciousness, time flies, and every decision and action leads fluidly to the next.
This is the reason the Flow feels flowy.
We are all experiencing Flow normally about 5% of the time, but there is a group of people that are in the flow a lot more than everyone. These are the action adventure sports athletes.
The reason they are experiencing this state more often is because if they are not in the flow, they end up in the hospital or dead.
In the last 20 years, the action adventure athletes and other extreme performers have been the center of extensive studies, and this is what we learned from them.
Flow is a common state that everyone can access.
It amplifies all our physical skills. We are faster, stronger and more agile and it goes the same for our brains.
Flow jacks up information processing. In the Flow our senses are taking in more information per second and we are processing it more deeply.
Pattern recognition, future prediction, creativity, motivation and learning are at their maximum.
Athletes, musicians, surgeons, engineers and scientists – all have their breakthroughs in a state of Flow. And finally – people with the most Flow in their lives are the happiest on earth.
So how do we get into the Flow?
Here are the conditions required for flow
- Deep embodiment – we are immersed with all our senses to build a rich awareness of what is around us.
It’s like moving from a spotlight awareness – a disembodied brain on a stick that can pay attention to only one thing at a time- to becoming aware of all the details around us simultaneously in a spherical, lantern awareness.
- Rich environments – an environment that captivates and stimulates all our senses to the limit. An environment that forces us to pay explicit attention and not drift away.
- High consequences – immediate high consequences bring us back into the absolute now.
For extreme sports, this happens naturally – if we drift away, we get knocked down, it hurts and we learn. Failure is expected because if we are not failing, we cannot learn and evolve.
Flow is a state but it’s not just magically on or off. It has a cycle that has at least 4 stages:
- Needs a challenge or struggle – a situation or problem that slightly exceeds our ability. It has to trigger a light stress response in the body that will draw complete attention. In everyday life it could be while driving to get to an important meeting and an unpredictable incident happens in front of us. We are trapped and we see the time ticking – the brain goes into high alert (beta waves) trying to find a solution. We feel the stress response in the body, the adrenaline will kick in pushing us into fight, flight or freeze.
This can either break us down, unable to respond, or we take the challenge. This will lead to the next step…
- The relaxation response – instead of trying to solve the problem in our mind, we roll back to get our body in balance. This is typically done by focusing on breath and lowering our respiratory rate. This will flush the adrenaline out of our bodies and will stop the panic.
The brain will follow by slowing down from beta waves to alpha waves which bring us to the door of the Flow state.
- The Flow State – depends on what we do next.
The Flow state can vary from a full on mystical experience of being one with the Universe, to changing a bad day into a great one, joyful strolling under a blue sky, where you find the perfect moment to take the perfect route with all green lights and you get to your meeting in perfect timing – Life is Good!
If you continue to slow down and deepen that state of relaxed awareness, the brain will go into theta waves. If we have the training to slow down and not fall asleep – there comes that transcendent moment where everything comes together into one complete picture. That moment that feels as if a light switch went on, and we can finally see the connection between what seemed like broken pieces.
After this comes something that we sometimes forget:
- The Recovery phase – when we are actively doing things, we think we are learning but in reality that is when we are just collecting data.
Most of our pattern consolidation and acquiring of new skills happens as we rest in Delta Waves. This is when “what is possible for me now” gets upgraded. When all the stimuli become a new ability that will help us next time to perform better, faster and with greater agility.
All the contemporary methods of self development like mindfulness, positive affirmations, abundance mindset are aiming to make our conscious self or inner critic to go quiet.
It’s like trying to quiet the mind using the mind or trying to put the baby to sleep using the baby. The more you try it, the more it sticks and aggravates. We cannot decouple from what we want to release.
The solution is to roll back from this mind trying to release the mind.
For the moment, don’t worry about who you are right now and don’t try to change it.
Shift your attention to return your body into physiological and emotional equilibrium.
The mastery and control of the body yields mastery and control of the mind.
Then let your inner experience with all your senses sink into the deep Now and come out with the answer.