Flow is a state where you function outside of yourself. Your body and mind in flow work together, like an efficient machine.
Being in a state of flow is commonly referred to as being ‘in the zone’.
Basketball, writing, acting, anything that you enjoy doing is an opportunity for you to experience flow.
Flow is a state of mind where you simultaneously become extraordinarily productivity and efficiency.
Experts such as Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi PhD, who study flow, argue that the flow state is a way we as humans find happiness and contentment throughout life.
This argument basis its premise on the grounds that we become more productive, creative and attentive to a task we enjoy doing. It’s this flow state that creates a present mindset, free of ponderance in past or future.
It seems that increasing the frequency and availability of flow states occurring in your daily life would increase your overall happiness. As you go into flow you can be more creative, productive in doing what you love.
An interesting question to raise is how can we get into flow intentionally for specific activities, such as working out?
There’s something which neuroscientists call exercise-induced transient hypofrontality.
Experiencing a skewing of time and in some circumstances, a distortion of reality.
This occurs because of activity, rather the lack of activity in your pre-frontal cortex.
For those of you who don’t know our pre-frontal cortex is, it governs our higher thinking. This part of our brain is where we think of complex topics regarding our morals, will, etc.
Transient means temporary and hypo, the opposite of hyper means to slow down; frontality literally meaning the front of your brain.
During any type of exercises, even a brisk walk you lose your complete activation and control over your pre-frontal cortex brief which results in a lessened ability to comprehend concepts such as time, placing you in an almost trance-like state.
This is why many people who are writers, for example, will take a break to exercise to allow them to get back into flow. The act of exercise itself though gives us a clear and relatable example of what flow is.
Everybody who has done some type of exercise or sports understand the concept of being I the zone, so how can we actively promote this state of mind at will, to make our workouts better and more rewarding.
CrossFit is a sport that has raised a lot of controversies. I’m not here advocating or discrediting any potential merits of the sport itself, rather I’m discussing how flow state has become a crucial component of CrossFits popularity.
What brings my attention to Crossfit is the way they utilise group-based environments.
Working out with like-minded, motivated people in a similar environment may, in fact, foster a group flow state which leads to a greater ability to push one’s self and focus on a goal(s) synchronically.
It’s uncertain whether this was the intention of CrossFit, but much of the marketing revolves around promoting the group dynamic of the sport.
CrossFit has mainstreamed flow.
CrossFit has cultivated a sort of culture that encompasses a phenomenon where mass groups of people get in flow together.
If we examine team-based sports such as basketball we see that 2 or more people can work together as a unit. Michael Jordon was a great basketball player, but without the duo-flow, he had with Pippen, many of his victories would have been obsolete.
CrossFit is a perfect example because it closely resembles the average gym routine which encompasses steady, linear progression.
In regards to progressive overload techniques, such as weight lifted, rest periods and volume, CrossFit aims to surpass any multitude of these each reoccurring session.
This attitude of seeking small strength victories is a vital trigger for getting into flow. We can re-phrase it as a ‘risk’.\
Without necessarily going to CrossFit, being selective about gym partners give you many similar benefits.
Be selective about people’s benefit to you, rather than their friendly smile. This way you’re essentially going to be creating an environment more favourable towards flow.
This may sound harsh, but if you’re at the gym and you’re trying to be most efficient with your time, small-talk is nothing but a disfavour to yourself, save this for the coffee shop.
The feeling of being in flow with other people can become addictive and once you form an ‘addiction’ to a feeling that gives you nothing but good health, you’ve essentially created a powerful success system.
I have previously touched on the idea of the ego and how we must silence it, but the ego isn’t necessarily a bad thing in certain cases.
To recognise ego and submit to it without fully falling under its alluding sovereignty, gives you nothing but power and control over your desired goals.
When you are competing against others, essentially you are favouring your ego, but if the ego is inflated strategically, you can use this instinctual primal instinct to impress and compete to benefit you in this one specific circumstance.
To separate your ego from the competitive spirit is to view the situation like so:
When in competeition, your victory is not derived from beating other people, in a sport such as weight lifting where the instrisic satisfaction comes from knowing you have beaten yourself.
To the untrained flow is something that just happens, it may perplex the ignorant that one may, in fact, be able to control the frequency of flow state.
The way you approach flow for the gym can be slightly different than how you would approach it for a more creative art such as writing, so I’m going to give you some strategic ways to get in the zone while you’re working out.
The way you approach flow for the gym can be slightly different than how you would approach it for a more creative practice such as writing.
Firstly we must form a clear and distinct purpose of why we want to get in flow. The simple way to look at training is to be the most efficient, get the most reward in the shortest amount of time and of course enjoy what you’re doing.
If you’re trying to increase your deadlift to 180 kgs but you are also attempting to sprint at 12 seconds for a 100-meter dash; realistically how do you expect to do both in an efficient manner.
Have a clear goal and direct all your efforts in the gym, to in some way, bring you closer to this goal. It’s similar to using your reticular activation system (focus lens) of your brain for retaining information.
It’s similar to using your reticular activation system (focus lens) of your brain for retaining information.
Picture your mind as a focus lens and focus on only what brings you closer to the goal you are keen to grasp, ignore what exists in the unfocused image, even if it’s pretty.
You can only truly focus on your fullest potential on something you like to do and it goes the same for your exercises. If you’ve set a goal, then chances are you like the idea actualizing this goal. To introspect on your goal makes one happy, at least for a brief moment.
If we take the near cliche virtue of enjoying the journey more than the goal; we take this into practice for the above.
You must find more pleasure in the journey or in other words the tools (exercises), twice as much as the goal being achieved itself.
You must focus your actions to align closely with your goal. If your goal is to deadlift 180 kg and you focus your workouts on deadlifts, hamstring and lower back accessory work, you’re going to effortlessly take a backseat watching yourself become immersed in actualizing your goal.
Some level of risk is necessary for flow to happen. Progressing and attempting to move past your previous best is a risk, it’s a risk because on a subconscious level your body recognises the risk of injury.
It’s a risk because you’re moving your body 1% past your comfort zone.
Your muscle fibres, your central nervous system (CNS) are undergoing foreign, unwarranted loads which force yourself into flow.
This is much more applicable as you become more advanced. Over time your muscles and CNS adapt and it becomes more difficult to progress in a linear fashion as it may of in the beginning.
Flow is going to be extremely important in this regard to continuously improve past the intermediate-advanced stage.
To push past this comfort zone automatically puts you in flow; without this selfless voluntary discomfort, the possibility of flow is improbable.
Within reason and consideration for your personal limits, cultivate the inner and outer strength to push your body as frequently as you can.
Through time come to understand and appreciate the need to push yourself when you’re getting too comfortable.
Normalise pushing yourself and you will normalise the feeling of being in flow.
Who do you see concentrating and being in the zone more: The person who is always bettering themselves and pushing hard; or the person who is talking on their phone and pushing the same weight week after week?
It’s a rather extreme example on paper, but the truth is this is the reality of what separate winner from losers in a gym environment and in life general.
The ‘right environment’ is hard to define as it is subjective. In terms of the purpose for a stoic minded person, training revolves around efficiency.
The ‘right environment’ for a gym is one that allows you to train without judgement.
Many commercial gyms are too professional and PC in their concern for behaviour. You don’t have to scream and grunt for every single repetition, but it’s important to exist in an environment which condones this.
Working out is animalistic, we run on treadmills and lift weights to replace our natural inclination to hunt and gather.
Having the comfort and peace of mind, knowing that without judgement you can fully exert yourself, just as we may have done in the past for our own survival allows one to act, rather than react.
Why should you as somebody wanting to train as hard as possible, for even one second dismiss your desire to fully push yourself.
One must question the nature and vibe of contemporary gym establishments.
Make this a priority; finding like-minded people in a like-minded environment. This will be a potent ingredient for your recipe of success.
As we further our knowledge in psychology we are beginning to understand how crucial the mind is in physical performance.
It is the way you mentally fixate focus, desire and overall flow with training that is going to determine a large sum of your accomplishments.
To conclude, here’s a quote from a poet on the flow state:
“It’s like opening a door that’s floating in the middle of nowhere and all you have to do is go and turn the handle and open it and let yourself sink into it.” You can’t particularly force yourself through it. You just have to float. If there’s any gravitational pull, it’s from the outside world trying to keep you back from the door.”