‘Flow’ also known as being in the zone, is a state where you operate at your best. Everything in your being is working together as 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 and manifest a state of being where bliss is certain and productivity and efficiency are at an all time, extraordinary high.
Many experts in the field of flow, such as Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi PhD, argue that the flow state is a way we as humans find happiness and contentment on a regular basis.
This theory of flow state increasing our happiness is based on the grounds that the increased productivity, creativity and the ability to dive deep into mindful and presence energy allow one to mute their unwanted thoughts of the present and future.
To learn to be in a state if flow more frequently in accordance with this theory will increase your happiness as you can become more creative, productive in times where you may feel de-motivated and/or in need of peak performance.
I’ve discussed multi-tasking before and why I have a certain distaste for its proclaimed merit. We live in a world where for some reason multi-tasking is put on a pedestal as a skill that must be sought after.
Flow is the very opposite of multi-tasking and it shows the best results. Multi-tasking has its place, but in no way is it superior to being in flow state.e when you are doing an activity.
Flow occurs when there’s some type of fear triggering your reactions (emotional or physical.)
There has to be some sort of risk involved for you to feel the need to put all your attention towards a task.
Biologically we are drive with the innate desire to constantly survive. However we aren’t constantly put under pressure, danger and risk, emotionally or physically because we are comfortable today.
We are always comfortable and live a life free of the simplistic dangers nature once provoked us with.
To be in flow you must force yourself into an activity that gives you that risk and once the risks are recognised, subconsciously your brain comprehends the urgency in needing to focus on everything that is happening around you.
Flow is achieved when you leave your body in an almost trance like state as your senses come together to cultivate a sate of mind where all your abilities are accessible all at once.
They synergize and work at their optimal level to create a work of art, whether it be painting, to push you further into a weightlifting session, to allow you to keep climbing a mountain, to enable you to write a book in 1 month.
This state of mind is one of intense concentration, but it is effortless in many ways.
When you are in a state of flow, everything goes right. One right action transcends into another; everything snowballs and compounds together; a pool of compounding positive emotion moves you in a trajectory of perfection and momentum.
Everything is automatic, it’s like training in the gym when you have a ‘good day’.
You feel the weight, you are doing the movement, you can physically hear the music and the sound of iron clamping together around you, but you yourself are not actually aware that you’re hearing it.
You are just acting and living through the experience of now.
Everyone has experienced this before, so now I hope you have a firm grasp on what flow state is.
Dr Csikszentmihalyi has dedicated his life to researching this topic and interviewed thousands of people from varied backgrounds to define what flow is a generalised term.
There seem to be 6 evident states which are cohesive to being in flow.
In a state of flow you no longer second guess your actions, your intents. You have absolutely no doubt about what you are doing and what you intend to do.
With this clear definition of what flow state is, we must raise the question of whether this happens more frequently in somebody who has developed a certain skill.
Has the repeated process of carving in certain synapses and paths of self-recognition make the flow state easier to achieve?
Is it easier for somebody who is new to squatting heavy weight to get into a state of flow, or does it take a lot of practice before this state can be dialled in on demand?
The simple answer maybe seems to be that yes, of course, somebody who has had more practices in something is going to be able to concentrate better. However, the true answer is multilayered.
If you have been powerlifting for a number of years it may be easier for you to achieve a state of flow in let’s say Olympic lifting, compared to someone than who has never learned any weightlifting manoeuvres.
The motor patterns are still new to for Olympic lifting, but the general environment and skills needed are similar enough for you to transition into a state of flow quickly, providing the right circumstances.
Let’s get more into detail about specific methodologies which will provoke help you get into flow.
There’s something which neuroscientists call exercise-induced transient hypofrontality.
Experiencing distortion of time and out of reality experience, when in a state of flow comes down to your pre-frontal cortex.
For those of you who don’t know our pre-frontal cortex is, it governs our higher thinking. Morality, will, these are where the higher conscious thoughts take place in the human brain.
Transient means temporary and hypo, the opposite of hyper means to slow down; frontality, literally meaning the front of your brain.
During exercise, a brief walk, hike, weights, whatever it may be, you lose full activation of the frontal cortex and this results in the loss time comprehension, putting you into an almost trance-like state. Exercise is a great way to pull yourself into flow for an activity
Exercise is a great way to pull yourself into flow for an activity like writing, study. It allows your brain to get used to that mind-frame.
To completely immerse your being into flow state your attention cannot be divided; it must all be focused and intended on doing a singular task.
Whatever the task may be, every single one of your senses should be contributing to your focus onto the task you have chosen to prioritise.
Your environment must be cohesive with your focused task in order to go into a flow state. Distractions must be kept to a minimum.
Anything that can distract your attention once focused in on the task at hand can re-activate your frontal cortex which starts the process of complicated thought in the past, future, etc. Higher cognitive thought processes will divert your attention from what’s happening in front of you.
One single notification and distraction, can potential shift you back into reality and back into the mind frame of your ego which will plug you back into everyday life.
You must partake in the activity you wish to get into a flow with for at least 30 minutes before expecting anything to happen.
You have to allow your senses and your perception to get somewhat comfortable with the surrounding environment to ‘let go’ and fully immerse in the activity.
The deeper you get into flow, the better you’ll perform.
Of course, this is dependant on what the activity is and sometimes factors out of your control inhibit you from progressing, such as fatigue during a workout.
You must be somewhat emotionally invested in what you’re doing. It must have a purpose that is connected to your emotional triggers.
To have a zest for it is key. To focus in on it with everything you’ve got is difficult to do if you have no desire to in the first place, this would be fleeting.
You can’t fight against what you don’t want to do. Flow is supposed to be effortless and this cannot be achieved doing something that you have no deeper connection with.
Our sense is all connected. Our sense of vision can be triggered by what we hear, our sense of smell can trigger memories.
When we lack the ability and state of integrating our senses together as one working machine one’s reality may be disconcerting.
To be in flow all your senses must be activated. For example, if someone is jogging, they run may fail to continue running as they are not utilising all their sense and unable to unlock the state of flow to go for a long duration.
Using this example, one must focus on the smell of the grass you are running on, the birds you hear, the taste of Gatorade, what you see and what feel your feet as your feet hit the ground.
If you are doing all of this you then lose the capacity to even think using your frontal cortex. Your sense of future and past is all irrelevant when you are presently taking in every sense around you, this is when the flow state creeps up on you.
“Flow shows up when we’re stretching, pushing our skills to the max,” says Steven Kotler.
Dr Csikszentmihályi claims that people become much happier and overall more successful in their lives with flow.
It still remains rather difficult to study flow as there is no scientific equipment that can really quantify what it is.
When something isn’t objective like this it is, unfortunately, hard to measure it in any way. The opinions are more so based on anecdotal evidence. However, when we take a look at the basic theory Dr Csikszentmihályi presents, it makes sense.
To reach flow state, one must have a zest for the activity and strong rationale what value it will bring to them or others.
Therefore the ability to increase your frequency of flow will increase the satisfaction and happiness a person is capable of.
Besides feeling good, happy and satisfied, flow at its core comes to down one critical benefit. Performance and mastery.
When one is in a state of flow the ease of availability to their fullest potential is within a much closer grasp. This means a person under the influence of flow can exert themselves closer to the personal potential.
This enables somebody to gain mastery of an act they are pursuing easier, quicker and more efficient.
1 hour of activity flow is going dominate 6 hours of sporadically doing work with no investment into what you’re doing. The same goes for exercise, (HIIT vs. Slow Cardio).
The 10-minute workout is not only going to save your valuable time but you’re going to be more efficient with the work you’re actually doing and break through progression plateaus much easier.
The thing about flow is that it cannot just be maintained once you have it.
The moment you recognise you are in a state of flow that will essentially put you out of flow because you have re-activated your pre-frontal cortex, pulling yourself out of the present moment.
Maintain the flow state is much easier said than done, one must seek to challenge themselves. There must be an element of risk, whether it be emotional or physical.
Your brain must have a biological reason to adapt and improve to a situation in the short term.
With this adaptation and growth, you improve everything ou hit a state of flow.
When you break any personal record or create something new, it cannot be done without being in flow.
It’s a challenge and the brain/body is forced to adapt and evolve quickly.
You emerge from a ‘session’ of flow slightly better than yo previously were.
Your intrinsic motivation to learn will increase as you train your brain to get used to pushing boundaries often.
Criticism on flow is mostly to the fact that this isn’t something we can test and actually quantify in any way at least for now.
The main criticism is that this can potentially have a sort of negative effect such as addiction.
The flow state consequently results in you feeling good. This can suck someone out of daily reality so much to the point where they become obsessed and of course this can lead to success, but there’s a downfall. The most balanced person always wins In term of living a filling and happy life, remember this.
The long-term consequences of flow are up for debate and must be further researched.
Use flow techniques as a tool, but makes sure to remain balanced and rational in the amount of time you are putting into certain activities.
Never compromise your balance and enjoyment in life, sacrificing your health for pleasure.
There is a cutting point where it becomes obsessive. Again this is up to you, but this is my 2 cents.
Flow is when you forget who you are, you travel outside of yourself and your focus becomes who you are.
You don’t think, you just react, this applies to any activity you’re doing.
It’s important to cultivate strong focus when you need it most is vital for your life satisfaction.
Being “in the zone” is a common and relatable way of relating to what flow state feels like.
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.”
Remember to respect it and only use it when necessary.