Each and every one of us has experienced flow in our lives. You may not recognise it as flow, or you may already be a flow connoisseur. Flow, also known as "the zone" or a Peak experience, is a state of heightened immersion in an activity which leads to vastly improved performance and enjoyment. In flow the activity you are engaged in captures your attention so much that the rest of the world seems to disappear. Time flies by, or slows down, you lose your sense of self and you do things better.
Imagine you are climbing a steep mountain. As you near the summit, the route becomes more challenging and your focus automatically tightens. Without thinking you scan the rockface and see your line to the summit. You hang precariously off the rock, but you feel calm and in control. You climb effortlessly and precisely. All your senses sharpen and come together. You feel the fine textures of the rock under your fingers, you hear every sound, you can even smell the rock. As you move smoothly up the mountain there is no thought. You have become what you are doing, you almost feel part of the mountain. You have shifted into a new zone- one with everything around you. Your senses heightened, time distorted, ego vanished. You feel calm, completely in control. This is flow- literally the most powerful state in which to live your life.
What are Flow States?
Imagine if we could live our entire lives in or near that zone. I think its possible. Others do to. Perhaps all humans will in the future. What I do know is that over the thousands of years of human existence, many people certainly have lived much of their lives in this zone. Within the annals of anthropology, philosophy and religion are countless examples of humans experiencing flow. Flow states have existed for as long as humans have, but it is only over the last 40 years that the fields of psychology and neuroscience have begun looking deeply into it. What they are discovering is mind-blowing.
Dr Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi was at at the forefront of the early research and has contributed enormously to our understanding of happiness, creativity and fulfillment. Whilst searching for the key drivers of human happiness, he became fascinated by how artists could be in so utterly engaged in the act of creating their art, but yet when the piece was finished they had little or no attachment to it. They could spend hours painting something, engaged to the point of obsession, yet when the piece was complete the artist might cast it aside and move on to the next. Csikszentmihalyi found that this was because it was the immersion in the activity itself, rather than the end product that motivated these artists to create. This state of happy, fulfilling productivity was all about the journey rather than the destinantion.
This "discovery" led him to conduct one of largest pyshcological studies ever conducted. He surveyed many thousands of people across all demographics and discovered that this immersion in activity was a key driver of happiness and fulfillment for all humans. He found that external events had little to do with happiness. Quite the opposite in fact -happiness is all about our state of mind. He concluded that “control of consciousness determines the quality of life”- and those who had used their control of consciousness to add more flow in their lives, experience more happiness than those who did not.
What does Flow do and how do we get more of it?
Flow makes you better at everything. It is the optimal state of consciosuness in which we feel our best and perform our best. But it is also a very elusive state. The most concentrated and successful group of flow state practitioners are at the elite end of extreme sports. Adventure sports athletes are pushing the limites of human performance, using flow in much the same way as Spartan or Samurai warriors did in the past. But the application of flow goes far beyond sports and adventure... and being a warrior. Training yourself for more flow is a minute to minute, day to day practice that will touch every facet of your life.
To start with, flow requires a high level of focus and attention so training for this will result in increased concentration and mental capacity. Training to be in flow heightens your subconscious awareness and will yield many of the same benefits as meditation and mindful living. Living in flow will require that you gain mastery of your mind and thoughts. Spending more time in flow will result in dramatic increases in skill levels in your chosen activities, and will ultimately increase you sense of fulfillment and joy.
Flow in every day life
The "Flow State" may be often spoken about in the context of adventure sports athletes who are great examples of what flow can do to performance levels. But flow is for everyone. We all have the ability to achieve flow in our daily life and to learn triggers that will increase the amount of flow we have in our lives. There are varying intensities of flow. You can be in flow whilst having a conversation with your friend, whilst playing chess, driving your car, painting a landscape or going for a run. As the Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh recommends, you can flow while drinking your tea: “Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the world earth revolves – slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future. Live the actual moment.” Drink your tea in flow.
Flow and our Mind
Investigating flow to achieve more of it, involves examining your state of mind in relation to the activities in which you are partaking. During time spent learning about flow, meditation and mindfulness I have found that the awareness of my state of mind in my day to day life integrates the totality of my human existence: my moods and emotions, the way I think about things, the content of my thoughts, the way I communicate, my relationships with people and environment, the way I work, the way I play, and the way my subconscious operates. Awareness of your mind is the foundation of flow. And if we have awareness and familiarity with how our mind operates, we also increase our chance of having a life of balance and harmony. After all, the key to a harmonious life, the key to everything is the mind. This is an empowering way of seeing things as it gives us total control over our lives.
Essentially living a life in flow means to live in harmony with everything around us. Looking at flow this way, we can see it as a modern spin on ancient wisdom articulated through Buddhist, Taoist and other Eastern philosophies.
More flow = more harmony. Harmony=happiness. More happiness= a better world. Sound like a good formula? Sign up for updates to join in on the ride.