Flow is something that most of us have experienced, perhaps not intentionally. For those that have felt flow fleetingly but long to find it again there is hope. The terms flow and “peak experience” are used to describe a state of consciousness where our mental and physical abilities align perfectly to help us effortlessly achieve our goals. People who have recently experienced flow typically describe the feelings associated with it as:
- Time dilation, or expansion. Hours seem like minutes or seconds, or seconds can seem like several minutes.
- Loss of self. A connection to the activity that is so strong that the boundaries of self and one’s surroundings blur.
- Hearing “The Voice”
The reasons to seek out flow are clear – individuals that consistently achieve flow states are extremely productive, in most cases are achieving incredible results, and they are HAPPY. Goals vary for each individual but are often aligned with work, sport or competition, creative endeavors, relationships, or hopefully all of the above.
Fortunately there is a large body of supporting research in this area. Years ago I read a book on the topic but I couldn’t distill from it what I was looking for, that book was – Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. I will be going back to it though because Mr. Csikszentmihalyi is an authority in this area and has spent his career researching flow and the peak experiences of successful individuals. Recently, I found a new resource in Steven Kotler via Lewis Howes’ School of Greatness Podcast. Lewis’ podcast and guest line up are truly inspiring. I highly recommend checking out Lewis’ interview with Steven – here. Steven’s enthusiasm and authenticity really set the stage for me to buy and read his book. The book, The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance, really helped me better understand this complex state of consciousness with details about the intricacies of brain structure and chemistry that are involved in eliciting flow. Steven also speaks about the dark side of flow, and why you should be fully aware of the addictive nature of flow. The book is a quick read and contains some awesome stories of extreme athletes and how they are taking shortcuts or “hacking” flow. A great example is Danny Way’s skate board jump over the Great Wall of China, are you kidding me!
If this topic interests you, check out the book and get a copy here:
For me personally I have had several flow experiences in my life but I want more of them. These enlightened states have been somewhat lacking lately. It turns out there are required stages that one must go through to get into flow. Those include:
- Struggle – In this phase your brain is literally overloaded with information and processing requirements. This is the “deep practice” topic that I’ve referenced in a prior post on Mastery.
- Relaxation – After a period of struggle a person must then relax, this allows the brain to “connect the dots” and to fortify the neural pathways.
- Memory Formation, Learning & Consolidation
There are also important environmental triggers, these include:
- High Consequence
- Rich Environment
- Deep Embodiment
So what do I take away from reading and contemplating the implications of the book? It’s pretty simple – I need to struggle more and I need to take more risks! What is keeping you from achieving FLOW?