I have talked about flow a few times before. Usually I talk about presence and keeping your mind in the NOW. Being conscious of your surroundings and really focusing on your sense perceptions as much as possible is a very good way to go through life. The way I see flow is what we call the zone in sports. You are all there and all in,with no thought outside of what you are doing. The book FLOW by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi was the first book and basically the authority on the subject for the last 20 years or so. When I first read it,it was fascinating to me but also most of it went over my head with all the science jargon.
About 6 months ago I picked up The Rise Of Superman by Steven Kotler. I read it and also listened to the audiobook and it all kinda came together and made sense. The book FLOW is fantastic but Rise Of Superman was the one that just made it click for me. I have also heard a few podcasts with Kotler as he explained his own personal struggles in the past with Lyme Disease and of coarse the depression that came along with it. Then a great story about how he overcame it all by accidentally tapping into flow on a regular basis. A lot of what he writes comes from studying adventure athletes which without a doubt tap into flow more than any other athlete. For them it's either make it or your dead or at the very least seriously injured. I have known a lot of this all deep down but just never made sense of it. I like the way he breaks down the flow triggers and main components of a flow state. This opens up your mind to how you can increase performance and the enjoyment of your activities.
This information is almost completely based on the book Rise Of Superman. I'm not getting too in depth with it. I just want to get you thinking about it and trying to incorporate some triggers. I do it in my training and even put fitness trips and exercise routines together totally based on getting clients into a flow state.
According to Steven Kotler there are ten core components of flow.
1. Clear goals
3. A loss of the feeling of self-consciousness
4. Distorted sense of time
5. Direct and immediate feedback
6. Balance between ability level and challenge
7. A sense of personal control over the situation
8. The activity is intrinsically rewarding,so action is effortless
9. A lack of awareness of bodily needs
10. Absorption-narrowing of awareness down to the activity itself.
Reading over this list will no doubt get you thinking about your own activities and what activities may get you into a flow state. When I first read this book it made me think that this is describing pure consciousness and to a point it is! This is where my theory of slow vs fast time comes in. It's easier to be conscious as a practitioner when at a leisurely pace and an underlying sense of peace is present. Now fast time you are forced into consciousness or flow by triggers and your natural fight or flight response. For example you are hiking and a bear comes out of the trees and starts to charge you. You simply have no time to think about that bill that is due next week. You either respond in one way or another or you are in a world of hurt. The problem is that when it's slow time most of us are conditioned to be bored or need distractions like TV,internet,etc. So it is more difficult for most to be conscious or get into flow with out some kind of trigger like risk,which is a big flow trigger.
Now we will get into the flow triggers. These are all broken down and explained in great detail inside The Rise Of Superman. Here again I am just listing them so you can get an idea of what triggers flow. Kohler says there are 17 flow triggers. This is how he breaks them down into categories.
1. Intensely focused attention
2. Clear goals
3. Immediate feedback
4. The challenge to skill ratio
1. High consequences
2. Rich environment
3. Deep embodiment
1. Serious concentration
2. Shared,clear goals
3. Good communication
5. Equal participation
7. Sense of control
8. Close listening
9. Always say yes-So contribute and add to the momentum of the group
The triggers that stick out the most to me are the psychological triggers. You need to be focused on what you are doing. You need clear goals on how to tackle the obstacle at hand. You need immediate feedback to know if we are heading in the right direction or not-so to speak. Finally the challenge to skill ratio must be right for us to get in the zone. Not too hard and not too easy.
Environmental triggers are huge for me since I love the outdoors and regularly get into flow in nature. High consequences would be like hiking a very narrow ledge with a deadly drop if you slip. This keeps your attention like nothing else. Rich environment is the 'awe' factor. Being outside somewhere beautiful and seeing an amazing sunset. Deep embodiment is just taking it all in fully. The big social trigger for me is risk. It doesn't have to be physical risk,it can simply be you crossing the room to ask a beautiful woman out on a date. Of coarse physical risk also gets us into flow nicely but no need to kill yourself. The reason I love riding motorcycles is probably because of all the sense perceptions firing at once when you are sitting on some ridiculously powered sport bike and how a twist of the throttle actually needs acclimating to because your brain can't even process the speed at first. Then there's the risk. You have to be sharp and paying attention completely to the task at hand. If not and you make a mistake,it may very well be your last.
Probably the biggest trigger of all for me is creativity. Simple definition;
Creativity-The process of developing original ideas that have value.
When you get those creative juices flowing there is a huge dopamine release. Dopamine is the pleasure chemical released whenever we take the risk of putting a new idea out there. We feel this inrush of excitement,engagement,and curiosity. It also tightens focus and makes us present in the now so it helps us into flow.
I highly recommend reading FLOW and The Rise Of Superman. They are interesting reads and if you implement a few triggers here and there you will be amazed at how they can really help you into flow.