Learning About Flow – My Experience
Do you ever have that moment where you are completely focused and involved in an activity? Where your whole world at that moment is focused on what you are doing and nothing else? Well, typically, these are descriptions of our optimal mental state of functioning – otherwise known as flow. Founder Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi defines flow as that moment of complete immersion in an activity.
Learning about flow can be difficult. The concept itself is puzzling as it can elicit multiple descriptions. It can be inferred as a thought or a feeling but essentially flow is a state of mind.
I am recently learning about flow and as I learn I find that I am constantly able to relate it to multiple areas of my life and believe that others would be able to do the same.
Flow seems to show up in sport, education or in the workplace. In sport, athletes associate flow with some of their greatest performances. Within education individuals may experience flow as they learn and extend themselves beyond their perceived ability. Within the workplace employees often become so immersed in their tasks that it can create the feeling that that the act is no longer work, but it is play. Leading people to think that if they can reproduce this feeling, that they love, they will never have to work another day in their lives. Ultimately, anyone can experience flow in their desired field, its more their mind set in that field that determines whether they induce flow or not.
Flow is that optimal state of consciousness where you feel and perform your best. Your concentration can be somewhat tunnel vision, focusing on the task and letting everything else fall away. Individuals who experience the flow state often report that time can either slow down or speed up, heightening the performance focus.
As I continue to learn about Flow, I release that it is something I once had for the sport of rowing. I used to be a highly competitive rower in school. I knew that I loved the sport, waking up every morning to train in the rain and cold. Although after 4 years of rowing it wasn’t just a love for the sport any more, it had turned into, what I now know as the foundation for a flow mindset. In short, I trained to learn and enjoyed each moment because I loved what I did. During rowing, I had that feeling of complete immersion and focus on what I was about to do. Each stroke wasn’t a chore, they just came effortlessly, one after another. As the boat used to glide along the water and the coxswain yelled to the crew, I would find myself zoning out from everything, just focusing on hanging onto this strange but exhilarating feeling that I never wanted to end. After 4 years, I had gone from feeling the pain in each race, the feeling of my blisters rubbing against the ore and my body screaming to stop, to suddenly never wanting to stop. Every day I longed to get back on the water and dreaded the time when rowing would finish. Since finding those sweet moments of flow in my training, that moment of no longer thinking, but just doing, all the boring sessions and mental battles that would ensue during the early years of rowing became worth it. All the long hours of sweat and heartache had become a justifiable means to a rewarding end – flow.
2 years later, whilst I still love rowing and training, I no longer perceive the state of flow when I’m out there on the water. Many things have changed since the days when I was able to achieve the flow state readily. Nowadays, I no longer row at such a competitive level, I no longer have a strong desired goal, and I am not as committed to the club or people I row with compared to when I was representing my school with my best friends. I realise now, that through a combination of all these factors, I lost my flow. As a result of losing my flow I’m less motivated to go to training, to committing to the workload and therefore my performance has decreased. It is easy to become complacent, once achieving flow believing it will always be there, but flow is much rather a state of mind, it isn’t something that you achieve once and have forever from that moment. Multiple factors come into play in the development and maintenance of flow.
Having this experience of finding flow and then losing it, has allowed me better to understand the concept and further understand many athletes. Flow occurs when an individual has a clear set of goals, focused attention on the task, a feeling of serenity and timelessness, a feeling of personal control over the situation, and a lack of awareness of the physical needs that accompany the task. In retrospect, I had lost a lot of these descriptions. Many high-profile athletes can also loose the state of flow, impacting their performance and often causing their decline, although few gain the ability to understand and find their flow again, improving their performance better than it once was.
Now that I am on a journey to find my flow again, it has been important to me to note that flow occurs in the moment of the task at hand, therefore when attempting to achieve the state of flow being mindful of my thoughts in the moment and managing my feelings of stress and anxiety has been crucial – they can all effect one’s flow. When I’m anxious or overly aroused I can now use relaxation techniques prior to the activity. Relaxation techniques such as controlled breathing help to increase my concentration of the task at hand and focus on what’s relevant, rather than allowing my mind to wonder. This allows me to be more engaged in the task prior to it beginning.
I’m learning now, that no matter the area in which we experience flow, these experiences of flow can not only improve our skill development but also offer significant benefits to our performance. Finding flow not only improved my motivation to continue to get better, but because I was more willing to learn, I ultimately found the sport more enjoyable. As a result, I trained harder, faster and my performances improved.
The flow state relates to the term, ‘in the zone’, whereby we find an ego-less state of complete concentration and absorption. This state allows the us to be 100% positive, focused on the process committed to the execution. We take ownership for our responsibilities in the task, which ultimately improves our performance.
There is so much to flow, I’m learning everyday. But for now, I’m enriched by the knowledge that flow is a state of mind that it is not limited to any individual. It’s not dependent on one’s intelligence, ability, or status. Rather it is achieved when individual’s apply themselves to a task (no matter what it is) in a certain manor.
Learning about flow has given me hope, guidance and a level of confidence that those special moments that used to treasure so much are just around the corner.
Written by Gabriella Brown