Learning how to find flow is unbelievably beneficial to yoga. If you practice yoga regularly, you may already be very familiar with finding the flow state but perhaps not been able to label it – until now. The time when our thoughts merge with our mind, and we enter a bubble where we only see and feel what is necessary to the pose. The space in which an intense act feels effortless, as if for a few seconds we are simply watching our majestic body reach further, higher and deeper than ever before. The usual struggle and limits are distant noises, our attention is 100% immersed in the present moment, and when we emerge from this space we feel elated and surprised by what our mind and body have just achieved. For these precious seconds, we clear our cognitive functioning of the ego-driven automated patterns of thinking that typically limit our performance.
By valuing these moments, lifting them up our priority ladder and becoming a flow seeker, we awaken the mind to find these special moments more frequently. By prioritising a flow mind-set, we are naturally led to engage in more flow states due to its cyclical nature. By becoming aware of the opportunities around us to find flow, we can turn a routine yoga practice into an ideal opportunity to find flow.
The challenging situations in yoga are prime for inducing a flow state. During a yoga practice, our challenge-skills balance is always being tested. We might possess the abilities to hold a certain posture, but in order to deepen and improve said posture, our skills must be pushed to the point of ‘failure’. As we attempt to deepen a posture, we become engulfed in what we are doing. If we are not, we fall out of the posture. In allowing this immersion into the pose, external distractions can disappear, past and future events are not considered, and the passing of time can become distorted. Sound familiar? We can become completely immersed in the present. It is here that flow is experienced, at the point where our skills are slightly inferior to the challenge, and where we perceive these challenges as opportunities to engage in positive risk, which fosters our growth, development, and improvement.
These moments feel so good they can knowingly or unknowingly bring us back to the mat again and again. But how do we reach this space called ‘flow’ more frequently? Well, it starts by embracing a flow mind-set. Amongst many things, a flow mind-set involves understanding the experience and seeking it in our activities. We become a flow seeker. Embracing a flow mind-set encompasses focusing on the process and letting the outcome take care of itself. Flow is an autotelic experience; therefore, our desire for excellence and stretching our ability on the matt must be intrinsically motivating and rewarding, meaning we engage for the pleasure of the move – nothing more. When this mind-set combines with clear goals, such as a clear understanding of the upcoming pose,, we enable our subconscious to develop a strategic plan of how we are going to achieve our goals – minimising the need for conscious activity. This allows our mind to be present and visualise ourselves performing a posture to our desired level of excellence. As such, our mind is not consciously concerned about the result, and we become free to enjoy the journey. During this pursuit for mastery, our ability improves and we start getting excited about the challenges ahead, as we see them as our greatest opportunities to improve.
The mind-body connection that is so present in yoga is a vital component in finding flow. In this sense, engaging in yoga organically presents a gateway to finding flow. In turn, a focus on flow during our yoga practice gives rise to plentiful opportunities to improve, and more importantly, enjoy our yoga practice. This magnification of our mental state during our routine, allows us to pin-point the areas that need attention, obtain more relevant information and ignite our flame for yoga. It furthers our ability to achieve the purpose of yoga – uniting the mind, body and spirit.
For more information on flow coaching or flow training or if you would like a flow workshop, please click here.
Authored by Cameron Norsworthy and Jack Hudson-Williams
Before we start, I would like to Introduce you to Ari;
Ari is a yoga teacher and co-own Lumi Power Yoga in London; His background is in business, in corporate. He spent 20 years as a management consultant, working around the globe. Then he discovered yoga, initially as a way to deal with burnout, and then he got hooked and got deeper and deeper into it, and eventually it took over.
He is from Finland and grew up on a farm.
Elena: When I was reading about yourself, you were saying that you’re an unlikely yogi.
Ari: Unlikely yogi yes! I think that’s right. If you had told me 10 years ago that I would be in this… like having this kind of conversation with you, I would have said, “You must be crazy,” it just wasn’t in my awareness. I was very focused on climbing the corporate ladder, and very logical, very rational, very driven and successful in that, and I always thought yoga was something a little bit weird. But then, as with many things, I got into yoga through burnout and just hitting barriers in my life; professionally I was hitting walls, I was going through a break- up, I was living in a different country, it all came together, and then someone said, “You should try yoga,” you know, one of those things where your friends say, “You really need something,” and I went, and before I knew it I was practically living at the studio, and it took over.
Elena: Amazing. When do you think was your first flow moment that you can remember?
Ari: I was reflecting on that question, and I can certainly remember… When I started yoga, a few months in, I did what was then called a Personal Revolution Bootcamp, it was an intense week of yoga, and I remember… I was new to yoga, and about halfway through I just remember this one particular practice where I really felt alive and present, and after the practice I remember just lying in a pool of sweat and just thinking, “I’m happy. Everything is just working, everything is good,” and I guess… I don’t know if you call that flow, but that was the first sort of sense of me being complete, complete and full in the moment, like nothing was missing, and that really stands out. Since then there’s been lots of different experiences, but that’s what opened the door I think.
Elena: Listening to this, it sounds like one of the dimensions of Flow, the perception of time disapears. During the practice, you were like, “Wow, what just happened?!” like you mention, “I was covered in sweat and the activity was totally finished, but I didn’t realise what was going on during the activity,” ?
Ari: Yeah, that’s right, and since then there’s been many different instances, but I think for me it’s actually becoming more aware of what is happening with me. What yoga gives me this awareness and therefore I can probably recognise when I am in a flow and when I’m not in a flow; I can put feeling, emotions, words, descriptions, distinctions around it, and I think that’s one of the big tools of yoga.
Elena: Being fully aware and fully present?
Ari: Yes, and being able to… Flow can be quite conceptual, and it is a concept in a way, but it’s also a collection of different things that happened, and in order to see that those are happening, I can feel like you need a different level of awareness to notice whether it’s happening or not, and I think that’s what yoga has given me; whether it’s me being with my kids, whether it’s me practicing yoga, whether it’s teaching yoga, whether it’s leading trainings.
Elena: I like what you’re saying, and I totally feel connected and aligned with that. Because also one of the dimensions of the flow state is to be fully present, fully aware of what’s going on, and yoga, as you say, helps you with that. What would you say helps you to be in that state of full connection and awareness?
Ari: Well, I think actually the way I think of flow is that flow is an outcome and flow happens when a lot of things come into place, and so what helps me get into flow is conscious practice of those things that need to be in place. If I think of yoga practice, it’s very simple: the more I come on my mat in a purposeful way and the more I practice the physical practice – the more I practice my breath, the more I practice my gaze – the more likely it is that I will then enter into a flow. It’s almost like those things have to be in place, because otherwise I will always be caught up in the technicality and in the doing of it, but worrying about “Am I doing this right?”
Elena: Yeah. That’s another dimension, when the self-talk or self-consciousness disappears when you’re fully present there’s no self-talk anymore, there’s no “Am I doing this right? Am I doing this wrong?” or that type of thought.
Ari: It’s kind of… I was thinking, flow is not… It might feel easy in the moment when I’m in it, but to get into it there’s a lot of work that goes into it, to be able to be in that state, whatever the activity is. If I think of myself as a parent of two small girls, initially that wasn’t a flow, that certainly wasn’t a flow; I needed to learn and practice and figure out how things work, and then…
Elena: Yes, so it’s a process and it’s also a choice.
Elena: Obviously you teach many students here in the studio. What advice would you give to them about being aware of the flow state and also how to get into that state? What do you think would be the top three pieces of advice that could help them?
Ari: Well, the first one we already covered, which is just practice; there is no substitute for it. The second one I think… Flow, by definition, it’s from somewhere to somewhere, so having an intention for your practice. It might be for that practice in the moment, or it might be for that day or it might be for your life, like something that you’re moving towards and consciously creating in your being, in your movement, in your breathing; it’s all there. And then there’s maybe a final: there is practice and there is intention, and then there’s something about just surrender, like being able to just let go of anything else and surrendering to what is, not aiming to make it perfect but…
Elena: When you say surrender, you mean acceptance?
Ari: Yes, it is an acceptance, it’s a… It’s an acceptance that all of these things are happening right now.
Elena: Good advice. You were explaining your trajectory and how you started in the corporate worldand how you ended up here, as a co-founder of the studio. What would you tell to your younger self who was starting in the corporate world?
Ari: I would like to say a couple of things. One is… Something about trusting my intuition more initially, to making things my own quicker, rather than feeling like I need to follow others or dothings in a certain way. Related to that, what I would say is life is short. Don’t waste a second; get clear on what you want and move quicker towards it.
Elena: We were talking before about intention and setting goals, what you want to achieve and where you want to go.
Ari has a very calm and peaceful voice, you transmit a lot of calmness and tranquillity. Do you have any techniques that help to ground you, if you’re stressed or you’re doing multiple things at the same time? What do you do to calm down or relax?
Ari: Well, for me it’s the obvious things: it’s getting on my mat, it’s practicing, it’s breathing and it’smoving. The other thing I do is journaling and just reflecting, setting intentions in the morning, reflecting in the evening. It can be two minutes, it can be five minutes and it doesn’t take long, but just… That helps me get a grip of the day if you like, it’s a moment. The final thing I do a lot of is I walk. I know it might sound obvious, but I walk everywhere and also… I sort of walk with purpose. I often listen to something inspirational, something that I can learn from, something that puts me in a good state, and I use every bit of time that I have. So when I walk tonight, when I walk from this studio home, I will have about 10 minutes and I’ll put something inspirational, I will listen to someone talking to me, giving me something that fills me up and it kind of grounds me in… It’s kind of inspirational, but it’s… I don’t know, it just lifts me up.
Elena: What inspires you?
Ari: I’ll tell you the main thing that inspires me, and it’s being able to make a difference in people’s lives. Whether it’s just someone coming to a yoga class and just having a 60 minutes time-out from their busy life, just time out, just space, or whether it’s they’re going through something and that 60 minutes gives them a new angle on things or whatever it is, but it’s just being able to give back what I’ve gotten from yoga and share that gift of presence, clarity, intention, and that inspires me. Yeah. That’s what makes me get up in the morning.
Elena: That’s your purpose?
Ari: Yes, it is.
Elena: I like it. Maybe you use the same techniques, but after long days or long practices or maybe sometimes stressful moments, do you do something to recover? Does yoga give you that recovery, or do you use other methods?
Ari: I’m kind of a reflective type, so that helps me recover, my own space; I’ll quite happily go into a cave for an hour and that helps me recover. The other thing that helps me is being taught or trained or inspired by somebody else, like letting myself be a student and maybe going out todo a workshop or do a training, and getting filled up and recovered in that. Yeah, sometimes you just need to refill.
Elena: I don’t know whether you’d like to share anything else?
Ari: My teacher is Baron Baptiste and in his book he talks about flow, and there’s a sentence which I wrote down because I thought this was so spot on… He says, “Yoga is the point where many aspects of a person merge together in one flow towards some new point, the point where many aspects come together in flow towards some new point,” and I thought, “That’s it.” It’s bringing the physical, mental, spiritual, all of us… When I’m in practice or in flow or wherever, bringing it all together and then moving from there towards a new point. That’s what we talk to in classes, flow, we call it Vinyāsa and it’s one of the pillars of the practice.
There’s a lot of value in just flowing, like physically moving and flowing, without trying to get it right, like just… and there’s an energy that comes through in that and there’s a release that can happen that way. The word “flow” has so many different meanings, but to me that’s how it manifests itself on the mat.
I started to write down the characteristics of flow: there’s presence and there’s direction, there’s purpose, there’s clarity, body and mind integration. And sometimes it’s also… At least for me, flow is… Sometimes it’s imperfect, in the sense that I will go in and out of the flow. So it’s not necessarily this unique, blissful state that’s always magical.
Elena: I agree, you cannot be 24/7 in that state, you can go in and out. The more tools you have or the more practice, you will get more into that. And in the end it’s a choice, so if you also have that intention at the beginning of the day, you will see it more often.
Ari: Yeah. And it’s really being aware… One thing is practicing on the mat… Where I’m doing a lot of work right now is training other teachers and running workshops and being in front of people and leading things, and being able to notice when I’m in a flow with that I love that, like having the audience and being able to deliver my message and sensing what’s going on and being in that flow, and it’s great to be able to bring tools physically of the practice into that.
“Am I breathing? Are my two feet on the ground? How am I standing? Where is my mindgoing to now? What am I focusing on?” bringing all of those things and being able to see that.
It’s like everything becomes three-dimensional and quite vivid when I’m in that state. And then noticing also when I go out of that and I go into the “need to look good” or trying to say things in the right way and then stepping back. I just find it fascinating.
Elena: When was the last time you were in the flow state?
Ari: When I teach, I think that’s where I always look for a flow state. It was when I taught, two days ago.
Elena: That’s good. Thank you so much!
Ari: Thank you! Good questions.
Thank you Ari for your time and wisdom, see you on the mat.
We are delighted to announce some great results on a recent study with rock climbers receiving flow training. The climbers received 4 different types of training over a 3 month period and the results far exceeded our expectations.
Below is Camille’s account of what happened. Camille is a budding adventure enthusiast who competes in a multitude of sports and a true inspiration. She runs a great blog for those wanting to see how she quit her job to focus on a life worth living: http://www.farandhigh.co.uk/
Over to Camille and her a piece, she wrote to go on her blog.
I was delighted when Cameron, the training coach from the Flow Centre, offered me to be part of the group of elite climbers selected for a case study on flow training.
Initially, I didn’t know what the flow mindset was and it is thanks to the study that I learnt more about it.
“Flow is the optimal mental state that produces performance, creativity, decision-making and innovation.”
Flow is a psychological state we experience during our peak experiences and is behind many of the greatest athletic performances. It is the state when we perform at our best and feel our best.
As part of the study, the climbers were asked to complete the same indoor climbing route twice a week, time ourselves and then complete a questionnaire straight after each climb including questions on our performance and our flow state. We were also asked to rate our overall climb. As weeks progressed, we were provided with training and individual coaching sessions on flow.
Throughout this experience, I’ve learnt some great tips on how to train your mind to get into the flow state and how to maintain that state. I thought I’d share the most valuable ones to me.
Motivation to perform
For me, motivation to perform is the biggest contributor to get me into a flow state, i.e. the desire to get to the top of the route. When the motivation is missing, my performance suffers. When the motivation is at its best and I truly want to reach the top, I’m enjoying the moment and I give it me all.
Secondly, finding focus is key to get me in the right state of mind. I need to completely shut down the outside world around me. For example, I need to ignore other climbers watching or shouting tips during a training session (sorry, I know you’re only trying to help J). This is especially true during a climbing competition when I find the audience very unnerving and it makes me anxious. So I need to completely zone out my surroundings and forget about my ego, so I can totally concentrate on the task at hand.
Be in the Present
To reach and maintain flow, I need to be completely focused on the present moment. I can’t be thinking about anything else other than each move as it unfolds. If I’m already thinking about reaching the top whilst I’m only half way up, my mind is not in the present.
The climb has to be challenging enough for me to get into the flow state. If it is during the warm-up or an easy climb, it’s not motivating enough for me to really be in the flow.
Physical Readiness & Self belief
I’ve found that my perception of my physical fitness and readiness to climb a route has an impact on my ability to reach and maintain the flow state. If I feel physically ready and capable, then I feel in control and there are no limits!
Fear of falling
When I have reached the flow state, I am so focused on each move that there is no holding back and I forget about the fear of falling (even in the dreaded overhangs!).
With the help of our coach Cameron, I have come up with my climbing mantra which I now repeat to myself at the start of each climb, and sometimes in the middle:
Repeating the mantra in my mind has been very effective to help me get into the flow when everything seems to come together and I perform to my highest standard.
To conclude, my personal results from the route I climbed during the study are:
Route: 14m 6C+ route
1st attempt completed in 9min23s.
After having received the training and coaching on flows, I completed the climbing route on my 15thattempt in 2min10s.
Of course, once I knew my results, my first question was related to the fact that even without the coaching, my performance would have improved naturally just by the experience gained by every attempt and the increased memorization of the moves. However, this was minimised by having us only start the training and coaching on flows once our performances had plateaued and we weren’t climbing faster at each attempt.
Finally, being part of the study and learning about applying flows for sporting performance was definitely eye opening and a great opportunity for me in the pursuit of following my passion for the sport and performing the best I can.
These techniques can, of course, be applied to any experiences in life. I’m also currently working on applying these techniques to my running and learning to find the flow state during a run J So I’ve now created a mantra for running as well …
Lucy Hare is a double bass player, sitting in the world of classical world music. She’s played for the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the BBC Concert Orchestra, the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the Royal Opera House Orchestra, the Tango Volcano, and the Oxford Concert Party.
She will share with us her group Flow experiences, how she connects with with her instrument and with the energy of the room and some of her tips that help her to get into this amazing state.
Cameron: I’m just going to ask you initially just to explain one or two Flow experiences, it can be either in training or performance, where you felt that you’ve hit that zone, you’ve hit that bubble, and you found a bit of freedom in that Flow space. So we’d love to hear where it was, when it was, and some of the characteristics that happened during that Flow experience.
Lucy:Okay. The one that comes to mind, because I’ve done so many different things with my playing obviously over the years, but one really comes to mind, which is a kind of group Flow in a way, but for me it was personal as well. It was at one of the Prom concerts, the London Prom Concerts in the Royal Albert Hall, and we were playing Strauss’ Alpine Symphony which is a massive work, it has alpenhorns in it and cowbells and an orchestra of about 120 or something, it’s an incredible piece of music. It’s a great piece, it’s challenging but it’s playable for us, and there was a moment in the middle…
We were playing it with the most incredible conductor, which isn’t always the case, but this was a really wonderful, amazing Russian conductor, and there was a moment where the orchestra kind of felt we turned a corner, we all turned it together and there was this incredible moment of feeling as if the whole orchestra, so it’s 120 people, were on the point of their toes and turned this corner together. For me afterwards, it was just this fantastic point of being completely with the orchestra, with the other people, but also completely one with my instrument and my technique and the room. Everything just came together in that spot, that moment, that sort of sweet spot in a way. So that was a very memorable case of Flow for me.
Cameron:Wow – that sounds really fascinating! I talk a lot about jazz musicians finding Flow because of it being spontaneous and connecting with one another and feeding off one another, but it’s really interesting to hear that you found that collective, group experience where you were almost on a tipping point. Was that something that happened a flip of a coin, or was that something that progressed a processed slowly? Did you feel like you were feeding off others, or was it a case of you were in your Flow and you found other people in a similar space?
Lucy:Yeah, really good questions. I’m not sure what other people were doing, but I think if I had to choose one thing it would depend on really, it would really be the leadership we were getting at that moment, so the conductor, he took the time to let us turn that corner together. But I think it’s not as simple as that actually, I think it came from also the sort of micro details, where everybody being in control of their technique and their ability to manage that moment technically on whatever instrument they were playing, and all kind of taking that point of poise in a way.
(…) And with music things like your tuning of your instrument, so everybody probably was playing really well in tune, there’s a kind of resonance that happens when everyone plays together and well that you don’t get when… It can sound together but it doesn’t have that resonance if people aren’t really hitting that sweet spot in a way.
Cameron:It sounds like as everyone else is hitting their sweet spot and the notes are, dare I say, perfect. You feed off one another, you hear it and it helps you up your game, and you get to that base where performing in that higher state is easier. Is that correct?
Lucy:Yeah. I think… There is something about your antennae, about… You have to obviously take care of your own technique, and that takes years and years and years of work, and hours every day probably, but then there’s also something about your awareness about the person sitting next to you. We play in sections in an orchestra, so the section of eight double basses, then there’ll be the string section which is bigger again, so it kind of fans out, and then there’s the whole orchestra. So you have all these different levels of awareness, and if they all come together, so both intonations – the pitch, the tuning – but also the timing… Timing is such a fine art I think, and there’s no… I was going to say there’s no exact science to it, I bet there is [laughs], it appears a very mathematical thing, but I think it has something that’s much more magical than that actually. So I think all those things coming together. Yeah, so you have to kind of perfect what you’re doing, but it’s a greater thing that perfection I think.
Cameron:So practically speaking, when you’re in let’s say at that moment, the moment you’ve just explained… To me there’s a lot going on there: you got the notes in front of you, you got the conductor, you’ve got your instrument, you’ve got where your fingers are, you’ve got the audience around you, you’ve got colleagues. Where is your focus? What are you focus on and aware on? Is it a case of you are hyperaware of everything and you’re playing effortlessly? Or is it a case of you’re actually highly focused on one thing, which is your notes and your… Where is your focus and your awareness?
Lucy:That’s a really good question. I would be really interested to hear the answer to your question from a sportsperson who plays in a team as well. I think my focus has to be everywhere actually. I don’t know biologically if you can do that, but I think the micro stuff, so your own technique… your main focus has to already have been done on that, with your practice, your personal practice, then the rehearsals in the orchestra. (…). Maybe that’s partly what creates the moment of Flow is that you can lift it. It really feels like a moment of poise to me with the group thing, that you have that time of balance and you can go in any direction, and your concentration is wide as well as being very centred.
Cameron:Yeah. You’re describing the many paradoxes of Flow, where we feel out of control but completely in control, and action and awareness kind of merge, where you’re feeling intricately a part of every second that’s going on, but at the same time it’s almost as if someone else is doing the actions and performing for you. It is very much a paradoxical state, because biologically speaking the prefrontal cortex and the conscious mind is not really in charge of the functioning and the operation at that time, so they’re kind of the logical and critique side of our brains that wants to analyse that experience and understand what’s going on isn’t in the room. It’s the subconscious that’s working that experience. And then when we come back to experience it, we look at it from a conscious brain as we’re talking now and it tries to make sense of these things that would normally happen through the conscious brain. They feel and sound so paradoxical, but in the world of experiencing a moment and performing through the subconscious, it’s a very normal experience to be looking at the minutiae but also taking in the bigger picture.
So, what out of the 9dimensions to Flow… I know you’ve had a quick look at them. What are the ones that really resonate for you in terms of practically finding Flow?
Lucy:I had a look at your list, and one of the main things is about level of challenge actually. Certainly with playing the bass, if there’s a level of challenge that is strong but not overwhelming, that’s key for me personally. If the challenge is overwhelming, I’m kind of in my head, saying, “You need to do this, you need to play it this way, play it this way, you’ve got to prepare, you’ve got to get your elbow in the right place, your fingers have got to be strong, you’ve got to play this faster, you didn’t practice this enough!” the little voice on my shoulder is going 100 miles an hour. So if the challenge level is strong but manageable and I’ve done the pre-work, then that is very likely to lead to a sense of Flow I think for me personally, not necessarily the group thing. So that’s really important.
And also, the other thing is we do repeat performances quite a lot if we’re doing a show or dance work or something, so you might do 30 or 50 performances of exactly the same show and they want it the same every night (…) The danger there is that you get very bored, so then you have to crank up the challenge and obviously technically you can’t because it’s the same music. So I personally do that by imagining the situation to be more alarming or scary (…)That can sometimes give it a slightly different state of… Yeah, very different state to the one I described earlier, a different state of Flow, but it’s a kind of… It then frees me from the boredom of what’s happening, and the repetition becomes almost like a sort of meditation, focusing in on each part but also then again being able to lift your mind away from it to other things and see the bigger picture. (…)
Cameron:Yeah, absolutely. And the challenge-skill balance that you’ve just discussed is one of the primary dimensions of Flow, and the applied elements to Flow that the Flow Centre has come up with, one of the elements is sufficient challenge. Us as performers need to take responsibility and manage that, whether that’s in our mind or the environment or the context, or playing around with our equipment to make it a little bit more challenging or less challenging, familiarising ourselves with it before a performance so we’re not distracted by the nuances of a grip or this, that or the other, as I’m sure you do when you get a new piece of equipment.
So what leading up to a performance, either these performances or other performances that you’re thinking of… You’ve mentioned a couple of times you’re lifting your mind, almost stepping up a gear into Flow if you like, so you’re playing and the event is happening and then you move on. What, in your experience or opinion, helps that happen? So in terms of preparation leading up to the event, so the morning of, an hour before, and then during, how do you… What do you focus on? What rituals do you use? Any tips that you can share with others that you might have adopted over time?
Lucy:I think the preparation for me is all done in advance really, so the practice and the learning of the skills and the deepening of the skills, and that’s done, as I said, the day before, the week before, but 30 years before as well. So, with rituals… (…) I need to get my head backstage probably half an hour before a performance and keep it there in the interval, because if you come out it’s strange, it disrupts the bubble in a way that… that I inhabit anyway, I just talk about myself.
I think it’s probably quite common, but I only know for me, that you kind of inhabit this bubble during concert. And the minute it’s over, then it’s fine, you can do anything, but before it I need… In a way it’s a quiet space. It might not be quiet orally, but it’s a quiet space inside me. And often we put our instruments on the stage before the concert so they’re already on there, maybe from the rehearsal or something, but a lot of people have their instruments in their hand to warm up with backstage; we don’t have that luxury because our instruments are big. So it’s quite nice to make sure your hands are warm and clean and actually get them active… I’m sitting here while I’m talking to you, squeezing my hands. If you have a juggling ball or something, it’s quite nice to have that, or just need something with your hands. So they’re kind of physical preparations, and the mental one is more about staying in that bubble really.
(…) So I suppose for me physicality brings me into the moment, and then that is more likely to create a sense of flow.
Cameron:Thanks for that – really, really interesting. I know many people believe that’s the whole purpose of the body, to kind of anchor us to the moment. Our mind is always wanting to go into the future and the past, and it’s staying with that breath, or, as you said, feeling your feet on the floor and back against the chair can really kind of bring us back into that moment where we can stretch time, as opposed to running into the future or critiquing the past. We’re coming to an end now, but a little golden nugget for any young musicians out there in terms of what advice you could give to them towards finding Flow, not necessarily as a career but finding Flow in their music when they’re practicing, when they’re spending the hours at home, burning their fingers away, practicing? How could you kind of say, “Maybe try this and that might lead you to more Flow experiences.”?
Lucy:I think one of the things, which we haven’t actually talked about, is do something you love, and if that is playing your instrument, then do it; if it’s not, then maybe look at doing something else, or do it in a way that you can love it. I think really one of the key things is practice, getting the technical challenges really nailed down as soon as you can. To a musician this will make sense: if there’s a piece of music, don’t practice it from beginning to end. Look at the bits that are going to really challenge you and really focus on them, so that when it comes to it you know exactly what you’re doing with your fingers and you can lift your concentration to what else is going on. So focus on the bits that you don’t want to go anywhere near. I suppose that would be my key message.
Cameron:Perfect. Which leads me nicely to our closing question, which is for you what is you going beyond, what is a fear for you, either in your performance world or not in your performance world, where you feel is going beyond?
Lucy:I think for me just passion actually, to do something that I’m passionate about and that stretches me, and actually I love doing those two things usually so my bass playing is that, and a lot of other things I do in life are things that fit those two things. Yeah, so passion and stretch probably.
Cameron:Okay – thank you very much, Lucy! We’ve had a fantastic conversation looking at all sorts of topics, from collective Flow to the challenge-skill balance, to integrating training and ensuring the biology and the muscle memory is all there. Lots of really interesting points, and we’d love to get your opinions, any musicians out there, on Lucy’s comments, so please get in touch and we look forwards to speaking to you soon – thank you very much!
For those who do not know who Martina Wegman is…well, you are forgiven as freestyle kayaking is taking its time to reach households around the world. However, by the end of this article you won’t forget her.
Martina is taking the kayaking world by storm and in recent years she has become one of the most successful female contenders in freestyle kayaking. She has won the European Freestyle Championships and some of the highest profile whitewater races in the world, including the Teva Outdoor Games and the Sickline Extreme World Championships not one, two, but four times in a row. In recent years, she has sought out new challenges and decided to do what very few kayakers do and switch codes to slalom kayaker.
In one of our sessions at The Flow Centre, Martina gave us a low down of how she has won FOUR world titles and continues to turn heads.
When asked about what she focuses on during her greatest moments her reply was:
Martina: It’s hard to say. I’m usually, like even when I have a good run or when I race I still want ~to be a bit~ better…, because there’s always places to still improve, and I just want to be better and better.
Martina is known for dropping long 70ft waterfalls, so I asked whether she is always confident in her preparation. As we talked about one memorable drop she went on to say:
Martina: At the start it was like “No way I’m going to…” Like, I would never run a 70-foot waterfall, and once you’re at the top of it you’re like “Okay, let’s go!” I don’t even have to think about it twice because I feel certainly so confident and good about it that… Yeah, and once I did it I look back and I’m like “Why did I do that?! That’s just crazy!”
I was pretty relaxed about it, but in my mind I was like “I should be… Like, I should be really scared of this!” Because I was really scared at first when I looked at it, and then ~I saw~ somebody standing under the fall, and I was just signing to him. I was scared but I wasn’t really scared, but I was slowly drifting backwards because I wasn’t focused at all. He was kind of like a distraction. I wasn’t even really aware of it [the waterfall], and then I just had to flow into it.
Cameron: So do you often plan your route and goals beforehand?
Martina: For me in kayaking I don’t really want to set goals… because then I can be disappointed if I don’t run it, so I just don’t think about it…I’m just more focused to get the lines right…Of course you always want to do well, but I think for me it’s setting really small goals so I know I can’t be disappointed, but still trying to push to get that good result…I think I’m not super outcome-focused. My goal is to get better and better. [laughs] Like, today I was focusing on keeping my ~boat flat and trying to get a fast start on the upstreams. I guess every day you just try and do the courses better and better and focus on those little things.
Cameron: So what are you focused on?
Martina: At the race I often don’t really think about all the detail, I’m just really focused on where to go. I’m like, “Oh, I’m not too sure how I’m going to get from here to there.” But I’m not worried about it, I will just see in the race… as long as I focus on where to go…the subconscious will take care of what I’m focused on. I’m not really focused on, ‘I have to be there, and do this (etc)’… I think less and just trust in my ability.
When I did the freestyle races 10 years ago we had a trainer and he always wanted to know what our plan was in the competition, and he knew from me that he didn’t even have to ask anymore because I wouldn’t say, I would just be like “Oh, I just go and just…~feel what I feel~.” But still I had a little bit of a plan, I knew which tricks I was good in and which I could do, I just didn’t really want to think about it too much. I just wanted to have fun and be like “Oh yeah, I’m just going to see where I go.” and my trainer accepted it because he knew that worked for me. I just needed to have a good time
Well, my goal is to just to get as good as I can…it’s always fun to win, but I don’t really care if somebody else is better, because that just makes you want to go harder and practice more to get on that same level.
Cameron: Did you use any mental skills to prepare?
Martina: I think looking back at those races, I think I was quite intimidated about the race courses, so I definitely visualised myself more running it ~and wanted to be like~… I just really don’t want to mess up those lines, so I just focused really hard on getting in the right place.
I think just not thinking too much about it and just want to have fun; that’s what my preparation was, not to be too serious about it. Of course, you always want to do well, but I think just for me it’s just setting really small goals so I know I can’t be disappointed, but still trying to push to get that good result.
Cameron: Do you focus on winning or being excellent?
Martina: I think I’m not super outcome-focused, it’s more about having ~a personal good run rather than the races. Like, it’s always fun to win, but I don’t really care if somebody else is better, because that just makes you want to go harder and practice more to get on that same level.
~To get better and better. [laughs] Like, today I was… It’d different every time, but today I was focusing on keeping my ~boat flat~ and trying to get ~a fast start on the upstreams.~ I guess every day you set different courses, you just try and do the courses better and better and focus on those little things.
Like flat boats… You see my arm up here? You have to put in work here. There’s a lot of things you do in creeking which don’t work in slalom, when you tip the boat on top of the water, so jumping over little waves and holes, that again is like a total different technique from creeking. So, at the start I’m… Or still now I’m just trying to things that you have to work a bit different in slalom. Keeping the boat flat is probably one of the bigger things, and stay forward in your boat.
Well, my goal is to just to get as good as I can.… Because a lot of slalom paddlers, they started when they were seven or eight years old, and there’s not many people who cross over from creeking to slalom at my age, or even to cross over from creeking to slalom is kind of… Yeah, there’s not many people doing that. And a lot of people who creek, they also think when they cross over to slalom that it’s easy to get on the top. So, when they’re really good in creeking you almost think like “Yeah, I’ll be good in slalom.” which is totally not the fact. I just… Yeah, just trying still to get as high as I… Like, get as good as I can in slalom and just really push and train hard… Yeah, it’s hard to see. Really, again, in outcome terms it’s more personal, that I just want to do it really well.
The Flow Centre would like to take this opportunity to thank Martina for her time and energy.
Ben has an amazing story. In only a few years he went from a pub bet to being one of the most recently elite runners in the UK. Our interview can be heard below, but just as interesting is Ben’s take on the ‘Runners High’ Vs ‘Flow’ debate. Check out the article below, we think you will like it!
Flow and Running
Running is hard. That’s what I think almost every time I start on my 10 mile morning jaunt down the Basingstoke Canal. God, I’m unfit. Man, my right leg hurts. What are all these people doing out at this time? Pain, always pain. Why don’t I just go back to bed?
Then something funny happens. It takes a mile or two, normally when I pass the tramp with the yellow raincoat, before my running starts to feel normal. I begin to relax and think about how far I plan to go, how slow the first two miles were and how much I can now push to improve.
Then something really funny happens. I feel delighted. Running on this muddy path, alone, the morning clearing off the river, the sun coming up, feet splashing through puddles – seems like the best thing in the world. What else would I rather be doing right now? I run on, smiling to myself, thinking about what I’ll cook dinner, what good things I’ll do today, what great adventures I’ll plan for the weeks ahead. From a depressive lump I am transformed into a positive being. The world is there for me to run around.
Welcome to runners high. It is a feeling that can come at almost any level of exercise – from a brisk jog to full effort race. It doesn’t stay for the whole time – running is a journey of emotions – but it always appears, stays for a good few miles and then comes back at the end, lasting for about an hour – during breakfast and the trip to work. As the saying goes – you always feel better after a run – and it’s true. You’re high as a kite. That’s the reason most people do it.
A similar sensation, but one much harder to experience, is a sense of running ‘flow.’ This is something that I think only exists at the higher level of the sport – in competitive races – when the body is being pushed to its absolute limits. It comes at a time in the race when motivation is low and there are many miles still to go – blood has left the brain, fatigue is overwhelming and the only thoughts are work, work; toil, toil; suffer, suffer, suffer. You feel like you cannot go on any longer. There is nothing else to tell you to keep going. You just want to stop. Please stop.
But you don’t stop. You keep going and for some reason you start running even better than before. The voice in your head stops saying bad things and your mind and body relax. Flow takes over and running doesn’t seem hard anymore. You feel like you are floating over the road and that you can keep running forever.
Flow isn’t a high, it is more a feeling of levity. I’ve only had it about six times in my career – but every time it has been in the best performances I have ever run. I don’t know exactly what it is. It’s as if I have accessed an energy source away from mind or my body – a spiritual plain or a deep, internal soul – that has transported myself to a place where I am no longer trapped in the limits of physical and mental endurance.
Runners high is great and is the reason you see so many people running nowadays – it makes us happy, it makes us feel good – however for those wanting to take things more seriously, runners’ flow is the real motivator. There’s something in the experience that makes us feel different, above ourselves. For a few minutes we feel a light inside, telling us that there is something wonderful, something beyond the grind of day-to-day, something true and pure – something that makes us special, and that if we keep trying we can experience this any time, for the rest of our lives.
It isn’t true. The moment you start thinking you are in flow, the moment it disappears, but for a while you really believe.
I want to keep believing. I will keep on running towards that light.
Want to hear more? Listen to this podcast and interview with Ben Evans:
The Flow Centre would like to take this opportunity to thank Ben for his time and energy.
Meet Hazel Findlay. Hazel has won multiple National Championships (UK) and is considered one of, if not the, best female climber worldwide. Hazel became the first woman to climb a British E9 (hard and scary!) with her ascent of Once Upon A Time In The Southwest, near Devon, UK. She has been recovering from injuries this past year but will no doubt be taking the climbing scene by storm when she returns.
Hazel is a great friend of The Flow Centre and continues to inspire us month-on-month. In one of our sessions with Hazel we got to ask her about here flow experinces
Cameron: What was one of your biggest flow experiences?
Hazel: It was actually on one of the smaller cliffs, but right up in the corner where it formed a right angle. I find that sort of climb really interesting because instead of using your hands and feet to find and grip holds, you basically have to push against each side of the opposing walls. Your hands are just flat against the rock, with no reaches to aim for, you basically have to only listen to your body position; you can’t really let the rock guide you too much. There’s no “Oh, I’ll reach that hold and I’ll reach for this hole kind of thing”, you just have to get it exactly right for that next bit of upward movement. So Yeah, this particular moment at the top was just a classic flow experience, where it’s just like, I was in this! You know the descriptions!![laughter] It was really intense and it was just complete focus on every little movement. I remember the breathing being in time because the climb was really physical as well. I just remember the breathing intensified with each movement, using my whole core to stay in this corner of the rock. It’s funny, when I was in flow, it was like I’ll finish that little piece of rock and then I can’t remember anything about what I did. Then when you get down, the other climbers will say “How did you do that?” and when I’m in those flow moments I’m like “Oh, I’m really sorry, but I just don’t know what I did, I just did something”.
Cameron: So what was it like in the experience? How did you approach the rock?
Hazel: During the climb, it was like every time I put a foot on the rock I could see all the little features, my foot was exactly where it was supposed to go kind of thing. I think time almost slowed down, if anything. I’ve got vivid memories of my foot in slow motion, because there was so much detail in the moment, you know what I mean? I was just in a little pocket of time and space, me and that little of piece of rock like the only thing that’s there. I don’t know if I’d go as far as to say I was an extension of the rock. But one thing I think happens when climbing is the movements are kind of binary. Like it’s “right foot, right hand, left foot, left hand”, very specific movements that are all separate. It’s also binary in the sense that you either do it or you don’t! But in a flow state, it feels like the movements aren’t divided into separate moves anymore. You know what I mean? It’s not like you’re moving from one movement to the next movement; it’s all just one complete movement in flow.
So, in that corner it was like I was moving up, and it wasn’t this awkward “right-left” kind of thing, it was all just one fluid motion of the rock kind of thing. Am I an extension of the rock? I think it’s more like what I was saying. The rock doesn’t provide the sort of black and white challenge, like “I did that move or I didn’t”, or “I did that piece”. I suppose it’s very much linked to the idea of success-failure, goal and everything. I’ve always found that when I’m in that flow I totally let go of that desire to succeed and to do the route. I’m just so focused on the next move and the next bit of climbing. You know, when I start a route I’m like “Okay, come on! You can do it!” – You know, all that positive thinking is running through your head. Or if you’re having a negative day it might be like “Oh, I feel like sh** – just give it your best shot anyway”. Whereas when you’re in flow, all of those ideas about yourself versus the rock kind of thing just fall away. So usually if I’m in that flow, even if I fall off and I fail, I usually don’t care because I know that I was climbing my absolute best because I was in that state. So it just doesn’t bother me that I failed, because what more could I have wanted from that experience? Nothing, because I was doing my best. So, that’s why I love it so much!!
I always feel like it’s the rock that forces me to be in flow. I never really feel like it’s me, but maybe I should take some more ownership of it. There never seems to be a correlation between my thoughts and feeling and how I access flow. I’ve accessed flow on really bad days, when my thoughts have been totally negative and I’m really unconfident. But then just something about the climb I’m doing forces me into it. I can have good days and just access it for some reason, I don’t know! I just feel like it’s the rock! I totally agree with this “skill meets challenge” idea, because I really think it has to be quite hard for me to access flow. Sometimes I can access flow on easier grounds, but it’s a bit like when you’re driving a car. Often there’ll be other thoughts going through your head, so it’s not as intense and experience of flow. But it’s the sort of thing where I’m just moving up the rock and I might get to the top and not really remember anything about the climb. I was thinking about something completely different; that’s when the challenge is way below my skill set. I’m not as good at harnessing flow during those climbs. I see other people climb much better than me on easier ground, but I tend to let my internal dialogue stop me from reaching flow on easy terrain. That’s something I want to work on.
Cameron: When do you most experience flow?
It’s being on the hard routes, on hard rock climbs. That’s the thing about climbing on natural rock; no-one made it, no-one designed it. So really it’s just chance whether that meets your skill set or not. So there might be a particular route where I might be in flow, but then I get to a section where I just can’t reach the holds, I’m not tall enough or strong enough or whatever, then I’ll just fail. I’ll snap out of flow; the challenge became too hard for me. So really, I feel like it’s the rock that forces me into flow, because it just so happens that the rock, the way the holds are, the way my body moves, it just fits the rock. I think it’s strange; climbing is maybe quite different to other conventional sports. What often happens when you climb is that you get to a point where you can rest and you can think. So you look at the rock ahead and problem solve your way through it even before you do it. I think one of the keys to climbing well is to, in that restful position, consciously have a plan and problem solve, but then as soon as you start climbing try and switch into that unconscious state that we’re talking about. Really let your body take control and use your subconscious mind. But you have to remember what your conscious mind was telling you to do. That’s what makes climbing different.
The Flow Centre would like to take this opportunity to thank Martina for her time and energy.
Jon Turk has ja heart like a cauliflower, and a zest for flow like no other. Jon was an adventurer finalist for Canadian “National Magazine Awards” (2015 – Frozen Iceman), voted top 10 adventure athletes in 2012 by National Geographic, and canoe and kayak: expedition of the year in 2012.
Jon has practiced performance FLOW for decades, and reminds us that there are a multitude of factors that go in to a flow experience, none more so being on the same wavelength as your group.
I am a back-country skier, and I routinely ski exposed avalanche terrain in the mountains of southern British Columbia. A few weeks ago, four of us were shredding fresh powder on familiar terrain. The riding was excellent, friendships warm, and spirits were high. All day, the snow had been stable, meaning that we experienced no avalanches or even indication of danger. On the last run, as the short winter day was waning, two of our party led us toward a higher, steeper, more exposed ridge line. As we climbed into this alpine zone, we reached an elevation where the mountain wind had compacted the surface of the snow into hard, rigid, consolidated, potentially deadly chunks.
This was no subtle change. As experienced alpinists, we all saw it, felt it, and knew the consequences of a bad decision. So why didn’t we turn back?
The ultimate, overriding, goal of back-country skiing is to come home safe. All too frequently, we tend to forget this goal and create other imaginary goals such as to climb higher, faster, longer, and to ski the steepest line. But compared to safety, these supposed goals are merely dangerous distractions generated by our think-too-much-know-it-all brains. The primary driver of a FLOW experience is to concentrate completely and utterly on the real and ultimate goal and to avoid sidetracks, distractions, ego, and “I wants”. Yet, within a group, distractions can easily arise, fester, and quickly multiply.
One person climbed into the dangerous wind-slab, eager to be the leader that brought the group onward toward the best line of the day. We all like to “ski the goods”, so that is always a distraction from the overriding goal of safety. But now, there was social pressure not to be the wimp, the cold blanket who said, “Hey, guys. I think we should turn back.” Two distractions steering us away from FLOW – internal and external. And the distractions fed on one another. I thought, “We don’t need to do this,” but then I threw attention and awareness out the window, and allowed myself to concentrate on what mattered least (A few extra turns. Not to be criticized by the group.) And not what mattered most (Our lives). So against all reason, I followed the leader toward a dangerous situation. I felt hassled and grumpy. I questioned my own judgment, the judgment of others. “Why can’t we just ski from here?” I mumbled, quietly, almost to myself.
Suddenly, my wife, Nina, stopped. I was in line behind her.
“What’s up?” I asked.
“I’m not going up there,” she replied.
At first, I was internally annoyed at her. Those guys were going to ski the coolest line, and I wanted to be up there with them. But the physical pause initiated a mental pause which solidified a physical pause. Reason prevailed. We held back.
The lead skier started an avalanche and went catapulting down the mountainside in a moving white river. Amazingly, he didn’t get hurt. We were lucky.
There are always more distractions than FLOW paths. Entropy works like that. A near infinity of ways to do something wrong and only a limited number of ways to do something right. Group dynamics, within a family, at work, or during play are powerful. All the more reason to understand and practice FLOW.
The Flow Centre would like to take this opportunity to thank Jon for her time and energy.
Fraser Pash gives us the low down of his recent performance.
I sat there sipping on my drink wondering ‘what the hell are we listening to?’ I’m up next and I still haven’t decided what I’m going to play. I’ve spent weeks practicing a song. Trying out different tunings and transpositions to get the best sound out of my guitar and my voice. But I’ve started to doubt; not myself, but my song choice. Everyone else who has gone up to the mic and chortled out some recent pop song has been mediocre at best.
It was at this point that I decided, f*ck it. I’m going to play my own song.
Maybe I’m more comfortable playing my own music, maybe I enjoy the higher risk of judgement from letting people hear it. I’ve never been able to pinpoint exactly what it is about playing my own music that triggers flow. But as I sang every note perfectly, ad-libbing to great effect, I felt happy. An almost endless happiness, totally in flow. That was of course until the song finished and I was left standing alone in a room of three hundred people.
Immediately afterwards, I answered some questions about the song. As my memory glanced back to the song I had been playing minutes earlier, I started to think about how it felt like it had been weeks ago, not minutes ago. I also realised that I cared a bit more about playing that night than I thought I had. The outcome is not really important, but the performance is.
Whilst there is little to no research done to consider the correlation between playing one’s own music and playing someon e else’s, there is plenty done to reveal the relationship between flow and music as a whole (although there’s always opportunity for more). We mentioned a study done not too long ago discussing the correlation between length of time playing an instrument and the actual instrument played and flow. Finding that string players and those who have been playing for a longer time, particularly with extensive practice hours, are more likely to reach a state of flow. But it is research from the University of London that is of particular interest to this article.
Their findings revealed “flow was predicted by the amount of daily practice and trait emotional intelligence”. Now the first part of this should really be a given. The more we practice, the greater our myelin production, the better our muscle memory, the more skilled we become, the higher the ability-challenge level we can set for ourselves, and ultimately the greater intensity of flow we can feel. However, emotional intelligence still needs a lot more research before its relationship to flow is fully understood. The aforementioned study also notes a link between the style of music played and flow, with a positive correlation between the romantic styles of Chopin in particular and flow. Now this could be due to increased exposure to a certain composer or style, but equally it could be that the pianists in the study found flow whilst playing music they liked.
It is here that the research gap exists. If we assume that the music created by an individual is also liked by that individual. Does playing your own music have a positive impact on reaching a state of flow?
If we throw ourselves into a performance situation, suddenly we have high risk, immediate feedback and a rich environment priming us for flow.
So why not try it? Today, instead of practicing someone else’s piece, write your own. Just play what comes out of you and gradually structure it into a composition. You might find you reach flow sooner than you think.
Thanks for this Article to Fraser Pash and friend of The Flow Centre.
Humans are compared to computers all the time. We both seem to be made up of memory, bandwidth and communication devices all processing at varying of speeds. Most notably, the human brain is often described as the most powerful computer in nature. So imagine the intrigue, when watching a lecture on flow, a question at the end came up: ‘when we overclock computer components they degrade faster, is hacking into flow just overclocking our bodies?’ Short answer; no. But let’s dig a little deeper.
Normally when someone talks about overclocking their computer, they specifically mean the processor (CPU). (I won’t go into architectural detail of CPU’s, as we would be here for weeks, but it is fascinating stuff if you’re interested) It carries out all the complex calculations and keeps all the other components running in time with each other. It is essentially the ‘processing brain’ of the computer. So the CPU has a standard ‘base’ clock speed that it runs at, but with some computer witchcraft, you can make it run at a faster speed e.g. 3.6Ghz to 4.4Ghz, improving and potentially hitting its peak performance.
You might be thinking that’s no big deal, if it can cope with the higher speed, just run it at that. But this is the issue, and where our flow comparison comes in. In order to run at that higher clock speed, the component is stressed beyond what is the standard level and so degrades faster than if it was processing at the lower speed. This is how basically all man-made objects perform, if you push it further, it degrades quicker.
So with all the similarities between humans and computers, does this mean that when we hack into flow, achieve a flow state more often than a normal person, peaking for longer periods, our body will decay faster due to the extra stress on its ‘components’? Well, no it won’t. Your body is not man-made, so to speak. When you train your body, it improves the quality of its components. Think of a tennis player. By training, they improve the condition of their body, allowing them to reach a flow state during their performance. This doesn’t mean they have a shorter life or lose the ability to walk sooner than anyone else. If anything it gives them a longer and better standard of life into a late age as they are constantly improving the body’s capacity.
However, one of the downsides of being human, and being very conscious beings, is that we cannot be in flow all of the time. So we are unlikely to ever really test this question to its entirety. So don’t be scared to overclock yourself through flow. You will find that you are simply unlocking the potential you have always had; growing in strength and resilience, allowing you to go further than you ever thought you could.
For those that don’t know Sarah Hendrickson, meet one of the most exciting female athletes around. Sarah Hendrickson is an American ski jumper who won the first ever women’s World Cup season in 2012. She is a 22-time World Cup medalist and 13-time Continental Cup medalist. It goes without saying, but we were delighted to catch up with here and even more delighted to have her on board The Flow Centre.
Her career highlights include: • 22-time World Cup Medalist (13 Gold, 6 Silver, 3 Bronze) • 13-time Continental Cup Medalist (4 Gold, 4 Silver, 5 Bronze) • 2014, Olympic Winter Games, 21st • 2013, World Cup, Second Place Overall • 2013, World Championships Gold Medalist • 2012, World Cup Overall Champion • 2011, U.S. Normal Hill Champion • 2011, World Championships Normal Hill 16th place • 2009, World Championships Normal Hill 29th place
Anyway, enough intro, let’s get on with what Sarah had to say.
Cameron: So tell me about your flow experiences.
Sarah: I think that time at the world championships. I remember being at the top and just so nervous. I was like “I can’t feel my feet right now! I don’t know how I’m going to do this!” and then I got to the bottom after my second jump, and obviously had won, and it was like something else took over my body, because there was so much pressure and everything. I don’t know how I performed to that level with that much pressure, my mind just took over and muscle memory and everything. It was like “Okay, you know what to do subconsciously, and just focus”. It’s kind of hard to explain.
Cameron: Yeah, especially when you remember it. You get all those feelings and tingly sensations, and then you’re like “But, but… How did it happen?!”
Sarah: Yeah, exactly!
Cameron: So, describe some of the characteristics that you might have felt during it? You said everything felt amazing. Can you go into a little bit more about how that felt, or what you feel you experienced?
Sarah: I guess effortless is almost the right word. Your body is doing all these things, but it’s subconscious, you don’t have to think about it right there. It’s hard to explain, I guess effortless and flawless, almost numb. But that’s the first experience I think of when you describe flow, the world championships in Italy in 2013.
We have two jumps and I was winning after the first jump, then we jump in reverse order, so I was going last on the second jump. The girl before me was within a small margin of me; she jumped and I could hear the crowd cheering. I was just trying to block everything out and focus on myself. I remember thinking “My feet are numb!” I was kind of freaking out, thinking “How am I going to pull this off?” then I was just like “Well, nothing to lose now. Just shake it out.” That’s when the hours of training comes in, the muscle memory, your mind just goes into reserve mode, just don’t focus on the pressure, don’t focus on the small details; everything will run its course.
Cameron: What did you do to help you focus and get into that state?
Sarah: I blocked out the outside world. When I’m jumping, I’ve been jumping for 13 years now, I just focus on one or two really simple things. It doesn’t mean anything to the outside world because they’re technical terms for ski jumping, but I relax my arms, balance and timing. Timing is so important in ski jumping, timing and rhythm. So, I just pick those two things that I had been focusing on and just zero in on that, everything else will just come. I didn’t need to focus on the other stuff because I was in that mind set, the muscle memory or whatever would just take over.
Cameron: When you focus on it, do you repeat the words, like relax your arms? Or, do you almost use the words to brainwash yourself? How do you focus on it?
Sarah: Yeah, exactly! Part of me is hearing the announcers and people calling scores or whatever of the girls in front of me. So, I try to speak to myself as loudly as I can in my head so that I don’t hear the outside. I’ll even try and shake my head so that I don’t hear. I just don’t want to hear that, you can’t think about jumping a certain distance, that’s not how it happens. You have to focus on the miniscule things, that’s going to make you jump further. Repetition and even whispering words out loud sometime, or just yelling in my head.
Cameron: What else do you think helps you get into that zone? Is there preparation that you might do leading up to it the morning of, the evening of? Or anything else that you do as you’re walking up the steps, preparing, or when you’re sitting down, or just before you take off?
Sarah: Yeah, repetition actually, and not just in words. I have the same warm-up routine that I do a certain time before a jump. How I put my equipment on and stuff. I’m kind of OCD, so those things are just zeroed in. I know exactly what time I need to put on my stuff, when I’m waiting at the top, 10 jumpers before my tie my boots a little tighter the step out and start putting my skis on. Repetition is really, really important for me, just doing the same thing over and over, and I do it the same for training. You need to compete like you train and train like you compete. Have that same physical repetition and the mental preparation the same every single day.
Cameron: Do you have any other big flow experiences? Maybe one that tops the world championship?
Sarah: It’s a bit different, because I didn’t have a good result, but I guess doing the Olympics. I had some serious surgery about five and a half months before Sochi. I managed to get through rehab, but I just wasn’t as prepared as I wanted to be, but my coaches felt like I deserved to be there. The training days leading up, my knee was in so much pain and I knew I wasn’t mentally strong enough and prepared to be there, then on competition day I got unlucky with the wind. But, my practice jump that morning, we always get one practice jump, my coach just looked at me and was like “Oh my God – that was a million times better!” He was like “You showed up for game day! Regardless of the pain you’re in and everything you’ve been through these past six months, you just put it all aside, and your body knew exactly what to do, and you had an awesome jump!” I was just in that kind of mindset. I just pushed the pain away, pushed every doubt and piece of junk that I’d gone through out of me and just had a normal jump. And my coaches saw it. The coaches from the other nations saw it too, it was kind of crazy. It was like even though it had been a while my body still knew what to do.
Cameron: What helped you jump that morning?
Sarah: I don’t know! I just thought “Don’t have any regrets. You’ve trained so hard to be here. Maybe you’re not at your strongest but you’ve worked so hard, now let’s prove it”. I had to change my warm-up and everything, my knee was so bad I couldn’t even run. But I figured I’ve got three more jumps today, then I’m done. After today I can just rest and reassess everything. I had another surgery after that, but it didn’t matter at that point, I was just like “Show them what you’ve got!” I’m ultra-competitive obviously, which makes it easier to get into that mindset. You have to find a balance between focused and almost not too serious, though. If you try to hard when you’re super competitive in ski jumping it just doesn’t work. We all say that technically, it’s a very simple sport, but it’s against everything that your body wants to do, so when you get too focused there’s no flow to it. It’s too choppy; it’s not smooth and out of rhythm. So when you stay relaxed and just focus on a couple of things everything is much smoother, develops the power better and it all just comes together much better than trying to force it.
Cameron: So what do you do to help yourself stay relaxed?
Sarah: Well, I’m friends with a lot of the girls from the other nations, so we’ll all be talking at the top of the hill, kind of joking around before getting ready to go. Like if it’s been a bad day and I’m kind of down on myself I think “I’m not going to pull of the best jump right now, but look at the view! Think how hard you worked to get here, you’re so fortunate to be here.” I just kind of step back and make the most of the situation, because competing is really stressful. This is the best job in the world, but it’s stressful. Sometimes that’s easy to get down on, then I think “why do I put so much pressure on myself?” I try to step away from all that negativity and just appreciate where I am. You can’t have a good day every day and the people that really matter, the ones closest to me, they know that I’ve worked really hard to get here and are just like “Alright, shrug it off, you can’t be on top every single day.”
The Flow Centre would like to take this opportunity to thank Sarah Hendrickson and the Wasserman Group for their time and energy.
Scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in California have discovered that our minds are lying to us. There is a limit to how fast our brain can digest information. To make things easier on itself, it predicts what will happen next.
Think of a plane flying overhead, it’s not going to suddenly start flying backwards, so our brains predict the path of the plane and that’s how we are able to see what is going on in the present. But what happens when something does change in an instant? That’s where the flash lag effect comes in (to test this out try a simple Google search). The research in this area has revealed a delay of, on average, 80 milliseconds between something happening and the mind being able to process it. Meaning that we spend our life living in what has actually just happened, not what is actually happening. Let’s take a second or two to pause – we are never actually present in real time! Really?!
Thinking of planes again, this time at night when the lights on it are flashing, the flash of light often appears to be behind the plane. That’s because your mind has predicted, correctly, where the plane will be, but the sudden flash of light was an unknown. The 80 millisecond delay in processing means that you see the light flashing behind the plane, where it was 80 milliseconds ago.
The intriguing thing for us, as flow seekers, is what if we can reduce that 80 millisecond delay? This article from Salk specifically says that the time delay is an average and it’s likely that someone like a fighter pilot has a shorter delay – and so lives less ‘in the past’ and more ‘in the now’. This comes as no surprise that a fighter pilot is likely to be in a state of flow most of the time when pulling off incredible manoeuvers, whilst flying at mach 3. However, how can we reduce this delay in our everyday experiences and performances?
Our visual awareness seems to change in flow, as we become highly aware of all the small detail that gives us the much needed feedback we require for perfect decision making. We know that we get a feeling of time standing still during flow, does this state actually reduce the lag of our experience? In our interview with Nick Troutman(Kayaker), he talks about a run where he starts turning the wrong way down a waterfall and had to correct himself mid-air. If he made this adjustment any later than he did, or not at all, the result could have been catastrophic for him. Nick is able to make these important changes with millisecond precision as a result of being in flow – by his own admission.
Although we don’t know exactly what the millisecond delay may be during flow, we know that the experience is a lot closer to a 0 millisecond delay than our everyday experiences. In flow we become aware of everything instantly, process information instantly and are able to react to what happens immediately – is this living in the present?
“Elementary dear Watson, elementary!”
For years people have called a flow state ‘being in the zone’, although this is not entirely accurate (I sense a different article coming), would a more accurate term be ‘being in the now’?
When we went in search of the ultimate base jumper and skydiver, we expected to find someone extraordinary – someone who was used to pushing the limits and had the ability to freeze time. When we finally hooked up with Douggs he was everything we had been looking for and more. Douggs’ wealth of experience is nothing short of outstanding.
Douggs has felt flow frequently, in multiple arenas, and when he is not pretending to be Superman he is a motivational speaker, TV presenter, commentator, author, film maker, and stunt man. Douggs is one of the world’s most experienced BASE jumpers, respected both inside and outside the sport. He is a World Champion, World Record holder, and completed well over 3200 BASE jumps and 7000 skydives across more than 42 countries.
His list of achievements and highlights include: 2014 World Wingsuit League, China – 2013 World Record for most base jumpers jumping indoors – 2013 First ever BASE jumps in Kuwait from Al Hamra Tower – 2013 1st place in World Extreme Base Championships, Spain – 2013 1st place in Accuracy Competitions in both Turkey & China -2012 World first night human slingshot, Dubai – 2011 World BASE Championships, 2nd place -2008 UK ProBase ‘British Open’: Overall Champion – 2003/04 BASE jumping World Champion: 1st place Aerobatics, 1st place Team, 1st place overall – Many expeditions throughout remote parts of the world including, Baffin Island, China, Norway, New Zealand & 37 other countries -1998 – 2003, 6 time Australian National Skydiving Champion in 4 way and 8 way RW – 2001 – 2003 Australian team member for World Championships – 2002 World Record: 300 way skydive – 12 Gold medals in various state events – and much more.
As you can imagine, our interview with Douggs was very insightful.
Chris: In skydiving and base jumping it’s (flow) called the zone, but I’ve never heard the actual technical term for it before.
Cameron: Yeah, yeah. It’s called different things. Jazz musicians call it ‘being in the pocket’. Different people have different names for it, but everyone knows it when you talk about it. You know, it’s that moment where we’re completely engulfed and everything’s just at one, we’re highly connected and time seems to pause, but then you come out of it and then time forwards winds, and you’re like “Oh my God, what just happened?”
Chris: I’ve written a number of articles it. There’s no past, no future, there’s just this present. I call it the now.
It’s an incredible feeling. And once you submit to it, that’s… Like, when you’re shaking on the edge or whatever, and then you commit and submit and take those three deep breaths then everything goes still and quiet, and then that beautiful silence that first second is just incredible…and then off we go, and then that’s when you hit it.
——————————– Chris on starting out ————————————-
Chris: Base jumping has been the best thing ever for me because it’s allowed me to take everything I’ve learnt in jumping and take it to ordinary life, which has just given me endless possibilities; there’s no negatives, only positives. There’s only… You know, the cup’s always half full now. I think that’s the right one. [laughs] Do you know what I mean? Like, I was lucky I got into base jumping super early and found it, and it just blew me away. I mean, on my first skydive I still blacked out for over five seconds, you know, so my brain wasn’t able to process that information at all.
But then I was intrigued by that, went straight back up and did another one. I’ve never been able to get that sensation again, except for—the closest I ever got was when we did a human slingshot a couple of years ago in Dubai, and long story—there’s a video online about it, but we were shooting out so fast that I think we were doing zero to 200 in about a second, about 6-7 Gs, I was able to process the information, but I was almost on my limit of processing it, it was interesting. It’s the only time I got that sensation (complete shut off) back since my first skydive.
I think it’s called sensory overload. It’s where your brain is just receiving too much information and it shuts down. But yeah, you never get it back really, so it’s interesting. I’ve always been intrigued from day one about it all.
——————————– Chris on his flow experiences ————————————-
Chris: Just when you see I’m in a really good state of flow I generally smile [laughs] because it’s just…I’m actually really relaxed. So, that jump (where I was smiling)… It took us five jumps that day to get to that point.
(When in flow) You can just see more, so I see things off in the distance, the cameraman sitting there, and I saw 15 seconds flying past at about 200 Ks/hour, and I smiled at him as I went past super casually. So, that’s… everything’s sort of… Almost happy. [laughs] Like, in this calm trance-like state, but like The Matrix, you know, like “Sh**, it’s actually moving fast” but you’ve just made it all stand still. That’s when I really enjoy it, because everyone’s like “Oh wow, you must get this big adrenaline rush when you do this!” and I’m like “I don’t actually.” [laughs] I get really, really calm and really tranquil.
I was just doing some stuff out of my comfort zone this last week, and sh**’s moving fast still, but when we get comfortable then everything just slows down and it’s just poetic almost; it’s beautiful.
You almost ~not~ feel invincible, that’s a good word for it. You’re just… you’re on another level to everyone and everything around you. I mean, that’s animal instinct, that’s what animals get. They’re always in flow [laughs].
Another way to explain it is, when we jump off a waterfall ~and~ jump in snow, you ~hit~ that microsecond of a point where everything stops, and if you’re in flow, which I generally am, you’d stop for a lot longer than a microsecond. You’re falling at the same speed as the water droplets, or the same speed as the snow, and whilst it’s only a microsecond you can make it last for seconds, and then it speeds up really quick! It’s exactly like the movies basically.
I mean, that’s what The Matrix did, The Matrix put flow into cinema, in my opinion. I always use The Matrix as my way to try and explain it best to the layman, because it shows it clearly on cinema how it all works.
——————————– Chris on his flow limits ————————————-
Chris: In traffic (driving)…I can ~miss~, I can can ~swirve~ and miss and do whatever, I just process that information really, really f**king quickly. And then — one that really stands out, my cousin’s a very good motorbike rider, and we did this trail riding – super fast, super thin – and I couldn’t (find flow) —it was the first time when I was like “Mother f**ker! I can’t keep up with my cousin!”
When he’s riding a bike he’s in flow for sure, but I couldn’t get there – I’m not good enough on a bike. That was the first time I really understood that I wasn’t… not invincible, and I can’t always find flow. Do you know what I mean? Because you walk around just feeling… not better than everyone else, just… like, you f**king own it all the time, you know, and that’s what makes a champion as well; you’ve got to be able to own it. Confidence and arrogance is a fine line, but you’ve got to walk that line all the time, you know.
More arrogant when you’re younger, more confident when you’re older. [laughs]
——————————– Chris on his preparation for flow ————————————-
Cameron: What prep helps you get into flow?
Chris: For me, training and visualisation for sure.
I mean, I jump all the time, and I’m doing extreme sports all the time. When I’m speed flying, I’m absolutely in flow when I’m speed flying as well, but not while I’m on skis, because I’m a sh** skier; as soon as I take off I can do anything. But training for sure. And I think over time being in mountainous environment and an ocean environment so much… you adapt.… Do you know a guy called Dean Potter?
Chris: Very ~advanced~ climber. He’s a good friend of mine now, and watching him in the mountains is just… He is a mountain man, you know, because he can adapt, he’s done so much time in the mountains that it’s second nature for him. He doesn’t use ropes pretty much ever. He can just climb mountains because he’s put himself in that situation. Same as the watermen, your Laird Hamiltons and stuff like that. If I put myself in a situation long enough then the more… And also, I do seminars on aerobatics in base, and what I learnt from doing hardcore aerobatics… You know, like from 450 feet doing four or five flips or whatever… Starting from single flips, learning and then pushing, pushing, pushing, pushing, getting to a point where… Like, for us it’s that we have to, I have to accept my own limitations way earlier than I would like – because I don’t want to die, you know – so I don’t run at 100% ever really.
But, what I’ve learnt was that coming back from say doing four-five flips on a jump to doing one flip on a jump opens the world up way more. So, you sort of need to push yourself that harder and see with blinkers on, to then pull back and be able to see the world with open eyes. That’s really interesting, and it’s very hard to tell a 20-year old kid to do that because they just want to go crazy. But after coming full circle I don’t generally do all the big flips anymore, I just do the slow rotating ones. I’d be upside down, waving at people in a restaurant off a building or something, because I’m in the flow. But being able to do heaps of flips first has helped me reach that perspective. So, now my brain expects me to do all that stuff, and then when I ~lay it back~ a bit then the brain’s like “Oh yeah, this is much cooler!” [laughs] So, I teach people to not fly with blinkers on with everything they doing, to work themselves up to it and not rush into it. Work themselves up to it, and then when you pull back you’re good. But on the other spectrum of that, the guys—I mean, we’ve just lost a friend last year. They were pushing, pushing, pushing; their 100% performance became a normal percent. My normal performance is 30-50 percent now, just because I’ve lost so many friends and I’m having such a great life. But these guys are pushing so hard, their normal becomes 100%. And you almost need 100% sometimes, because we’re not perfect humans, so when these guys need an extra spike they didn’t have it and died from it.
So, I try and teach that a lot as well, because… Yeah, running at 100% all the time… that’s not good for our sport. It’s not surfing where you can sort of get away with it, or skating where you’ll break your ankle or something – we generally die. So, our sport… Whilst our sport is actually one of the safest extreme sports out there, when it goes wrong we die – it’s very simple. It’s not a broken ankle or things like that, so it’s a real tricky one for helping others with that.
Cameron: Yeah, yeah. I mean, it’s ~powerful~ what makes the skydiving such an amazing sport for flow, in terms of flow, when you think about it. You know, the consequences are so high when you’re pushing it that you’re almost forced into a state of flow. Your senses engage, the mind has to shut off because it just… it can’t compute everything that’s going on and make those decisions that you need to make, and you’re forced into it. What do you do just before you jump off? You mentioned earlier, you said you take a couple of deep breaths and you kind of sit there.
Chris: Yeah. Like, off a cliff—planes are different because it’s so noisy and you’ve got to go at the same time, but from a cliff I’ll gear up. These days I’ll just—well, obviously I’ve got a lot of jumps, so it definitely has evolved, but I’m always scared, that’s one key; I’m always making sure I stay scared. That’s one of the key aspects to getting into flow I reckon as well, don’t be overconfident with everything. And then… Yeah, so I’ll gear up and I’ll prep myself on everything. So, the weather, my skill level, my gut feeling that day, the object that I’m jumping off. You know, because sometimes I’ll walk away as well, and sometimes I won’t jump stuff that my students jump. You know, I have my own little… my own path.
But then once I’m geared up I’ll double-check, triple-check everything, make sure I’m cool, and then that way when I go to the edge the only thing I’m scared of is being scared. That’s a key for me as well, because then your mind doesn’t have to think about anything else, it can channel in and focus. And then when it’s time to go… Yeah, generally I’ll be freaking out, but that’s… You’ve got to turn that negative fear into a positive fear. That’s when I’ll take three (deep breaths)—because you’re going to do it anyway [laughs], so you might as well do it correctly. You know, if it gets too much I’d walk away and stuff, but I understand my body and my consciousness.
So yeah, when it is time to go I’ll take… basically calm down, take three deep breaths, and on the third breath or fourth breath or whatever I’ll generally just head off. And that way just before you go you’re completely calm, very tranquil, and about to throw yourself into the unknown. But, I mean, if it’s the unknown unknown then that’s another ball game… Like, I do know the outcome could be bad, but it’s a calculated risk, so it’s a very small chance as such, but it could definitely still happen any jump – I’m no more special than anyone else. But once you put yourself in that position and you go then it’s on, and then you’re just hyperaware of everything.
I’ll always put myself in uncomfortable positions. Like, just recently I was doing this seminar in front of 120 legends of the sport, and then putting myself up to do a song actually at the ~talent night~ in front of the same people.
And I was—they saw me physically shaking with the lyrics, you know, and I still put myself there even though it was f**king terrifying.
But, you know, I like doing that. The song was a good one because I was so nervous and my voice was so sh**ful, and then by the end I’ve got the whole crowd clapping and singing with me because I’d entered flow basically in a different environment and just went into rockstar mode sort of thing, without the talent by the way.
And by the end I was good, and then afterwards I’m like f**king ~freaking~ out again, but I’d hit that for about a minute of that song, I hit the flow basically. And same with the talks as well, you start out nervous. Dean Potter actually helped me, trying to—I try to do as much motivational speaking as I can now to overcome one of my biggest fears, and he said “Just learn the first two sentences.” [laughs] “Just memorise the first two sentences. You’ve got to start ~say~, and the rest will just pick up in your state of flow basically.”
——————————– Chris on his preparation for flow ————————————-
We would like to thank Douggs for his time and insight. We look forwards to following and helping Douggs in his future expeditions.
Dropping down 70ft waterfalls whilst pinned into a kayak is not for the fainthearted. However, for Nick Troutman, this is what he lives for. Most people would hit the panic alarm, but Nick is so used to getting into flow, he even does emergency adjustments as he is dropping vertically.
Nick Troutman is a world champion and five-time national champion kayaker, filmmaker, and philanthropist. He is highly respected in the river-sport community, and in addition to his competitive achievements has established several first descents while on expeditions in Mexico, Newfoundland, Ottawa, Zambia, Quebec, and the Niagara Gorge. His commitment to the river and exceptional kayaking skills are what drove us to track him down and ask him to join The Flow Centre.
To share some of his key insights we have created this blog so you can get to understand this unbelievable athlete.
Nick: We are driving around, checking out a whole bunch of different rivers and stuff.
Cameron: Nice! How long are you there for?
Nick: We’re on the road probably for the next 8 to 10 months, I guess probably 8 months – until like October, November. So, driving around in different states and countries and stuff like that.
Cameron: Yeah – tough life! (laughs)
Nick: Then back to Tennessee. Yeah, it’s not too bad. (chuckle)
——————————– Cut to more juicy parts ————————————-
When asked about whether he has experienced flow Nick’s response was:
Nick: Yeah, definitely – you’ve studied it a lot and are very knowledgeable on the whole thing, but what you’re describing… I definitely have experienced that, and it’s like “Oh yeah.”
Then there’s the times where…it seems like… like an out-of-body experience, or that like you’re no longer in control; where you’re like “Whoa, how did that happen?!”
I guess the cool part would be to figure out how to get into it more often, being that whenever I’m in the flow state I feel like I’m just way better.
——————————– Nick explaining his top flow moments ————————————-
Nick: I guess one of them… It happened several times, but one of them that’s has been very memorable for me was… Actually, it’s in the video I think, the highlight reel, where I’m running a waterfall, I’m in the green kayak and I slow it down in the video. Running that waterfall, we were there with a photographer and we kind of had to wait at the ~lip~ for like a couple of hours for him to get set up. And so the whole time of trying to just sit there calmly and be like “Okay, I’m not even going to think about the waterfall. I scouted it, I know the line and I’m going to nail the line.” type of thing, but then I had to really focus on, like zoning out and thinking about something totally different for the next couple of hours… Because the longer I scout the waterfall and look at the waterfall, the more I… what I call getting demons in my head, but the more I think of different possible outcomes, and then maybe after thinking of all the different possible outcomes a bad outcome comes into my mind, and I’m like “Well, if I’m already imagining bad outcomes then I don’t want to run the waterfall anymore.” so I try to only think of the good outcomes.
But anyway, it was kind of this weird experience to zone out at the ~lip of this~ waterfall and just think of other stuff. And then when I did run the waterfall, it’s almost like… hard for me to recall, because it’s like I paddled in, and then I knew the line that I wanted to do – like, get close to the left – but then my boat spun a little bit and I had to do this correction stroke and pull it back while I was dropping down vertical – like, a lot of different boat control happening all at once. And I don’t necessarily remember doing any of it, I just did it. There was never like an “Oh, sh**! I’m not where I want to be, I need to correct this.” or “Oh, it would be better if I did this.“ It was just like… I wasn’t thinking, I just did it all and it was perfect.
Then afterwards I remember being like “Oh, what just happened? How did I do that?” Like, I did a lot of things in a very short period of time and I don’t remember trying to do any of them, I just did it all. It was just one of those experiences that I guess I felt like I wasn’t thinking, I was just reacting, but reacting so quickly.
That was one of the ones that was super memorable for me, but that happens quite often to a certain extent, where you just kind of react I guess and you’re not necessarily… not thinking necessarily like “Oh, I’m going to put here and pull myself that way, or I’m going to do this and that.” – you just kind of do it. I don’t know if that has to do with ~just several~ years of paddling, or if it’s some other thing in the brain, it’s kind of like just… I don’t know. There’s a lot of things that happen that always made me wonder, like “Oh, I wonder how you do that?” or “I wonder ~what’s actually happening?” Because sometimes it feels like my brain just shuts off and I’m better when it does.
It was a very unique experience where just everything felt all connected and I could do whatever I wanted, it was almost like if I imagined it would work. Everything was happening quicker and better and easier, and… I don’t know….a unique experience for sure. That’s probably the strongest time that I can really remember, but it happens quite often doing anything that’s—like, what I consider technical whitewater, where I’m nervous about a drop or a rapid or something like that, I frequently find that I kind of… I don’t know, I just… I guess you can call it like you’re in the zone, or you’re just more in-tuned maybe because of… Whether it’s fear or any of that that kicks in, or adrenaline, but sometimes the harder the whitewater the more I zone out and just react a little bit.
I keep saying reacting, and I don’t know if that’s the right term or not, but I guess it’s just the word that I use because I’m not necessarily thinking like “Oh, I want to drive my boat farther this way or that way, or boof the hole or whatever.” I kind of just do it all, almost as if I’m on autopilot and a much better paddler is paddling my boat.
Cameron: So what about your freestyle experiences?
Nick: Yeah, I was going to say that in freestyle it’s a bit different… I don’t know if it’s a different experience or what, or maybe just a different level of the same kind of experience, but there’s definitely times where… a couple in particular that I can think of where I just had the best rides I could possibly have. I don’t know if it’s—like obviously I was training hard for those events and practicing a lot and was in good physical shape and all that stuff, but at the same time it’s a little different because you drop into the wave – and you’ve got 60 seconds or 45 seconds, depending on the competition – and it was just like bam-bam-bam, like I would just do one move right after another, right after another.
I wasn’t wasting time, I wasn’t doing anything, but I was very aware of where I was on the wave exactly, just super in-tune with my boat, my edge control, the current, the flows of the wave itself, and it just felt like I was almost invincible, the same kind of thing where whatever I wanted to do I could do and I did it. Being that you’re under a time limit for the competition, the more tricks you do and the harder the tricks the more points you get, so… Yeah, I was able to do essentially everything that I wanted to do.
Cameron: So what routines or preparation did you have prior to the comp that helped you get into flow?
Going into the competition I had a set routine that I wanted to do, but I hadn’t necessarily ever completed it in the time frame before or even in practice. But it was just like I could just drop in and do whatever I wanted, and if I was in the wrong spot of the wave or something like that then I could just re-manoeuvre myself and I could get back into the right spot and continue going way quicker than normal. I guess a lot of it is just you’re not wasting time thinking, you’re just doing, which is pretty cool.
Both of them I was doing a lot of mental practice, just essentially doing the routine in my head. But a lot of it as well was just really trying to stay positive. In both situations there was a lot of pressure and a lot of people… You’re sitting in agony with all the rest of the people that are in finals, and there’s just this severe amount of stress in the air, you can just feel that everybody is stressed. For me, at the time it was like… I had this bubble around me, and I would just be so happy and try to calm everybody else down. I’d be like “Hey guys, no need to stress! This is so much fun!” and just really being super positive about the whole experience, and I think that same positivity then, when I would drop into the ~feature~, there was no stress about flushing or missing a trick or anything like that, and just… I don’t know, I just had this feeling like I know I’m going to do it (Win World Championships).
Maybe that’s why I was also so positive at the time, or maybe that feeling came because of the positive outlook beforehand. But yeah, that’s… It’s a very unique experience for sure. It’s a little bit like feeling invincible.
——————————– Nick explaining the disparity between flow and winning ————————————-
Nick: The first World Championships I ever did, I had a lot of really good rounds where I was winning the whole time, and then in the finals the wave changed for the very last ride, and I had… At the time I was undefeated through the whole round, and I had this routine in my head that I was trying to do and I had never completed it, and then in my final ride of the event I completed it and I was just thinking like “Oh, I’m untouchable – nobody could touch that!” But, because the wave changed and it was a little foamier, some of the judges didn’t like some of the tricks, and so I ended up in third. I guess it’s a different thing (flow) to your results… Like, sometimes your results don’t show, but the flow state still is there, if that makes any sense. Like, I could still tap into that same mindset, even though the results weren’t the exact same.
——————————– Nick explaining why he endures such high risks and continues to love the sport ————————————-
Nick: It almost forces you to go into these fight, flight, freeze, or flow situations where… Like, I was explaining before, once you peel out of an eddy and you’re essentially approaching a rapid… There is no turning back, you’re in the lion den, you have to come out victorious, or something horrible is going to go wrong. I’ve always explained when people ask why I love kayaking, I would explain that it’s either the love of nature, which is definitely a part of it, but a big part of it is the forced decision-making. You’re forced into these situations to make extremely quick decisions. Like, river’s very different than a half-pipe, a half-pipe you’ve got something solid where you’re going to go down and you’re going to come back up.
You can run the same rapid 100 times, and because water, the way it flows through a river and stuff like that, it’s never constant – the only constant is that it’s constantly changing. So, even though you can pick a line and you’re like “Okay, this is the line I’m going to take.” the current might push you a different way, or something might just happen, and definitely… A huge part of why I love kayaking is because of that forced quick decision-making, and it’s almost like the way you were explaining just the four… What I’m going to call the four Fs, the fight, flight, freeze, or flow situations. It’s like you’re forcing yourself into these situations to be put into, to choose one of the four I guess.
——————————– End of interview ————————————-
We would like to thank Nick for his time and insight. We look forwards to following and helping Nick win Gold in the next championships.
This year’s World Surf League Margaret River Drug Aware Pro 2015 was a truly special event. Not only did I get to spend some time in the Competitors VIP Tent talking with the current best surfers in the world, but I also got to see some insane surfing in some of the best conditions this leg of the tour has seen in years. Some highlights of the event can be seen here.
I met up with Tom Carroll at the event to chat about flow and understand how it has been instrumental to his life and surfing. For those that don’t know Tom Carroll he has been voted as one of the top 10 greatest surfers of all time and been crowned World Champion twice. Even today, at the age of 53, he continues to push limits, searching the globe to ride the world’s biggest swells for his TV series ‘Storm Surfers’. In fact, when I met up with him, he had just taken a huge beating, injuring his hip, at the intimidating Boat Ramps surf break – a break not for the feint hearted, especially on a day like today with massive swell.
After speaking to Nat Young and Josh Kerr about flow, whose responses echoed the sentiment ‘flow – I’m always in flow, it’s what a I live for’, the legend himself talked about how he sees flow and how he plugs-in.
Cameron: Where’s the mic on this… down here. Maybe you hold it.
Tom: “Okay, yeah.”
Cameron: How did you feel when you’re in it (Flow) and what was your top experiences like?
Tom: “Well, I had my first really clear flow movement experience when I was 13 years of age. Obviously I’ve done a lot of surfing, to that point, I’ve been already surfing since seven years of age. I was on a board that I absolutely loved, that really fitted into my body at that time. I was surfing a right-hand point-break which I hadn’t experienced before, but it was a very comfortable place to surf, or something that—I loved surfing a long wave where I got to do a lot of maneuvres on the wave. It was probably for the first time I’d actually ridden a wave where I could do that many maneuvres on, so I was pretty excited. You know, just excited to be out there, loved the board, so I was in a very nice environment. And then, towards the end of the session… I never forget, taking a wave a little bit longer and further down the beach and getting drifted down the beach to a whole new wave.”
“There was no one surfing on it, I was by myself so I got into the flow moment, which I recognised as a moment in time where nothing could go wrong. All my timing was absolutely perfectly in harmony with the wave, perfectly in harmony with my body movements and my timing and my understanding of what was happening at that time. I couldn’t get, I could not fall off the board even if I tried. That was a really clear moment, and I can feel it now, I can sense it in my body at this point – I’m 53 now so it’s a long time ago! So yeah, you’re looking at 40 years ago I can sort of get that real clear emotional response in my body to that.”
“It was a really lovely feeling, and I just wanted to stay out there and keep in that space, but obviously you’ve got to come in – you know, it’s getting dark.”
“It could’ve lasted—I can’t remember exactly the length of that time, but because of the nature of surfing… You know, I’m paddling out, looking for waves, feeling what’s the best wave to take, feeling the drop, feeling the move on the wave, and feeling totally in sync with how the wave was moving, and the board and how I was moving on the wave. It probably lasted up to… You know, I probably came in and out of the experience through that hour or two, but it was long, elongated, suspended… a suspended feeling of flow.”
Cameron: Yeah. Describe when you were actually in it and on the wave, ~sort of~ the highest points.
Tom: “Yeah, yeah. The highest points was on the wave…
“I’d noticed clearly that I couldn’t fall off, that I was totally in sync. I could move wherever I wanted to, I knew with a sixth sense that I was able to push it, I was able to push my board to its limit and I could push myself to my limit at that time. There was no separation between me, the board and the wave, it was all connected and it was all kind of one thing, not separated at all; I was linked up”
“The future, drawing way off into the future for my second really clear… and in competition feeling the flow moment was at the Pipe Masters in 1991, I had two day of getting into the flow moment during competition. I’d had a big year of competitive experience that year, I was ~fine-tuned~ emotionally, physically, and you’d have to say spiritually at the same time. My wife was having our first child and she was full of little Jenna. She’s 23 now by the way and also a ballerina, so she’s felt the flow.”
“In that time at the Pipe Masters I had several moments where I was just doing and not being, or I guess I was being and not doing; I don’t know how to separate that. I was in the flow in the moments where my body, the wave, the board… nothing was in the way. Everything was in sync, everything was in clear focus and I wasn’t thinking things through, I was just doing it and being it. There was a move that was recorded – you know, they call it the snap ~heard~ around the world, there was that move that was done in the preliminary round, in the first day of competition, and then I ended up going on to win that event the next day. In the final I scored a 10-point ride, I got a very, very late drop where I couldn’t think about it – I was just doing it – and I was able to sort myself, sort my body movement, sort everything out without having to think about it.”
“It was all second nature, it was all sixth sense, and most definitely for me… That day I was probably at the top of my game. So, yeah. That was two really clear examples of where I’ve been, but there’s probably been… hundreds of moments where I’ve been felt the flow, and even to the point where I felt it the other day [laughs] here at Margaret River just practicing surfing, just for fun. Yeah.”
Cameron: Obviously the critical elements of surfing, the big wave and the consequences of it hurting when it goes wrong help us to kind of push into that pocket and out of our brain and into that moment where we find flow. Is there anything else that you feel is a big help to kind of plugging into that? Is there anything that you do, maybe not consciously, or maybe preparation that leads up to it the morning of, or just before you’re about to paddle, or when you’re looking at the waves before you head out?
Tom: “I think connecting with the breath is probably the biggest thing for me. Connecting with my breath at the deepest level, like right down into the hip, into the hips and push my breath. Being aware of my breath and doing a number of breaths very, very consciously brings me further into my body, and that’s where I need to be. Quite often my scattered and very short attention span takes me out of my body, so coming back into my body… One particular exercise I used to do whilst competing was a chant, that’s where I used to say the four Ps which was power, precision, performance, perfect. Power, precision, performance, perfect – it’s like a chant.”
Cameron: A mantra.
Tom: “A mantra yeah – whilst I was paddling, so each paddle I’d say “power”—as I was paddling out “power, precision, performance, perfect” so my mind would remain focused on what was coming up next for me on the wave. On the wave everything sorted out because I’ve got to respond, I can’t think, the wave’s always sort of drawing me to the present, I can’t… I don’t have time because mother nature aint’ going to wait for me. [laughs] She’s not going to wait, so what I’ve got to do is respond to her so that everything’s sorted out for me once I’m stood up on the wave, as long as I’m out of the way. So, getting myself out of the way by creating—and I’d learnt that working with a mantra helped a lot in bringing myself to the moment and keeping myself focused and not attending—you know, drifting off on to what the other competitor’s doing, what the scores were… I mean, I need to know what the scores were, but that’s secondary to my performance really.”
“I’m the only one on the wave, I’m the only one on my board, and I need to be connected to that. I don’t sort of seek constantly and consciously to always be in the flow, I wouldn’t say that’s my main aim, I wouldn’t say that’s… I do look for it for competitive excellence, but not… it’s not something that I always, always go for. I do allow myself space to be… you know, just to be… allowing my brain to move and be elastic so to speak. Because I think that’s absolutely crucial for flow.”
Cameron: How do you think flow can help other people?
Tom: “I think it helps anyone just to be present in what they’re doing, and this is what… this is pretty much another kind of meditative state that we get to where our body and mind and attention is really placed upon the most important thing, and that is right now. So, we get to attend to be a lot more present in our basic everyday task, whether it’d be doing the washing-up [laughs], whether it’d be opening the car door, whether it’d be… Yeah, just being more present in our relationships, being more present in our life in general. I think ~it’ll~ help us become more able to make clearer decisions and actually help ourselves and others at the same time. It has such a multiple sort of faceted kind of plus to our lives when we get more present. This has been my experience and it’s helped me a lot.
We would like to take this opportunity to thank Tom Carroll for his time and words on flow and look forward to hearing his experiences and wisdom on flow in the future.