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?
“Practice dear Watson, practice!” (Sherlock Holmes)
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’?