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.
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.
In skydiving and base jumping it’s (flow) called the zone, but I’ve never heard the actual technical term for it before.
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?”
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 ————————————-
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 ————————————-
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 ————————————-
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 ————————————-
What prep helps you get into flow?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
Where’s the mic on this… down here. Maybe you hold it.
How did you feel when you’re in it (Flow) and what was your top experiences like?
“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.”
Yeah. Describe when you were actually in it and on the wave, ~sort of~ the highest points.
“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.”
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?
“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.”
“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.”
How do you think flow can help other people?
“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.
Andrew is a performance coach currently working in New Zealand at the U21 Football World Cup. He kindly agreed to an interview with The Flow Centre so we could pick his brains about how he helps top athletes to plug into flow and peak performance.
Andrew starts by quickly reminding us that: “Flow is a skill itself”. It is a state that we can train for and experience in our everyday lives. When we think about flow as a unique mental state that is not combined with notions of luck or some illusive magic space that finds us at random, we can then empower ourselves to find flow frequently in our lives.
“If you want to find flow in your performance, practise it in training…we need to practice under pressure.” His words echo one of The Flow Centre’s core messages – if we want to experience flow, then we need to train for it.
Andrew has formed a company called Brain Builder, which is built around the philosophy: “Living above the line everyday, day in and day out”. He says this phrase means that we need to adopt a ruthless mindset to succeed and leave nothing to the “too hard basket”. It is a phrase that we can use to instantly assess how we are doing in any given situation – are we above the line?
He states we must replicate the performance environment in our training and life as a whole. “Performing at a high level is not a magic switch that we turn on and off…..preparation is key…..you have to guarantee you are doing the best you can in everything you do”. Andrew reminds athletes that we have to be above the line on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, not just on game day.
One of the primary issues he says athletes face is performing under pressure. Sound familiar? He says: “Pressure is a concept and different for everyone…..when you put your whole self into the performance….and approach pressure with our competitive fire – never give up attitude – the pressure reduces.”
“Its very hard to make it as a professional…so if we are not willing to make our bed in the morning how can we expect to make it in professional sport.”
When asked about the availability of flow for the average Joe, he replied: “If you put yourself above the line you will be amazed how many flow opportunities come available.” He goes on to say: “It is absurd to think flow is reserved for the elite few…..I see students enter flow everyday.” Later in the interview he sums it up concisely: “Flow is not a magic tablet…it takes practice…but we can experience it multiple times a day.”
Andrew describes the flow state as a split screen experience of the event. He explains that sometimes we have a ‘helicopter’ view and see things from a distance, as if we are looking down on ourselves. Sometimes we are the ‘ant’, looking at the minute detail that only an ant digging in the dirt can see.
How can we practically experience flow more frequently in our lives?
“Control our breathing. If we can take a moment to invest…ten seconds…to control our breathing and really focus on that…we can control our thoughts a lot better.”
He continued to say the second piece of advice he offers is to detach from the situation. Understand whether the pressure is situational pressure or pressure from within. Once we understand the situation better we can gain clarity and control.
What is the difference between good/best performers and great performers?
“In a one word answer: mindset. For me, this means an unshakeable self-belief…..No matter how the odds are stacked up against us the greats have a never give up attitude…..The greats always find a way…they have an inner core and unshakeable self-belief.”
“Willingness to put yourself out of the comfort zone and not be afraid of failure builds layers of self-belief.”
We would like to thank Andrew for his time and thoughts on flow and peak performance. If you would like to find out more about Andrew, then please get in contact and we will connect the dots, or you can find him on Twitter: @mcbride_andy
Tapping into flow is addictive. Thousands of people around the world are hunting it down day-after-day without even understanding what they are searching for. This is part of the reason The Flow Centre exists: to explore the different ways people tap into flow and use this to generate the body of knowledge to allow anyone anywhere to access its power. This article is about extreme exercise and how this can be an entry point into flow.
Not everyone has accessed flow through exercise before. It’s definitely not easy and takes both physical and mental training to achieve. Flow in athletics is commonly referred to as ‘the zone’ or ‘peak performance’. For events such as marathons, bike races, triathalons and Ironmans, flow is accessed through the extreme stresses put on the body. If you have taken The Flow Centre course you will understand that part of the break down of our mental states is when we engage in fight, flight or freeze responses during pressured scenarios; as opposed to adopting flow. These pressured scenarios and responses we choose to adopt are as applicable in the extreme exercise realm as any.
There are a number of mental hurdles that occur as you go through progressively more intense phases of exercise. I’ve experienced this myself and have occasionally accessed flow states. The times that I have were absolute bliss, which is part of the reason I am addicted to, and passionate about bringing intensity to sport. Lets go through the barriers that exist before you even get close to achieving flow or ‘the zone’ though exercise.
A huge part of being healthy and active is physical fitness. You hear it every day and know it well. But flow is the next level reason for why you should get fit. Without a baseline level of fitness it will be impossible to traverse beyond the first barrier of exercise and flow. The first barrier is the initial physical discomfort of training. As you train, your brain is getting massive amounts of input. It is continuously processing our experiences in order to make the next decision. Breathing right, moving right, fatigue, muscle soreness are all part of the package of neural input your brain is processing. If it’s new to you, the initial physical discomfort will dominate your mind. All you will be able to think is ‘when is this going to be over’, ‘how much more do I have to do’, or ‘I want to stop’. This is all a normal part of getting into shape. This first barrier is unfortunately where 80% of the population stops. We are evolutionarily wired to take the path of least resistance so it’s only natural to expect that most people stop here. Hence the constant on and off phases of exercise, diets and fads that people go through.
For those who are lucky enough to persist and get past this phase and gain a baseline level of fitness, a multiple or further physical barriers will present themselves. These barriers are where athletes might believe that they are not capable of anything beyond this point. However. these hurdles are actually more mental than physical. The human body is capable of amazing things but mental barriers must be pushed through to achieve them. Each time a new mental barrier presents itself you are faced with a few different options. Fight, flight, freeze or flow. Only through practice and persistence will you be able to choose flow more often; assuming we already have the necessary fitness required to complete the task.
After pushing through a number of these fatigue barriers and experiencing a number of ‘second winds’ your mind becomes more engaged in the moment. Higher centres for conceptualising and planning are no longer important so they are shut off. The priority becomes getting through the current circumstance or event so extreme presence and flow is accessed.
Tips to finding your flow in exercise:
Look for extreme pressure/intensity in your exercise as a way to plug you into flow
Actively choose flow over fight, flight and freeze. Do so using a simple exercises that plugs you into the moment. Focus on your breath.
Make sure your fitness is above adequate for the task
Look for flow through all your exercises
Know your body first, then push your limits. When the body says stop keep going. Do this gradually to avoid injury.
So there you have it. Find your flow through exercise. Push through the barriers and choose flow over flight, fight, or freeze responses though practice and perseverance.