Work more, Earn more, Buy more, Show more… Sound familiar?
Why is society stuck in a cycle of more, more, more? Does keeping up with the Jones’ actually lead to fulfillment? Does ruthlessly driving to achieve each tick box every day actually make us feel more content? If we know the answer is no, then why do we continue to behave this way?
Why do so many of us continue to work until we are ill or spend money we don’t have to keep up with the status quo, when it doesn’t seem to make us happy.
The majority of us are stuck reacting to our stressors and ‘doing what needs to be done’ to pay the bills. Indeed surviving, rather than thriving, has become normalised whilst we continuously miss out on feeling fulfilled and performing to our best. Yet with a simple paradigm shift we can change these habits.
Well, if we want to break this cycle all it takes is a little introspection to understand our motivation…
Take Charge of Your Habits
Taking charge of our habits is critical to a happy and meaningful life. Managing our states, or ‘HOW’ we act, determines not only what we do and how well we do it, but how we feel whilst doing it. So often we look to external things or people to feel better; we will even change our job, friends, or where we live in the hope of feeling better. We take our attention externally, when the answer lies on internally managing our motivational habits.
Before learning about managing our motivational habits, it helps to first explore the psychology of motivation. It can help to explain why we think the way we think and why we do what we do. Let’s start at the beginning.
Motivational Psychology 101
Early understandings of motivation were dominated by mechanistic theories, such as psychoanalysis and behaviourism (i.e. Pinder, 1984). Freud (1915/1927) believed that humans are driven to engage in behaviours from our basic instincts and the interaction of these instincts with the environmental constraints. For example, humans are driven to reproduce, and therefore may communicate with certain people over others because it is perceived as being their best chance of reproducing.
Behavioural approaches went on to emphasise the associations between stimuli, responses, and reinforcements (Skinner, 1953, 1971). Essentially behaviour was explained by our desire to seek out pleasant outcomes or/and avoid punishing and unpleasant consequences. It was thought that without extrinsic drivers’ humans would become quiescent. This approach explained a lot but largely excluded our internal processes as reasons for driving behaviour.
Later animal studies contributed towards an incline of research surrounding internal drivers for motivation. For example, White (1959) looked at how certain animals had a desire to explore and effectively interact with the environment. In line with this thinking Woodworth (1918, 1958), in his ‘behaviour-primacy theory’, and then Allport (1937) with his notion of ‘functional autonomy’ posited that humans can engage in certain activities for intrinsic reasons only. This train of thought led to Maslow (1954) distinguishing between an individual’s hierarchy of needs. From the basic motivational drivers of sex, food, and safety, to the higher-order drivers such as competency and self-actualisation, an individual was deemed to have a multitude of drivers that were both extrinsic and intrinsic. Fast forward fifty years and the most widely accepted theory of motivation, ‘Self-Determination Theory’, still focuses on an individuals’ intrinsic and extrinsic motives that are engineered to facilitate our basic needs of (a) competence (i.e., to control one’s environment and experience mastery); (b) relatedness (i.e., to interact and connect with others); and (c) autonomy (i.e., to be self-determining and the causal agent of one’s life).
Still with me?
Intrinsic motivation is defined as engagement in the activity for inherent satisfaction (Ryan & Deci, 2000), whereas extrinsic motivation is apparent when motives or goals outside the activity exist. Like many deCharms (1968) proposed that engagement in extrinsic rewards or motives diminish one’s intrinsic motivation because it shifts the locus of causality away from the individual to the extrinsic reward. In short, although certain kinds of external regulation, such as affirmation or feedback can help to facilitate intrinsic motivation if fulfilling deeper needs of perceived competence or a sense of autonomy, both performance and well-being increase when intrinsic motives are high.
Practically speaking, motivational psychology 101 helps us to understand that if we can proactively assess why we are doing what we are doing and find an intrinsic motive for engaging in the activity, then we can amplify our performance and enrich our experience.
So how does Flow fit into all of this?
Flow and Intrinsic Motivation
Well Flow is often seen as the pinnacle of intrinsic motivation. Classified as an autotelic experience (derived from the Greek words auto (meaning ‘self ’) and telos (meaning ‘goal’)), one of the main outcomes of Flow is that the experience is intrinsically rewarding and people return to the activity for the sheer pleasure of participation. The painter paints, not to have multiple paintings, but because painting is immersive and fun. The climber climbs the mountain, not to get to the top, but because of the climbing. Thus, Flow research became a phenomenon in academia in regard to understanding intrinsic motivation. And it is why finding Flow in our lives is so important. Flow is central to our performances and finding a sense of well-being in our lives.
So how can we build a strong sense of intrinsic motivation in our lives? How can we become so inspired that we don’t even have to think about our motivations?
Learning to be inspired may be the key to gaining control over your motivational habits, yet for many, being inspired is not a habit we proactively foster. Being inspired brings out the best in someone. At the polar opposite of being depressed, inspiration lifts us out of our day-to-day habits. It lightens our mood and invites us to engage without the inner critic playing havoc. For those precious inspired moments, we let go of the normal stress that grips our lives and have the opportunity to act with focus and commitment – and find Flow.
Although there is no magic pill we can pop to sustain our inspiration, we can create positive habits that give us the best chance of finding our true inspirations. So that you don’t go away empty handed we have created a list of practices for you to integrate into your life. Practice these positive habits and allow yourself to become inspired.
- Meet new people
- Always be learning
- Follow what you believe
- Find solitude and silence
- Integrate the self -belief that ‘Anything is possible’
- Assume the position that ‘There is no failure only feedback’
- Slow down
- Manage your state before starting an activity – Always
- Use images over words to explain your goals and dreams
- Follow your curiosity
The next time you find yourself questioning what you are doing. Check-in. Are you being driven by extrinsic rewards or reasons? If so, find some inherently satisfying aspects to the task and focus your attention on it.
Written by Jess Stout and Cameron Norsworthy
“Just because you can’t plan everything, doesn’t mean you can’t be ready for something.” – Charles Hunt (TEDx)
Life challenges us everyday. From minor setbacks like spilling coffee on our shirt before a meeting, to the more tragic and traumatic events that stop us in our tracks, adversity demands change. And as we well know, lacks the courtesy of showing up in predictable, well-measured doses.
Individually, and as a society, we struggle with the curve balls of life, and perhaps now more than ever. The Australian Bureau of Statistics has revealed anxiety as the most prevalent mental health condition affecting, on average, 1 in 4 Australians and depression affecting, on average, 1 in 7 Australians.
These statistics indicate we may not be coping as well as we’d like when it comes to managing our increasingly complex, and demanding lives. And yet, there are always people who astound us with their ability to overcome extreme trials and tribulations, and ultimately, better their lives. Having fallen down a hole, these people have learnt how to get themselves out quickly and efficiently. They have cultivated resilience.
1 – Challenge your Thoughts
Dr Franz Alexander, “The fact that the mind rules the body is…the most fundamental fact which we know about the process of life.”
You may be familiar with the saying that nothing is ever as bad as you think it is. Therefore, it is worth examining your thoughts before blindly accepting them as truth. Where do they come from? Who put them there? Our beliefs about our ability to cope with the struggles of life are influenced (more than we know) by our environment; not only by the thoughts/opinions of our family, friends and loved ones, but by the values and expectations imposed on us by society (Olsson et al, 2003). Leading media and advertisement author Jean Kilbourne reveals that we are subjected to over 3,000 ads per day. In essence, these ads always highlight the same thing: your life is missing something. You don’t have it all together, and how could you? You don’t have the perfect job, right education, fulfilling relationship, bikini body, winning smile or trendy wardrobe. When you believe the false messages that you are incomplete, you are encouraged to search outside of yourself for the answer. You reach to pills, the doctor, anyone or anything that can help you cope when adversity comes your way. Knowing that you already have everything you need to get you through any situation, is the first step towards resilience. In flow, we refer to this as control of your inner life, and it is integral to a happy, harmonious existence.
So for this month of March, make a commitment to yourself that when adversity strikes you will not get swept up by a whirlwind of toxic thoughts and dumped far out at sea.
Instead, give yourself a moment to stop, breathe, and critically ask, “By me feeling miserable about myself, who stands to gain?
Are the thoughts I am having going to help me grow, or help me stay the victim?”
Take control and guard your inner world.
2 – Flip it Around
Sometimes it just feels like we’re a target. One thing happens after the next in a string of ‘bad luck’ incidents and we find ourselves exclaiming, “Why me?!”
The important thing here is to learn not to perceive such incidents as personal threats. Don’t ‘own’ the problem. Things happen irrespective of whether they are convenient for you or not, and may in fact, be entirely unrelated to you and your actions.
If we take negative events personally, we often respond in fear. And fear is a paralysing, demoralising place to be because it strips us of feeling in control of our lives and our actions. It prevents us from coping in a transformational way.
On the other hand, taking a healthy, objective stance to a problem helps us stay connected with the ‘big picture’. Stepping away from our ego, allows us to consider that perhaps there was a greater purpose behind our setback in the larger scheme of things. Not only can this help to alleviate our burden and pain, but it enables us to remain in flow with life. Keeping perspective and staying present (not internally obsessed) means a solution will more readily appear.
Founder of flow, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, urges, “Almost every situation we encounter in life presents possibilities for growth.” See adversity as a challenge, not an attack.
3 – Stay Connected
The most important protective factor to stress and disadvantage that emerged from the current research was ‘connectedness’. In ‘The Gifts of Imperfection’ Brené Brown described this as a ‘spirituality’ separate from religion or theology. Rather, a belief of shared connection with a greater, more powerful source and with other beings, rooted in love and compassion.
In recent studies exploring preventative measures for adolescent anxiety and depression, it was found that level of ‘school connectedness’ was the strongest independent predictor of future depressive symptoms (Ian Shochet et al, 2006). Here, school connectedness was defined as the extent to which students believed they were a valued part of their school and classroom.
Ultimately, the need to feel connected to others and to a higher purpose is not unique. And experiencing this ‘connectedness’ is more than just having a positive outlook. It is a deeply-held trust, respect and faith within ourselves and for others, that aligns us with the greater purpose of our lives.
Elisabeth Kuebler-Ross: “People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their beauty is revealed only when there is a light within.”
Practice resilience and stay lit from within!
Written by Rachel Gobel
I want to lose weight. I want to be more physically fit. I want to find the perfect job. I want to spend more time with my family. I want to quit smoking/chocolate/alcohol….the list goes on.
Yes, it is that time of year. Time for our New Year’s Resolutions. Time to set an ambitious goal and then weeks later, wonder why we even bothered. It is the time of year that gym memberships are on the rise, online courses are inundated, and possibly the only time that we hope to cure our hangovers by an inspiring march towards a new and improved version of ourselves.
BUT why does so much optimism and drive end up getting tossed to the curb?
We have all done it. We have all made a New Years Resolution and then felt like crap after realising that we are never going to realise it. We reflect: “were they unrealistic? not well thought out? or are we simply useless?”
Possibly, but as Cameron Norsworthy explains in this radio interview with FIVEaa below, it is not so much our enthusiasm that is misplaced but HOW we go about making and achieving these goals.
Don’t get fixated on the outcome – in fact don’t have an outcome
Often when we make goals we focus on a specific outcome. The prologue of goal-setting techniques such as S.M.A.R.T. fill our heads and we think we need to specify our outcome in order to make it happen. Well, research is now showing that focusing on an outcome is more likely to fail than succeed. Not only that but we are more likely to cheat, take shortcuts, beat ourselves up, and be in a state of anxiety as we are constantly being reminded of how far away we are from where we want to be. Not only is the experience, more often than not, ‘hard work’, it can make us miserable. It turns out that focusing on an outcome makes us more likely to give up than succeed.
A outcome focus goal encourages productivity over presence. Instead of being open to adapting to the status quo we are blinded by the parameters of our goal. As a result, we miss opportunities, develop a hamster wheel mentality, and all in all, we don’t have fun. Why sustain something that isn’t fun, right?!
Or worse, perhaps we find a way to grind it out and hit our target. Outcome achieved. Hurray! We celebrate for all of 10 seconds, and then go, “what next?” In this hamster wheel mentality, we don’t enjoy the process, the achievement yields only a fleeting spike in happiness, and then we are left with the same dissatisfaction that we started with looking for the next preoccupation to hook ourselves on to.
Furthermore, at the time of setting, we think the goal is going to change us, fulfil us, or give us what we want – it is why we make it. However, as time rolls on, we become different. We become a different person with different motives and adapt different levels of happiness. For example, perhaps a previous goal of saving $20,000 for a house deposit no longer becomes necessary. A month after making the goal, we suddenly realise that we are actually happy with only saving $15,000, as we realise that spending $5000 on our health is a bigger priority; something that will make us happier in the long run. Alternatively, we can fall short of reaching our full potential. If our goal is to reach a weight of 82Kg in 6 months and by month 5 we are already at 83kg, we may take our foot off the pedal and start indulging in bad habits that become hard to shake. In short, outcome goals can quickly become outdated, irrelevant, or limit what we are capable of.
So what do we do instead? How do we capitalise on our positive ambitions?
Well, for starters we can spend 80% of our time on understanding why we are setting these goals or resolutions in the first place. Is it because we need direction, a structure to aid discipline, or because we want to impress others? By taking a real good look in the mirror, we can quickly understand our genuine underlying motives and disregard any goals or changes that we do not have a a deep inherent desire to do. If we are trying to smoke or drink less because we think we ‘should’ do, then any attempt to do so will not last and just leave us deflated and depressed when we fall back on the wagon. Any targets that are based on what other people want, or for extrinsic reasons, can also be dismissed as these will only yield short term compliance and add stress to our life.
Instead, we can find something that we are really passionate towards, and then focus on building a vision around it.
Creating a loose vision is so much more powerful than a business plan on how to achieve our resolution. Why? Visions use imagery, which neurobiologically uses our innate implicit system. Meaning that imagery uses the same primal part of our brain that we were born with, as opposed to the cerebral conscious part of our brain that we develop as we grow older. In fact, our primitive cognitive system is 100,000+ times more powerful and efficient than our recently (evolutionary speaking) developed prefrontal cortex, which devised and wrote the S.M.A.R.T goal. Let me explain. When creating a vision we automatically build an experience around the benefits of it. It becomes a multi-sensory experience as we spend time visualising our success and knowingly or not, examine how it looks, feels, and even what it might sound or taste like. Once imagined the mind and body creates a psychophysiological blueprint of what and how to achieve it. When a vision is locked into our implicit system, our brain automatically starts to manifest it in our reality. It starts making daily decisions towards this aim without us having to do anything. All the subtle choices we face everyday that we are not aware of… i.e. whether to open our emails, BBC app, or research something about our vision when taking the phone out of our pocket… start to help us towards building this vision in our life. If we give our primitive brain a vision to follow, it will do this far more effectively than we can ever plan for!
Then as we stroll through life, we can simply pick the option that is most aligned with our vision. Having a true north such as this enables us to mould an intention towards our experiences. It gives a backbone to our decision-making, taking away the stress of analysing what might or might not be the best thing to do. Then if we find ourselves losing focus, we can play the game of mental contrasting. Meaning that we can contrast a negative vision of what life looks like without our vision coming true, against the positive experience of our vision blossoming. When we do this the mind and body is quickly reminded of what we want, what really matters, and thus what to think, feel, and do next.
Once our psychophysiology is primed with this vision, we are free to operate with freedom and a level of flexibility to meet this vision. As there is no fixed outcome, just a positive vision, there may be many ways to achieve it, most of them we don’t even know of yet.
Best of all, these positive visions make us feel good and they lure our engagement. We no longer have to be intimidated by a looming fixed benchmark. Instead we can become excited about the unknown journey ahead.
So to recap:
- Meet your new year’s resolutions with PURPOSE and then focus on the PROCESS.
- Decided on something that inspires you – something that you genuinely want to do.
- Build a positive vision of what your intended goal will give you.
- Build a multi-sensory experience of the benefits. What does it look, feel, sound, and taste like?
- Realise that every subsequent thought and action we engage with is a choice; either taking us towards this vision or away from it.
Over to you!
Author: Cameron Norsworthy
As we enter into the festive season our relationships tend to become focused at the forefront of our minds. December is a busy social month – catching up with friends and relatives, attending end of year work functions and Christmas parties, being invited to unexpected events by family and friends, all the while negotiating a busy home-life!
If you’re starting to feel a little worn out by the interactions with those around you, it’s time to put down the tinsel and pick up the photo on the mantelpiece – we’re going to take a look at your relationships…
Our Need to Feel Connected
Research gathered by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, founder of Flow, suggests that one of the two most important factors in determining the quality of our life is the quality of our relationships (see: Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, 1990). Biologically, we are wired to seek connection with other human beings. Grounded in an instinctual tactic for survival, humans are no less dependent on each other now than what we were hundreds of years ago. Although this dependence may be less grounded in extrinsic needs like food and shelter, the need to feel included, accepted and appreciated have remained integral for our emotional, psychological and spiritual wellbeing.
In fact, findings from the longest observational study (75 years!) on adult development conducted by Harvard University, concluded that the quality of our relationships is a powerful predictor of how well we age in terms of our physical and mental health. That is, participants who reported being content in their relationships at age 50 had consistently better health outcomes at 80 years of age than those who reported being unhappy in their relationships (see: Harvard Study of Adult Development and the Grant Study).
However, the problem remains that relationships don’t always work the way we want them to, and have certainly become far more complex than we have ever experienced. Romantic partnerships, parent-child relationships and familial relationships in general, are no longer structured around clearly defined rules set in tradition, religion, societal expectation and hierarchy. Gender roles are malleable and can be negotiated and challenged. As a result, competing ideas and values have become the norm resulting in disagreement and at worst, resentment; blocking us off from the experience of flow.
So how do we set ourselves up for optimal experience in our relationships?
Internationally renowned relationship therapist Esther Perel refers to communication as the “heart” of a relationship (see: Modern Love and Relationships, SXSW 2018). The distribution of roles, responsibilities and tasks unique to your relationship cannot be assumed; they must be discussed and agreed upon together. Csikszentmihalyi adds the importance of developing shared goals (as a partnership or family) that are motivated from within, in order to channel each person’s psychic energy meaningfully and productively. But when things don’t go to plan, you also need a constructive way to talk about it…
In her book ‘Braving the Wilderness’ Dr Brene Brown addresses the concept of generosity when it comes to our relationships. That is, recognising that in any situation there are multiple ‘realities’ and that our go-to interpretation may not necessarily be the correct one. So when something happens that leaves you feeling hurt or disappointed, instead of reaching for blame and accusation as ammunition, try asking, “[Insert name] help me understand what happened here, I thought we had a plan?” By assuming positive intent, you create an opening for conversation and connection with that person, that is grounded in a state of flow and mutual respect.
From there, difficult conversations can be tackled with grace through the introductory words, “The story I am making up about this is…” (see: The Gifts of Imperfection, 2010). By acknowledging that your truth is not the absolute truth, your thoughts and feelings will be better received by the other person as they no longer feel the need to defend themselves in fight/flight mode. The situation is diffused and you can productively work things out together.
Give it a try this Christmas – show your loved ones how much you care by gifting them the benefit of the doubt when things don’t go to plan. You may find yourself pleasantly merrier.
If you were to make a pie-chart (or Christmas pudding) of the time you allocate for people in your life, would you have an equal slice? Or even a slice at all? Or do you find yourself scrambling for crumbs – a few minutes here and there but nothing consistent?
Research has shown time and time again that change starts with no-one but yourself. Self-care is the practice you must cultivate if you truly want to make yourself, and the people around you, happier from being in your presence. If you can’t commit to huge chunks of time, why not make a little routine for yourself that makes you feel good daily? This could be as soon as you wake up in the morning or before you go to bed. As Dr Wayne Dyer wisely stated, “You can’t give away something you don’t have.” If you don’t have love and compassion for yourself, how can you possibly give that to others?
Ultimately, your relationship with yourself is the most important relationship you could ever honour and invest in, because it determines every other relationship in your life. And if you are looking for acceptance and belonging from anywhere but yourself, you are unfortunately, wasting your time. A decade of research investigating people who feel loved and accepted versus people who don’t, revealed to Dr Brene Brown a single factor: worthiness (see: The Gifts of Imperfection). People who feel loved and accepted by others know that they deserve to feel that way because they experience love and acceptance for themselves – right now, exactly as they are, and regardless of circumstance.
There are no prerequisites for feeling worthy, but you must have the courage to love yourself in all your imperfection. Only then, can you extend the same grace to others.
Like what you have read? Head over to Masterminds and join others to share your journey with.
Author: Rachel Gobel
Brown, B. (2017). Braving the wilderness: The quest for true belonging and the courage to stand alone. Random House.
Brown, B. (2010). The gifts of imperfection: Let go of who you think you are supposed to be and embrace who you are. Center City, MN: Hazelden.
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York: Harper Perennial.
Perel, E. (2018). Modern love and relationships. SXSW.
Waldinger, R. (2015). What makes a good life? Lessons from the longest study on happiness. TEDx.
Do you ever have that moment where you are completely focused and involved in an activity? Where your whole world at that moment is focused on what you are doing and nothing else? Well, typically, these are descriptions of our optimal mental state of functioning otherwise known as flow. Founder Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi defines flow as that moment of complete immersion in an activity.
Learning about flow can be difficult. The concept itself is puzzling as it can elicit multiple descriptions. It can be inferred as a thought or a feeling but essentially flow is a state of mind.
I am recently learning about flow and as I learn I find that I am constantly able to relate it to multiple areas of my life and believe that others would be able to do the same.
Flow seems to show up in sport, education or in the workplace. In sport, athletes associate flow with some of their greatest performances. Within education individuals may experience flow as they learn and extend themselves beyond their perceived ability. Within the workplace employees often become so immersed in their tasks that it can create the feeling that that the act is no longer work, but it is play. Leading people to think that if they can reproduce this feeling, that they love, they will never have to work another day in their lives. Ultimately, anyone can experience flow in their desired field, its more their mind set in that field that determines whether they induce flow or not.
Flow is that optimal state of consciousness where you feel and perform your best. Your concentration can be somewhat tunnel vision, focusing on the task and letting everything else fall away. Individuals who experience the flow state often report that time can either slow down or speed up, heightening the performance focus.
As I continue to learn about Flow, I release that it is something I once had for the sport of rowing. I used to be a highly competitive rower in school. I knew that I loved the sport, waking up every morning to train in the rain and cold. Although after 4 years of rowing it wasn t just a love for the sport any more, it had turned into, what I now know as the foundation for a flow mindset. In short, I trained to learn and enjoyed each moment because I loved what I did. During rowing, I had that feeling of complete immersion and focus on what I was about to do. Each stroke wasn t a chore, they just came effortlessly, one after another. As the boat used to glide along the water and the coxswain yelled to the crew, I would find myself zoning out from everything, just focusing on hanging onto this strange but exhilarating feeling that I never wanted to end. After 4 years, I had gone from feeling the pain in each race, the feeling of my blisters rubbing against the ore and my body screaming to stop, to suddenly never wanting to stop. Every day I longed to get back on the water and dreaded the time when rowing would finish. Since finding those sweet moments of flow in my training, that moment of no longer thinking, but just doing, all the boring sessions and mental battles that would ensue during the early years of rowing became worth it. All the long hours of sweat and heartache had become a justifiable means to a rewarding end flow.
2 years later, whilst I still love rowing and training, I no longer perceive the state of flow when I m out there on the water. Many things have changed since the days when I was able to achieve the flow state readily. Nowadays, I no longer row at such a competitive level, I no longer have a strong desired goal, and I am not as committed to the club or people I row with compared to when I was representing my school with my best friends. I realise now, that through a combination of all these factors, I lost my flow. As a result of losing my flow I m less motivated to go to training, to committing to the workload and therefore my performance has decreased. It is easy to become complacent, once achieving flow believing it will always be there, but flow is much rather a state of mind, it isn t something that you achieve once and have forever from that moment. Multiple factors come into play in the development and maintenance of flow.
Having this experience of finding flow and then losing it, has allowed me better to understand the concept and further understand many athletes. Flow occurs when an individual has a clear set of goals, focused attention on the task, a feeling of serenity and timelessness, a feeling of personal control over the situation, and a lack of awareness of the physical needs that accompany the task. In retrospect, I had lost a lot of these descriptions. Many high-profile athletes can also loose the state of flow, impacting their performance and often causing their decline, although few gain the ability to understand and find their flow again, improving their performance better than it once was.
Now that I am on a journey to find my flow again, it has been important to me to note that flow occurs in the moment of the task at hand, therefore when attempting to achieve the state of flow being mindful of my thoughts in the moment and managing my feelings of stress and anxiety has been crucial – they can all effect one flow. When I m anxious or overly aroused I can now use relaxation techniques prior to the activity. Relaxation techniques such as controlled breathing help to increase my concentration of the task at hand and focus on what relevant, rather than allowing my mind to wonder. This allows me to be more engaged in the task prior to it beginning.
I m learning now, that no matter the area in which we experience flow, these experiences of flow can not only improve our skill development but also offer significant benefits to our performance. Finding flow not only improved my motivation to continue to get better, but because I was more willing to learn, I ultimately found the sport more enjoyable. As a result, I trained harder, faster and my performances improved.
The flow state relates to the term, in the zone , whereby we find an ego-less state of complete concentration and absorption. This state allows the us to be 100% positive, focused on the process committed to the execution. We take ownership for our responsibilities in the task, which ultimately improves our performance.
There is so much to flow, I m learning everyday. But for now, I m enriched by the knowledge that flow is a state of mind that it is not limited to any individual. It not dependent on one intelligence, ability, or status. Rather it is achieved when individual apply themselves to a task (no matter what it is) in a certain manor.
Learning about flow has given me hope, guidance and a level of confidence that those special moments that used to treasure so much are just around the corner.
Written by Gabriella Brown
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 are an unlikely yogi.
Ari: Unlikely yogi yes! I think that’s right. If you had told me 10 years ago that I would be 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, 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 been lots of different experiences, but that 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 is right, and since then there been many different instances, but I think for me it actually becoming more aware of what is happening with me. What yoga gives me is 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 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 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 happening or not, and I think that what yoga has given me; whether it me being with my kids, whether it me practicing yoga, whether it teaching yoga, whether it leading trainings.
Elena: I like what you are 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 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, 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 my yoga practice, it is 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 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 other dimension, when the self-talk or self-consciousness disappears when you are fully present, there is no questioning “Am I doing this right? Am I doing this wrong?”
Ari: It might feel easy in the moment when I’m in it, but there is 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 certainly wasn’t a flow; I needed to learn, practice and figure out how things work.
Elena: Yes, so it is a process and it 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, is 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. It needs to be something that you are moving towards and consciously creating in your being, in your movement, and in your breathing; it is all there. A final piece of advice: there is practice and there is intention, and then there something about just surrendering, like being able to just let go of anything else and surrender to what is, not aiming to make it perfect.
Elena: When you say surrender, you mean acceptance?
Ari: Yes, it is an acceptance, 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 world and 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 way, rather than feeling like I need to follow others or do things 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: You have a very calm and peaceful voice, and transmit a lot of calmness and tranquillity. Do you have any techniques that help to ground you, if you are 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 the obvious things: it getting on my mat, it’s practicing, it’s breathing and it’s moving. The other thing I do is journaling, setting intentions in the morning, and reflecting in the evening. It can be two minutes, it can be five minutes and it doesn’t take long. That helps me get a grip of the day, if you like, in a moment. I also walk a lot. I know it might sound obvious, but I walk everywhere and also I walk with purpose. I often listen to something inspirational, that I can learn from, that puts me in a good state, and I use every bit of time that I have. So when I walk from this studio home tonight, I will have about 10 minutes and I’ll put on something inspirational, I will listen to someone talking to me, giving me something that fills me up and it kind of grounds me and lifts me up.
Elena: What inspires you?
Ari: I’ll tell you the main thing that inspires me, and it is being able to make a difference in people lives. Whether it is 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 they’re going through something and that 60 minutes gives them a new angle on things or whatever it is. Being able to give back what I’ve got from yoga and share that gift of presence, clarity, intention, and that inspires me. Yeah. That what makes me get up in the morning.
Elena: That your purpose?
Ari: Yes, it is.
Elena: I like it. Maybe you use the same techniques, but after long days, long practices or maybe stressful moments, do you do something to recover? Does yoga give you that recovery, or do you use other methods?
Ari: I’m a reflective type, so that helps me recover, I need 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 to do a workshop or do a training, and getting filled up and recovered in that. Yeah, sometimes you just need to refill.
Elena: Would you like to share anything else?
Ari: My teacher is Baron Baptiste and in his book he talks about flow, and there 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,” and I thought, “That’s it!” It is bringing the physical, mental, and spiritual, out of all of us. When I’m in practice or in flow, 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 Viny─üsa and it is one of the pillars of the practice.
There is a lot of value in just flowing, like physically moving and flowing, without trying to get it right. There is an energy that comes through in that and there is a release that can happen. The word ‘Flow’ has so many different meanings, but to me that is how it manifests itself on the mat.
I started to write down the characteristics of flow; there’s presence, direction, purpose, clarity, body and mind integration. Sometimes it is imperfect, in the sense that I will go in and out of the flow. So it’s not necessarily this unique, blissful state that 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 is 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 is really being aware. I’m doing a lot of work in training other teachers and running workshops. That requires being in front of people and leading things. I am able to notice when I’m in a flow; I like engaging the audience by delivering my message and sensing what is going on and being in that flow. It is great to be able to bring tools physically of the practice into teaching and leading.
“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.
Everything becomes three-dimensional and quite vivid when I’m in that state. I also notice when I go out of that and I go into the mentality of ‘needing 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.
Roaring around on a motorbike since the age of four, Mexican Enduro rider Homero Diaz has built a whole life around the world of off-road, two-wheel racing ever since. He’d already won his first race by the time he was eight and is not only a three-time National Mexican Enduro Champion, but also a three-time Latin-American title holder.
We had the chance to interview him to know more about how he gets into flow:
Cameron: I guess we start off with what might you know about flow, and what your experience is to date, and then maybe go into questions you might have around the state, and then go into a little bit about what we can do in the future, and the rest of it. Sound good?
Cameron: What’s your current understanding of flow? Can you explain a flow experience that you’ve had?
Homero: Well, I ve been thinking a lot about this since the first message that I got from you, and I think it relates to that moment. Well, I guess the connection we have, you and I, is because of the sport I practice, right? So, I think the main thing about flow is that moment when you stop, when you stop seeing stuff and you start feeling stuff. Like, in my sport it’s during a special test or a track or whatever, and you feel more alive. Like, the way you enter into a turn, or the way the bumps feel, or the jumps feel, or the ~rides~ or whatever; it’s more about feeling than seeing I guess, and it also translates into everything being in slow motion I guess, but it doesn’t mean you’re going slow; it just means that your brain is really, really clear, that it makes you comprehend the experience really well. That’s the reason why you feel everything in slow motion, because you comprehend it really, really well and so clear.
Cameron: Yeah. And can you explain a moment or a previous experience that you might have had, either at a tournament, or just you your biggest or best ever flow experience?
Homero: Probably when It comes up a bit more as a surprise when you are starting to become a better rider, and all of a sudden you start figuring it out. Now with more experience it easier to get into that flow, but when I was starting to become a better rider, close to 2003 and 2004 when everything started, when I was racing ~the Worlds~… It would have been like on a very, very long special test during an enduro race, where it was [03:00] probably a 12- or 15-minute special test, which in our sport is a really long special test; a 15-minute special test is a really long one.
When you get out of the special test, and you say “Oh man it went through reall fast!” or “It went through really easy!” that when you understand that something happened. At that time I didn t know what had happened, but now with more experience I know that I had gone into a really good flow or a really good sense of concentration, and now I can get it really easy. But it takes time, it not easy, it not an easy process to get into that state of mind. So, probably during those stages. Usually I remember that the Scandinavian races were the ones that had the longest special tests all the time.
Like, a really short one was eight minutes and the really long one was a 15-minute special test. That took us about, I don’t know, about 12-15 minutes to ride on the motorcycle. So, being on the same level of flow from the beginning to the end of the special test is really hard, and usually I used to get it from the mid-point on, but when you start getting it from the start to the end, that when you know that things are happening the right way, you know.
Cameron: Yeah, for sure. And what helps you get into that space? Is there anything specific that you focus on beforehand, during, after, or you kind of manage in your mind the motions, or externally?
Homero: Well, I guess being relaxed, and trying to focus on that exact moment, although what I like to do is just think on that precise special test. I don’t try to think about the whole picture, I want to focus on that moment only.
Well, in our sport we walk the special tests before, and we’re not allowed to use any vehicle. Like a bicycle, we cannot use a bicycle to walk the special test it has to be by foot. So, when I get to the special test now on the motorcycle, I like to focus on what I walked, what I saw, and then try to use little pieces of that special test, and then connect. Like, if it was a 10-minute special test I would probably remember the first three minutes, and then from then on I would remember the second three minutes, and so on.
Because sometimes it just too much information to learn right away, so when you know how to divide a whole in fractions, it really easy to become one with the track and one with the motorcycle, and that way at the end you start flowing more and more. You know, as I told you before, it’s hard at the beginning, at the beginning of a sports career, but then with more experience you learn how to connect each and every dot with more accuracy and more speed.
Cameron: So you break the course down into small little steps, remembering each one. Do you visualise what your perfect route between it, and then the next bit and then the next bit, and then add them up as you go along? Is that what you re saying?
Homero: Yeah, exactly. And the way I do it is I try to relate little things which can make me remember the whole course. I don t know, let’s say if I was walking the test with one of my buddies and he started all of a sudden talking about the party he had a few years before or one week before, I say “Okay, this is this straightaway where we talked about the bar or the party, you know, and then I relate that session to memorise the next thing. And then we say “Oh, look at that tree it looks like a bird!” or whatever, and then I say “Okay, okay this is a turn right before the tree.” Then we see whatever, or we hear a sound, “This is the downhill right before we heard the sound.”
It’s a bit hard to explain, but once you start connecting all those little things that happen, all of a sudden you’re going to remember a 12-minute special test; exactly where you need to break, where you need to ~stand~, where you need to accelerate, what kind of obstacles you need to avoid or what obstacle you can use to increase the speed on a little section, you know. I’ve done many, many races all over the world, and I know how to relate to make it easy to remember.
Cameron: What do you do just before the race starts? Are you focusing on those small little chunks and visualising your way around the course, or what are you doing? Because obviously the heart beating, you’re getting aroused. What allows you to plug in?
Homero: Well usually we talk about before a race as like 30 minutes before or so, but I like to talk about before a race the night before a race, which is one of the most important moments, because the way you sleep is going to be the way you race most of the time. So, when I go to bed before a race I try to remember all the little things that I saw during my ~walk out~, you know, and that the way I fall asleep. I close my eyes and I start remembering the whole track or the whole course, and if I fall asleep before I finish the track that’s good, that’s no problem.
But you have to start getting into your racing mode before the race, and that way the next day you wake up and you’re starting to get more ready and more ready and more ready. It’s like going into a room, and getting ready. When you start getting closer you start feeling it; every step you feel it more and more, and you need to be more concentrated. I mean, most of the riders that I know, the professional riders, we get into a sense that, I don t know, either you get more serious, or you get louder, or you smile more… It all depends on how you approach your race.
For example, I just get I mean. Outside the races I like to be very smiley and a very funny guy and everything, but when the race goes, when I’m starting to get close to the race in racing mode, I get really serious. That’s when I guess that sometimes when the people know you, they know you when you’re racing, and they say “Oh, this guy is really cocky, and this guy is really serious.” Because that’s ~our office~, you know, that what we do for work. I’m going to work to the races, and I’m just being serious, because I take it really, really seriously. And that’s a state of mind also, because we’re used to getting serious when it’s time to work, you know.
Cameron: That kind of leading up to so maybe from 30 minutes until before you start, do you have any kind of preparation? Do you try and listen to music, do you try and zone out, do you try and have a laugh, do you just try and relax, or you focus on doing your equipment?
Homero: No, I most of the time I have rubber bands hanging on the canopies or the tents on our team, and I start warming up, doing a lot of moving. I usually start from the bottom up ankles then calves then knees and so on until the neck and I’m I don’t know, I have this idea that I need to start sweating before the race starts, and that’s how I want it to be. It helps me get in the mood a little bit easier. I’m already having my muscles a little bit ready, my heart rate is a little bit up, and then everything starts to click in, and then when we put our bikes in the impound, we impound our bikes 30 minutes before, so we have those 30 minutes of free time to warm up or do whatever we want.
So, from the moment we impound I start doing all my warm-up, and I prep my goggles and everything I prep all that just to have something to do during my free time. And then once the race starts it just I mean, again, go with the flow, you know, whatever happens, happens. But I try to concentrate on every special test, you know, I take it easy. Like, when I go to the special test one, I remember special test one that’s it; I don’t have to start remembering about special test two. Then when I get to special test two I remember only special test two. I like to divide everything by fractions. Then if we’re going to be doing 16 special tests at the end of the day, you know, it’s just that; just remember pieces, little pieces of the whole thing.
Cameron: And what do you do in the last 30 seconds before the lights go on, or you’re ready to go? What are you focusing on, what are you preparing?
Homero: Well every single time right before starting a special test I put the bike in neutral. Let me show you what I do. [laughs] I’m like this, and I do my hands like this and I rub them, I rub my hands to create a little bit of energy that way, and that way if you start thinking more about energy and becoming one with your own self and all that, and especially when I was taught by my dad that when you do this you cannot be sad, you know. Like, if you go like this you always smile, and you create energy, so that’s one of the things I do. I clap my hands, I clap my hands really hard, then I rub them, and then I start. You’ll see me do that in every single special test from 2004 to today.
Cameron: Yeah, nice! Perfect that’s a really good cue!
Homero: Yeah. [laughs]
Homero: That’s my secret! [laughs]
Cameron: Yeah awesome! Have you ever tried to feel that energy? So, when you rub your hands, and then you keep rubbing them, can you feel like almost as if you ve got two different magnets pushing against each other?
Homero: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Cameron: Can you feel that?
Cameron: So then do that, and then try and widen it and get it kind of bigger, and you might need to push in to feel that resistance, so almost you can feel that energy. Can you feel that?
Homero: Yeah, yeah.
Cameron: Yeah? And then try and get it big so it like a football.
Thanks Homer for this interview
We had the chance to interview Matt Whitfield about his experiences with flow while flying the skies.
Cameron: Hello and welcome to another flow session! We’re very lucky we have the presence of Matthew Whitfield who’s a lieutenant commander. He spent 20 years as a naval aviator pilot and instructor, and spent the last eight years flying as a display pilot for vintage jets. We just wanted to talk to you today a little bit about your own experiences, how you might have experienced flow and how you felt within that flow experience, and also maybe to highlight to others who are looking to find flow more frequently in their lives, just one or two nuggets that you’ve used in your past that you might be able to communicate. Take us through a short memory that you have where you were intensely in flow, just briefly describe the situation and then how you felt during it.
Matthew: Okay, certainly. I’ve given this some thought and I’m going to talk about the moments that are required in preparation for a display in the world, only flying single-seat twin-engine supersonic fighter. I think, that was the Sea Vixen. I last flew that in 2013, and I picked up some incredibly good habits from the other guys in the Navy over the years. For me the flow we would jokingly call it your ‘happy place’, the place at which you know you’re cooking with gas, you are delivering your ‘A game,’ and that you’re going to be safe. A display can either look good, feel good, look bad but feel good, or look good and feel bad, there always a combination; when you re in flow, you get both looking and feeling good.
I was in flow was part of this environment we have across aviation now, certainly in the military, of getting into the bubble. A bubble is a metaphorical shape that you are in, and everything else you need to perform to the best of your ability is within that bubble for you, and I’ll give you an example of what sort of stuff that is. That is you’ve had a quality weather brief, a met brief, you’ve chatted with your engineer about how the aircraft’s been the few days before the performance, what it was like when you last flew it, that you’ve had a quality brief from the display organiser, and that I’ve had time between that brief and my show time, the time I’m expected to display, I’ve had plenty of time to sit and be at peace and mentally rehearse what I’m about to do.
That involves for me certainly closing my eyes, and I got into the habit of actually doing it before I even got to the airfield. It might be on the bus there or in the hotel room, but certainly in the moments before we fly, before I climb up the ladder, get into my happy place as I’m strapping into the aircraft. The last four or five minutes I’d be in my flying kit, we’ve done the brief, I’ve out briefed the last brief we have for everything signed for the aircraft, spoken to PK, the engineer, given him my helmet, and then I just stand there with my eyes closed and visualise where I’m looking in the cockpit, where I’m going to look out of the window, what I should expect to see between each manoeuvre, the speed I should be at and the altitude I would anticipate needing to be at to be able to complete each manoeuvre.
Cameron: Okay. What sort of manoeuvres are you talking about?
Matthew: Nothing extreme. It’s an old aircraft, we’re limited to 4 g [four g-forces] so there’s no, what we’d term, looping manoeuvres. Most people I think can imagine what a loop is: you fly along, pull all the way around upside down, and once you’re upside down a loop you’d continue that circle and come around. There was no need to do that with these aircraft; people don’t come and marvel at who’s flying it, they want to see the aircraft and listen to the sound, so there was no need to do that. So it was just being able to link each manoeuvre seamlessly together, there was no need to try and punchy and snap and “Oh, look at me wow, brilliant!” it should just be a very graceful linking of stuff.
I always found it was very important to have that four or five minutes before I climbed up the ladder and strapped in, the PKs strap me in, listen to the radio, put my oxygen mask on, take one of the pins out on the ejection seat, and then just sit there listening to the radio, taking a few deep breaths.
I now know that was mindfulness type stuff, but I would do it just to calm down; adrenalin was rushing, there could be tens of thousands of people there waiting, and there never a guarantee you’re going to get airborne, these are old aircraft that may or may not have a snag when you start up. I could see myself do it, the steps up the ladder, the sound of going up the ladder, the feeling of the leather flying gloves, the knowing I’m going to be hot because it the summertime I’m wearing a green flying suit, I’ve got a g-suit on, I’ve got a life jacket on, I’ve got a helmet that green so you’re warm and strapping into the aircraft, sitting into a seat. The smell of the cockpit, these old aircrafts have an absolutely distinct smell, and that, again, helps me go, “Ah, I know what I m about to do now.”
Cameron: Yeah, so that kind of primed you almost in a ritual to get to that happy place.
Matthew: Yeah. It was the same on board the carrier, on Ark Royal, that process of carrying your helmet across the deck, saying hello to the plane captain, having a polite chat with those going up the ladder, check your ejection seat and then walk around the aircraft, and you were then on the flow, the flow state was increasing because it was a ritual. There were things you would check before you get into the aircraft, a process you go through about starting one of these aircraft. You don’t just go, “Oh, a bit of this, a bit of that,” it an absolute process and there good reasons for that because mistakes get made. Before we even got airborne, that’s how it is. [laughs] I’m still thinking about going up that ladder, a little red ladder on the side of the aircraft!
Cameron: [laughs] Those experiences can suddenly bring up a lot of arousal, memories and emotions. When you’re actually in that experience, you’re flying and you’re being as graceful as you possibly can, trying to get your timing absolutely perfect. If you were to describe to someone how that felt when you’re in it, and I know you’ve had a brief look at the nine dimensions of flow and maybe if you can relate to a couple of those, fantastic; if not, no problem, but just give us a description of how it felt to you being in it.
Matthew: I think without a doubt, and other people who’ve done this, it is the control element, that the environment you’re put into to display a historic jet at an air show is very controlled. There are gates you have to make your paperwork, your medical, the weather, etc. but actually me in the flow, it the control, knowing that on previous occasions if I’ve thought I could’ve done better about something, when I’ve reflected back on that or debriefed with the guys, I’ve spent time mentally rehearsing those moments so it embedded in my brain so things happen automatically. Yes, I think about it, but I know that as I roll out what I should see as I put wings level, I ve got two seconds with wings level to make sure I’ve got full power ~to patch up~ 390 to 420 knots at 4 g, and I know what line in the ground I’m not allowed to cross, or the rules say you’ve got to be up away from the crowd, the rules are very strict.
So it’s the control for me, knowing that I’m in control of the aircraft; if I cock up, it’s my fault. There’s no excuse blaming the wind because I’ve been briefed on it, I’ve mentally thought about that before I got in, and I suppose a sense of pride is a result of what I’ve represented, the Royal Navy, the fixed wing service, the aircraft carrier, you don’t want to let people down and I think there’s a lot of self-pressure on that front. But the control elements of knowing that my right hand isn’t squeezing all the buttons out of the control column, out of the steer case I’m very relaxed, my right arm is relaxed on my knee, my feet are on the pedals, I’m strapped into the seat but I’m still completely free to look around and out of the window for those visual cues that I know I should be seeing, and my left hand is quite relaxed on the twin throttles, on the two engines, and that’s where my hands stay until moments I need to flick a switch. But I know that’s coming, I know when I need to flick it because I’ve practiced.
Cameron: When you say control, what is really noticeable for you in that experience? Is there a pressure to be in control, or do you actually feel you almost have like a limitless control?
Matthew: It’s certainly not a pressure to be in control, it’s a function of flying these aircraft; I don t have 320 passengers on board, I have nobody else on board, it’s me in this aircraft in an ejection seat if it goes wrong. It is knowing I have the capability to do it, the aircraft has the capability to do it, and when I’m in the groove, on my ‘A game’, it happens, it will be seamless. You might go too far into wind, reversing “Okay, ease off the rate of roll here because it will look seamless.”
Cameron: And where’s your attention during that time? When you’re in that zone and you’re saying you’re looking for visual cues, where else is your attention?
Matthew: Several areas. Because of course you’re using your ears, there is an element of using the ~seat of the pants~ stuff, understanding when you’re still pulling or you’re pulling harder. So visually your eyes are flicking between the cues you need out of the cockpit landmarks, the runway or the display line you’re flying to: it might be the air traffic control tower, the lines on the ground that are marked out for those of us flying but there are key moments when you absolutely need to be looking at my air speed and the altitude I’m at, or it should actually be the height of course you’re above the airfield.
I need to have control of my energy state, and also the aircraft’s energy state. If I’m low-level, I need to be faster to have enough energy, that when I pull up I convert the kinetic energy into potential energy, I’m converting my speed into height, so I know that when I pull up using 4 g I m going to have 4,500-5,000 feet, which is ample height to continue the next manoeuvre. I won’t be the type of chap who pulls up at 350 knots and thinks 4g, he going to end up at 3,000-3,500 and he hasn’t got the altitude or the height now to finish the manoeuvre. I’m very strict on where I look at in particular moments. Before I pull up, I want to know my speed. When I’ve pulled up and I’m upside down before I roll out, I need my height, and there is an element of speed because of course I then need to roll; it’s no good rolling when I haven’t got enough speed.
Cameron: That situation you explained to me just then made me think there’s a hell of a lot of decision-making that happens instantly in that second or however long you’ve got; and they’re critical decisions, because the wrong decisions can lead to disaster, etc. It seems from what you’re saying that a lot of that doesn’t happen necessarily consciously, almost as if the energy resource of that plane was your own body.
Cameron: You’re almost examining the plane energy levels as if it your own and almost feeling like there’s a heartbeat in there.
Matthew: Not necessarily a heartbeat, more so the aeroplane and I are a team. The Army Apache pilots to the Royal Air Force Hercules pilots, those of us who are on our own in an aircraft, know that millions of pounds worth of training has been put into us and we are responsible for millions of pounds worth of aircraft. If you strap that aircraft to me, that’s how I envisage it: I go up that ladder, settle into the ejection seat, strap in the five seats and then it’s part of me, we re now a team. The colleagues of mine on board or back at Yeovilton in Somerset are part of that weapon system. Through the incredibly difficult, tough training you go through, to be successful you have to understand why it’s important you’re like that.
Cameron: Thanks for sharing that story, that’s a really great insight. What’s your challenge to get back into that state, where everything happens seamlessly and decisions are made real time? What do you find is your biggest challenge to get back in there?
Matthew: Distraction, and it has happened! For those eight minutes when Sea Vixen clear take-off, flow state is there, we’re there, we’ve got eight minutes now before I land and taxi back in. My flow state stops when the ejection seat is safe, the canopy is opened, I’m unstrapping and carefully getting out. Distraction is what breaks the flow state. That can be air traffic, it can be another radio call you weren’t necessarily anticipating, and it does just stop the flow and you have to dismiss it if it’s not relevant to you, and of course typically it will be relevant to you, so then you have to adapt.
Cameron: Great stuff. I know you’ve had a brief look at the 12 steps to flow, which is our framework for how people can focus on finding flow more frequently. I know we haven’t gone through them in depth at all, but are there any that just instantly spring out at you that you think, “Yeah, this is definitely something I ve focused on over the years to help me get into this happy place?”
Matthew: For me, it’s mastery. You only need to mess up once in this business and you’ll never be invited back to do it again, there no ifs or buts, and it is pretty black and white. Being able to understand that people want to see the aircraft, they don’t really care who’s in the aircraft. Instead of “Wow, look at the Red Bull Air Racers, aren’t they incredibly talented at what they do?” The focus is on the vintage jets, because it’s the aircraft they want to see. So it’s being able to relax, take the pressure off me and understand I can now master what I need to do to deliver. That why I took it perhaps too seriously but understand I’ve been able to get in and deliver. I need to know “If something went wrong at this point what are my options? If I hit a bird at this point, what am I going to do? If someone drives across the runway and drops something on it and blocks the runway, where am I going to go, where will I divert to? If I have a fuel flow problem, have I got the capacity to fix it? Well, I don’t want to find that out during the display, do I? I need to prepare for that on the ground so that if something happens I know what I’ll do.” So mastery is certainly relevant.
Cameron: Okay, great stuff thank you! It’s almost time to wrap-up this conversation and thank you again, Matthew, for your time if we could leave some parting advice to a young aviator, or maybe someone in a different sport or activity, or a musician who is looking to find flow more frequently In terms of finding flow more frequently, what’s one piece of advice that you’d want to impart?
Matthew: Find out what it is that puts you into that calm state. You accept your adrenalin is surging, and that there is the pressure to perform, but find out what it is for you to get you into the calm state. Is it just a couple of deep breaths and a smile, or thinking of your wife or children? For me it was just to take a deep breath, close my eyes and understand what it is that I’m about to do. It is also expressing gratitude, because I’m incredibly fortunate to be in a position to do this, just to [takes a deep breath and exhales] smile at PK, shake his hand, get up the ladder.
Cameron: Okay, fantastic I’d imagine that would help manage the stress and get you to an arousal level that you would probably want to be at for flying.
Matthew: Thank you!
Cameron: And lastly, we always ask people what is their biggest challenge or biggest fear in life so we get some relativity to someone who has been at the top of their game in very pressured situations. What’s life outside the cockpit for Matthew and what’s your biggest challenge moving forwards?
Matthew: Life outside the cockpit, my biggest challenge.. Hell bells! [long pause] I think, interestingly enough, it’s being able to accept that that position of flow, that incredible feeling I’ve had as a display pilot, I’m going to find that elsewhere in life and there will be other things. It could be through being a parent, a husband, or in my new career as a professional coach, certainly. Very recently I ve had that moment of going, “My goodness, things are happening because I have thought about it and rehearsed!” It comes back in a completely unexpected situation which I wasn’t prepared for if I’m honest! [laughs] It was good, the flow state is almost addictive, it’s a very intoxicating feeling for me when I’m in flow. I know what it’s like, I know how to put myself in it and I’m going to take it across into my new career.
Cameron: Great stuff thank you, Matthew! Thank you for listening, we’ve had some fantastic stories there and some advice about how important focus on mastery throughout your training can be, especially when the consequences can be very high. You have also shared some insights into the feeling of control when you’re in that flow moment and how you can feel so connected and at one with the equipment around you, that a result is accurate, instant decision-making.
We look forwards to bringing you some more flow sessions, thanks for tuning in and please get in touch if you can relate to any of these stories, we would love to hear your perspective about it. Bye for now!
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.
- Total Focus
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.
- Challenging Route
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 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.
- Post training and coaching on flow, 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 flow once our performances had plateaued and we weren’t climbing faster at each attempt.
Finally, being part of the study and learning about applying flow 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. 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 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 an incredible piece of music. It’s a great piece, it’s challenging but playable for us.
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 like we turned a corner, and there was this incredible moment of feeling as if the whole orchestra, so 120 people, were on the point of their toes. For me afterwards, it was just this fantastic point of being completely at-one with the orchestra, with the other people, but also completely at-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 really interesting to hear that you found that collective, group experience where you were almost on a tipping point. Was that something that happened like a flip of a coin, or was that something that progressed and 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 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 a kind of resonance that happens when everyone plays together and well that you don’t get often. Usually 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. You have to obviously take care of your own technique, and that takes years and years and years of work, and hours every day, but then there 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 exact science to it, I bet there is [laughs], it appears a very mathematical thing, but I think it has something that 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 Flow state, the moment you’ve just explained to me, there’s a lot going on there: you’ve got the notes in front of you, you’ve 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 focused on and where is your awareness? 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?
Lucy: That 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 is your main focus, with your practice, then with the rehearsals in the orchestra. Maybe that is partly what creates the moment of Flow. 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 that 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 subconscious 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.
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 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 in my head 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 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 Flow, but 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 is that the Flow Centre has come up with, is that one of the elements is sufficient challenge. Us as performers need to take responsibility and manage that, whether that’s in our mind, the environment or the context. So 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, are you thinking of? You’ve mentioned a couple of times you’re lifting your mind, almost stepping up a gear into Flow if you like. 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, What do you focus on? What rituals do you have? 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 is done prior to the day before. 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 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 a quiet space. It might not be quiet orally, but it’s a quiet space inside me. 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. For example, 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. 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 the whole purpose of the body, is to 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 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, this leads me nicely to our closing question; what is a fear for you, either in your performance world or not in your performance world?
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!
Click here to listen to the full interview
We would like to thank again Lucy Hare for sharing with us her story and I would recommend to go and see her in action and feel that group flow experience that she talks about.
For those who do not know who Martina Wegman is, 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.
Cameron: What do you focus on during your greatest moments?
Martina: It’s hard to say. I’m usually, even when I have a good run or when I race I still want ~to be a bit~ better…, because there always places to still improve, and I just want to be better and better.
Cameron: You’re known for dropping long 70ft waterfalls, absolutely amazing feat! Are you always confident in your preparation. Is there a specific drop that you were nervous about?
Martina: At the start it was like “No way I m going to,” I would never run a 70-foot waterfall, and once you’re at the top of it you re like “Okay, let 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 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 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, achievable 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 for 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.” My trainer accepted it because he knew that worked for me. I just needed to have a good time!
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 don’t want to think too much about it and just want to have fun. That was my preparation, not to be too serious about it. Of course, you always want to do well, but I think just for me it 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’m not super outcome-focused, it’s more about having a good run rather than the outcome of 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.
There 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 a total different technique from creeking. So I’m just trying the things that you have to work a bit differently in slalom. Keeping the boat flat is probably one of the bigger things, and staying forward in your boat.
My goal is 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 are not many people who cross over from creeking to slalom at my age, or even to cross over from creeking to slalom in a lifetime. And a lot of people who creek, they also think when they cross over to slalom that it is 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’m just trying still to get as high as I can, get as good as I can in slalom and really push and train hard. It is more personal than outcome focused, I intrinsically just want to do what I do really well.
The Flow Centre would like to take this opportunity to thank Martina for her time and energy and to thank you for reading the post. Stay tuned as we interview more extraordinary people on how they find Flow!
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 runner’s 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.
Runner’s 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, runner’s 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 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 and thank you for reading this post!
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-to-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. 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 my 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 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 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 feelings 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. 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?
Hazel: 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 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’s it 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 subconscious 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 Hazel for her time and energy and thank you for reading this post!