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.
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.
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.
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!
Jon Turk has a zest for flow like no other. Jon was an adventurer finalist for Canadian “National Magazine Awards” (2015 Frozen Iceman), voted top 10 adventure athletes in 2012 by National Geographic, and canoe and kayak: expedition of the year in 2012.
Jon has practiced performance flow for decades, and reminds us that there are a multitude of factors that go in to a flow experience, none more so being on the same wavelength as your group:
Jon: I am a back-country skier, and I routinely ski exposed avalanche terrain in the mountains of southern British Columbia. A few weeks ago, four of us were shredding fresh powder on familiar terrain. The riding was excellent, friendships warm, and spirits were high. All day, the snow had been stable, meaning that we experienced no avalanches or even indication of danger. On the last run, as the short winter day was waning, two of our party led us toward a higher, steeper, more exposed ridge line. As we climbed into this alpine zone, we reached an elevation where the mountain wind had compacted the surface of the snow into hard, rigid, consolidated, potentially deadly chunks.
This was no subtle change. As experienced alpinists, we all saw it, felt it, and knew the consequences of a bad decision. So why didn’t we turn back?
The ultimate, overriding, goal of back-country skiing is to come home safe. All too frequently, we tend to forget this goal and create other imaginary goals such as to climb higher, faster, longer, and to ski the steepest line. But compared to safety, these supposed goals are merely dangerous distractions generated by our think-too-much-know-it-all brains. The primary driver of a flow experience is to concentrate completely and utterly on the real and ultimate goal and to avoid sidetracks, distractions, ego, and “I wants.” Yet, within a group, distractions can easily arise, fester, and quickly multiply.
One person climbed into the dangerous wind-slab, eager to be the leader that brought the group onward toward the best line of the day. We all like to “ski the goods,” so that is always a distraction from the overriding goal of safety. But now, there was social pressure not to be the wimp, the cold blanket who said, “Hey, guys. I think we should turn back.” Two distractions steering us away from flow were internal and external. And the distractions fed on one another. I thought, “We don t need to do this,” but then I threw attention and awareness out the window, and allowed myself to concentrate on what mattered least, (A few extra turns and not to be criticized by the group) not focusing on what mattered most (Our lives). So against all reason, I followed the leader toward a dangerous situation. I felt hassled and grumpy. I questioned my own judgment, the judgment of others. “Why can t we just ski from here?” I mumbled, quietly, almost to myself.
Suddenly, my wife, Nina, stopped. I was in line behind her.
“What’s up?” I asked.
“I’m not going up there.” she replied.
At first, I was internally annoyed at her. Those guys were going to ski the coolest line, and I wanted to be up there with them. But the physical pause initiated a mental pause which solidified a physical pause. Reason prevailed. We held back.
The lead skier started an avalanche and went catapulting down the mountainside in a moving white river. Amazingly, he didn’t get hurt. We were lucky.
There are always more distractions than flow paths. Entropy works like that. A near infinity of ways to do something wrong and only a limited number of ways to do something right. Group dynamics, within a family, at work, or during play are powerful. All the more reason to understand and practice flow.
The Flow Centre would like to take this opportunity to thank Jon for his time and energy and thank you for reading this post.
For those that don’t know Sarah Hendrickson, meet one of the most exciting female athletes around!
Sarah Hendrickson is an American ski jumper who won the first ever women World Cup season in 2012. She is a 22-time World Cup medalist and 13-time Continental Cup medalist. It goes without saying, but we were delighted to catch up with here and even more delighted to have her on board The Flow Centre.
Her career highlights include:
22-time World Cup Medalist (13 Gold, 6 Silver, 3 Bronze)
13-time Continental Cup Medalist (4 Gold, 4 Silver, 5 Bronze)
In 2014, Olympic Winter Games, 21st
In 2013, World Cup, Second Place Overall
In 2013, World Championships Gold Medalist
In 2012, World Cup Overall Champion
In 2011, U.S. Normal Hill Champion
In 2011, World Championships Normal Hill 16th place
In 2009, World Championships Normal Hill 29th place
Cameron: Have you ever experienced flow?
Sarah: I think that time at the world championships. I remember being at the top and just so nervous. I was like “I can’t feel my feet right now! I don t know how I’m going to do this!” and then I got to the bottom after my second jump, and obviously had won, and it was like something else took over my body, because there was so much pressure and everything. I don’t know how I performed to that level with that much pressure, my mind just took over and muscle memory and everything. It was like “Okay, you know what to do subconsciously, and just focus.” It’s kind of hard to explain.
Cameron: Yeah, especially when you remember it. You get all those feelings and tingly sensations, and then you’re like “But, how did it happen?”
Cameron: So, describe some of the characteristics that you might have felt during it? You said everything felt amazing. Can you go into a little bit more about how that felt, or what you feel you experienced?
Sarah: I guess effortless is the right word. Your body is doing all these things, but it is all subconscious, you don’t have to think about it right there. It’s hard to explain, I guess effortless and flawless, almost numb. But that’s the first experience I think of when you describe flow, the world championships in Italy in 2013.
We have two jumps and I was winning after the first jump, then we jump in reverse order, so I was going last on the second jump. The girl before me was within a small margin of me; she jumped and I could hear the crowd cheering. I was just trying to block everything out and focus on myself. I remember thinking “My feet are numb!” I was kind of freaking out, thinking “How am I going to pull this off?” then I was just like “Well, nothing to lose now. Just shake it out.” That’s when the hours of training comes in, the muscle memory, your mind just goes into reserve mode, just don’t focus on the pressure, don’t focus on the small details; everything will run its course.
Cameron:What did you do to help you focus and get into that state?
Sarah: I blocked out the outside world. When I’m jumping, I’ve been jumping for 13 years now, I just focus on one or two really simple things. It doesn’t mean anything to the outside world because they’re technical terms for ski jumping, but I relax my arms, balance and timing. Timing is so important in ski jumping, timing and rhythm. So, I just pick those two things that I had been focusing on and just hone in on that, everything else will just come. I didn’t need to focus on the other stuff because I was in that mind set, the muscle memory or whatever would just take over.
Cameron: When you focus on it, do you repeat the words, like relax your arms? Or, do you almost use the words to brainwash yourself? How do you focus on it?
Sarah: Yeah, exactly! Part of me is hearing the announcers and people calling scores or whatever of the girls in front of me. So, I try to speak to myself as loudly as I can in my head so that I don’t hear the outside. I’ll even try and shake my head so that I don’t hear. I just don’t want to hear that, you can’t think about jumping a certain distance, that’s not how it happens. You have to focus on the miniscule things, that going to make you jump further. Repetition and even whispering words out loud sometime, or just yelling in my head.
Cameron: What else do you think helps you get into that zone? Is there preparation that you might do leading up to it the morning of, the evening of? Or anything else that you do as you’re walking up the steps, preparing, or when you’re sitting down, or just before you take off?
Sarah: Yeah, repetition actually, and not just in words. I have the same warm-up routine that I do a certain time before a jump. How I put my equipment on and stuff. I’m kind of OCD, so those things are necessities. I know exactly what time I need to put on my stuff, when I’m waiting at the top, 10 jumpers before my tie my boots a little tighter the step out and start putting my skis on. Repetition is really, really important for me, just doing the same thing over and over, and I do it the same for training. You need to compete like you train and train like you compete. Have that same physical repetition and the mental preparation the same every single day.
Cameron: Do you have any other big flow experiences? Maybe one that tops the world championship?
Sarah: It’s a bit different, because I didn’t have a good result, but I guess doing the Olympics. I had some serious surgery about five and a half months before Sochi. I managed to get through rehab, but I just wasn’t as prepared as I wanted to be, but my coaches felt like I deserved to be there.
The training days leading up, my knee was in so much pain and I knew I wasn’t mentally strong enough and prepared to be there, then on competition day I got unlucky with the wind. But, my practice jump that morning, we always get one practice jump, my coach just looked at me and was like “Oh my God that was a million times better!” He was like “You showed up for game day! Regardless of the pain you’re in and everything you’ve been through these past six months, you just put it all aside, and your body knew exactly what to do, and you had an awesome jump!”
I was just in that kind of mindset. I just pushed the pain away, pushed every doubt and piece of junk that I’d gone through out of me and just had a normal jump. And my coaches saw it. The coaches from the other nations saw it too, it was kind of crazy. It was like even though it had been a while my body still knew what to do.
Cameron: What helped you jump that morning?
Sarah: I don t know! I just thought “Don t have any regrets. You’ve trained so hard to be here. Maybe you’re not at your strongest but you’ve worked so hard, now let’s prove it.” I had to change my warm-up and everything, my knee was so bad I couldn’t even run. But I figured I’ve got three more jumps today, then I’m done. After today I can just rest and reassess everything. I had another surgery after that, but it didn’t matter at that point, I was just like “Show them what you ve got!” I’m ultra-competitive obviously, which makes it easier to get into that mindset.
You have to find a balance between focused and almost not too serious, though. If you try to hard when you’re super competitive in ski jumping it just doesn’t work. We all say that technically, it a very simple sport, but it’s against everything that your body wants to do, so when you get too focused, there’s no flow to it. It’s too choppy; it’s not smooth and it’s out of rhythm. So when you stay relaxed and just focus on a couple of things, everything is much smoother, you develop the power better and it all just comes together much better than trying to force it.
Cameron: So what do you do to help yourself stay relaxed?
Sarah: Well, I’m friends with a lot of the girls from the other nations, so we’ll all be talking at the top of the hill, kind of joking around before getting ready to go. Like if it’s been a bad day and I’m kind of down on myself I think “I’m not going to pull off the best jump right now, but look at the view! Think how hard you worked to get here, you’re so fortunate to be here.” I just kind of step back and make the most of the situation, because competing is really stressful. This is the best job in the world, but it stressful.
Sometimes that’s easy to get down on, then I think “Why do I put so much pressure on myself?”I try to step away from all that negativity and just appreciate where I am. You can’t have a good day every day and the people that really matter, the ones closest to me, they know that I’ve worked really hard to get here and are just like “Alright, shrug it off, you can’t be on top every single day.”
The Flow Centre would like to take this opportunity to thank Sarah Hendrickson and the Wasserman Group for their time and energy. We would also like to thank you for taking the time to read this post!
When we went in search of the ultimate base jumper and skydiver, we expected to find someone extraordinary – someone who was used to pushing the limits and had the ability to freeze time. When we finally hooked up with Chris Douggs (Douggs) he was everything we had been looking for and more. Douggs’ wealth of experience is nothing short of outstanding.
Douggs has felt flow frequently, in multiple arenas, and when he is not pretending to be Superman he is a motivational speaker, TV presenter, commentator, author, film maker, and stunt man. Douggs is one of the world’s most experienced BASE jumpers, respected both inside and outside the sport. He is a World Champion, World Record holder, and completed well over 3200 BASE jumps and 7000 skydives across more than 42 countries.
His list of achievements and highlights include:
2014 World Wingsuit League, China
– 2013 World Record for most base jumpers jumping indoors
– 2013 First ever BASE jumps in Kuwait from Al Hamra Tower
– 2013 1st place in World Extreme Base Championships, Spain
– 2013 1st place in Accuracy Competitions in both Turkey & China
-2012 World first night human slingshot, Dubai
– 2011 World BASE Championships, 2nd place
-2008 UK ProBase British Open : Overall Champion
– 2003/04 BASE jumping World Champion: 1st place Aerobatics, 1st place Team, 1st place overall
– Many expeditions throughout remote parts of the world including, Baffin Island, China, Norway, New Zealand & 37 other countries
-1998-2003 6 time Australian National Skydiving Champion in 4 way and 8 way RW
– 2001- 2003 Australian team member for World Championships – 2002 World Record: 300 way skydive – 12 Gold medals in various state events – and much more.
As you can imagine, our interview with Douggs was very insightful, and he enlightens us on how he finds flow in base jumping and skydiving:
Chris: In skydiving and base jumping it, I’ve called it ‘the zone,’ but I’ve never heard the actual technical term for flow before.
Cameron: Yeah, yeah. It called different things. Jazz musicians call it ‘being in the pocket’. Different people have different names for it, but everyone knows it when you talk about it. You know, it’s that moment where we’re completely engulfed and everything’s just at one, we’re highly connected and time seems to pause, but then you come out of it and time forwards winds, and you’re like “Oh my God, what just happened?”
Chris: I’ve written a number of articles about the feeling. There’s no past, no future, there just this present. I call it the now.
It’s an incredible feeling. And once you submit to it, when you’re shaking on the edge or whatever, and then you commit and submit and take those three deep breaths then everything goes still and quiet, and then that beautiful silence that first second is just incredible…and then off we go, and then that’s when you hit it.
Cameron: How did you get into base jumping and skydiving?
Chris: Base jumping has been the best thing ever for me because it allowed me to take everything I’ve learnt in jumping and take it to ordinary life, which has resulted in endless possibilities; there no negatives, only positives. There’s only the cup always half full now. I think that’s the right one. [laughs] Do you know what I mean? Like, I was lucky I got into base jumping super early and found it, and it just blew me away. I mean, on my first skydive I still blacked out for over five seconds, you know, so my brain wasn’t able to process that information at all.
But then I was intrigued by that, went straight back up and did another one. I’ve never been able to get that sensation again, except for the closest I ever got was when we did a human slingshot a couple of years ago in Dubai, and there’s a video online about it, but we were shooting out so fast that I think we were doing zero to 200 in about a second, about 6-7 Gs, I was able to process the information, but I was almost on my limit of processing it, it was interesting. It’s the only time I got that sensation (complete shut off) back since my first skydive.
I think it’s called sensory overload. It’s where your brain is just receiving too much information and it shuts down. But yeah, you never get it back really, so it’s interesting. I’ve always been intrigued from day one about it all.
Cameron: How do you feel when you experience flow?
Chris: Just when you see I’m in a really good state of flow I generally smile [laughs] because I’m actually really relaxed. So, that jump, (where I was smiling) it took us five jumps that day to get to that point.
(When in flow) You can just see more, so I see things off in the distance, the cameraman sitting there, and I saw 15 seconds flying past at about 200 Ks/hour, and I smiled at him as I went past super casually. So, that everything sort of is almost happy. [laughs] Like, in this calm trance-like state, but like The Matrix, you know, like “Sh**, it’s actually moving fast” but you’ve just made it all stand still. That when I really enjoy it, because everyone like “Oh wow, you must get this big adrenaline rush when you do this!” and I’m like “I don t actually.”[laughs] I get really, really calm and really tranquil.
I was just doing some stuff out of my comfort zone this last week, and sh** moving fast still, but when we get comfortable then everything just slows down and it’s just poetic almost; it beautiful.
You almost feel invincible, that’s a good word for it. You’re just on another level to everyone and everything around you. I mean, that animal instinct, that’s what animals get. They’re always in flow [laughs].
Another way to explain it is, when we jump off a waterfall and jump in snow, you hit that microsecond of a point where everything stops, and if you’re in flow, which I generally am, you’d stop for a lot longer than a microsecond. You’re falling at the same speed as the water droplets, or the same speed as the snow, and whilst it’s only a microsecond you can make it last for seconds, and then it speeds up really quick! It’s exactly like the movies basically.
I mean, that’s what The Matrix did, The Matrix put flow into cinema, in my opinion. I always use The Matrix as my way to try and explain it best to the layman, because it shows it clearly on cinema how it all works.
Cameron: What are the barriers to achieving the flow state?
Chris: In traffic (driving)…I can miss, I can swirve and miss and do whatever, I just process that information really, really f**king quickly. One that really stands out, my cousin a very good motorbike rider, and we did this trail riding super fast, super thin and I couldn’t find flow. It was the first time when I was like “Mother f**ker! I can t keep up with my cousin!”
When he’s riding a bike he’s in flow for sure, but I couldn’t get there because I’m not good enough on a bike. That was the first time I really understood that I wasn’t invincible, and I can’t always find flow. Do you know what I mean? Because you walk around just feeling not better than everyone else, just like, you f**king own it all the time, you know, and that what makes a champion as well; you’ve got to be able to own it. Confidence and arrogance is a fine line, but you’ve got to walk that line all the time, you know. More arrogant when you’re younger, more confident when you’re older [laughs].
Cameron: What preparation helps you get into flow?
Chris: For me, training and visualisation for sure. I mean, I jump all the time, and I’m doing extreme sports all the time. When I’m speed flying, I’m absolutely in flow, but not while I’m on skis, because I’m a sh** skier; as soon as I take off I can’t do anything. But training for sure. And I think over time being in mountainous environment and an ocean environment so much your body adapts. Do you know a guy called Dean Potter?
Chris: He’s a very advanced climber. He’s a good friend of mine now, and is a mountain man, you know, because he can adapt, he’s done so much time in the mountains that it’s second nature for him. He doesn’t use ropes pretty much ever. He can just climb mountains because he put himself in that situation. Same as the watermen, your Laird Hamiltons and stuff like that. If I put myself in a situation long enough then the more I adapt. I do seminars on aerobatics in base, and use what I’ve learnt from doing hardcore aerobatics. From 450 feet doing four or five flips or whatever, starting from single flips, learning and then pushing, pushing, pushing, pushing, and getting to a point where for us we have to, I have to accept my own limitations way earlier than I would like because I don’t want to die, so I don’t run at 100% ever really.
But, what I’ve learnt was that coming back from say doing four-five flips on a jump to doing one flip on a jump opens the world up way more. So, you sort of need to push yourself that harder and see with blinkers on, to then pull back and be able to see the world with open eyes. That’s really interesting, and it’s very hard to tell a 20-year old kid to do that because they just want to go crazy. But after coming full circle I don’t generally do all the big flips anymore, I just do the slow rotating ones. I’d be upside down, waving at people in a restaurant off a building or something, because I’m in the flow. But being able to do heaps of flips first has helped me reach that perspective. So, now my brain expects me to do all that stuff, and then when I lay it back a bit then the brain like “Oh yeah, this is much cooler!” [laughs] So, I teach people to not fly with blinkers on with everything they’re doing, to work themselves up to it and not rush into it. Then when you pull back you’re good. But on the other spectrum of that, I’ve lost a friend last year from pushing, pushing, pushing; their 100% performance became a normal percent. My normal performance is 30-50 percent now, just because I’ve lost so many friends and I’m having such a great life. But these guys are pushing so hard, their normal becomes 100%. And you almost need 100% sometimes, because we’re not perfect humans, so when these guys need an extra spike they didn’t have it and died from it.
So, I try and teach that a lot as well, because yeah, running at 100% all the time, that’s not good for our sport. It’s not surfing where you can sort of get away with it, or skating where you’ll break your ankle or something we generally die. So, whilst our sport is actually one of the safest extreme sports out there, when it goes wrong we die, it’s very simple. It’s not a broken ankle or things like that, so it’s a real tricky one for helping others with that.
Cameron: Yeah, yeah. I mean, it’s powerful what makes the skydiving such an amazing sport for flow, when you think about it. You know, the consequences are so high when you’re pushing it that you’re almost forced into a state of flow. Your senses engage, the mind has to shut off because it just can’t compute everything that’s going on and make those decisions that you need to make, and you’re forced into it. What do you do just before you jump off? You mentioned earlier, you said you take a couple of deep breaths and you kind of sit there.
Chris: Yeah. Like, off a cliff. Planes are different because it’s so noisy and you’ve got to go at the same time, but from a cliff I’ll gear up. These days I’ll just, well, obviously I’ve got a lot of jumps, so it definitely has evolved. I’m always scared, that’s one key; I’m always making sure I stay scared. That’s one of the key aspects to getting into flow I reckon as well, don’t be overconfident with everything. Then I’ll gear up and I’ll prep myself on everything. So, the weather, my skill level, my gut feeling that day, the object that I’m jumping off. Sometimes I’ll walk away as well, and sometimes I won’t jump stuff that my students jump. You know, I have my own little my own path.
But then once I’m geared up I’ll double-check, triple-check everything, make sure I’m cool, and then that way when I go to the edge the only thing I’m scared of is being scared. That’s a key for me as well, because then your mind doesn’t have to think about anything else, it can channel in and focus. And then when it’s time to go, generally I’ll be freaking out, but you’ve got to turn that negative fear into a positive fear. That’s when I’ll take three (deep breaths) because you’re going to do it anyway [laughs], so you might as well do it correctly. You know, if it gets too much I’d walk away and stuff, but I understand my body and my consciousness.
So yeah, when it is time to go I’ll basically calm down, take three deep breaths, and on the third breath or fourth breath or whatever I’ll generally just head off. And that way just before you go you’re completely calm, very tranquil, and about to throw yourself into the unknown. But, I mean, if it’s the unknown then that’s another ball game; I do know the outcome could be bad, but it’s a calculated risk, so it’s a very small chance as such, but it could definitely still happen on any jump I’m no more special than anyone else. But once you put yourself in that position and you go then it’s on, and then you’re just hyperaware of everything.
I’ll always put myself in uncomfortable positions. Like, just recently I was doing this seminar in front of 120 legends of the sport, and then putting myself up to do a song actually at the talent night in front of the same people. [laughs] They saw me physically shaking with the lyrics, you know, and I still put myself there even though it was f**king terrifying.
But, you know, I like doing that. The song was a good one because I was so nervous and my voice was so sh**ful, and then by the end I’ve got the whole crowd clapping and singing with me because I’d entered flow basically in a different environment and just went into rockstar mode without the talent by the way. By the end I was good, and then afterwards I’m like f**king freaking out again, but I’d hit that for about a minute of that song, I hit the flow basically. The same thing happens with the talks as well, I start out nervous. Dean Potter actually helped me, I try to do as much motivational speaking as I can now to overcome one of my biggest fears, and he said “Just learn the first two sentences.” [laughs] “Just memorise the first two sentences. You ve got to start, and the rest will just pick up in your state of flow basically.”
We would like to thank Douggs for his time and insight. We look forward to following and helping Douggs in his future expeditions. Thank you also, for taking the time to read this post.
Dropping down 70ft waterfalls whilst pinned into a kayak is not for the fainthearted. However, for Nick Troutman, this is what he lives for! Most people would hit the panic alarm, but Nick is so used to getting into flow, he even does emergency adjustments as he is dropping vertically.
Nick Troutman is a world champion and five-time national champion kayaker, filmmaker, and philanthropist. He is highly respected in the river-sport community, and in addition to his competitive achievements, has established several first descents while on expeditions in Mexico, Newfoundland, Ottawa, Zambia, Quebec, and the Niagara Gorge. His commitment to the river and exceptional kayaking skills are what drove us to track him down and ask him to join The Flow Centre.
To share some of his key insights we have created this blog so you can get to understand this unbelievable athlete.
Nick: We are driving around, checking out a whole bunch of different rivers and stuff.
Cameron: Nice! How long are you there for?
Nick: We’re on the road probably for the next 8 to 10 months, I guess probably 8 months until like October, November. So, driving around in different states and countries and stuff like that.
Cameron: Yeah tough life! (laughs)
Nick: Then back to Tennessee. Yeah, it’s not too bad. (chuckle)
Cameron: Have you experienced the flow state before when kayaking?
Nick: Yeah, definitely, you’ve studied it a lot and are very knowledgeable on the whole thing, but what you’re describing I definitely have experienced that, and it’s like “Oh yeah.”
Then there’s the times where…it seems like an out-of-body experience, or that you’re no longer in control; where you’re like “Whoa, how did that happen?!”
I guess the cool part would be to figure out how to get into it more often, because whenever I’m in the flow state I feel like I’m just way better.
Cameron: When was it that you experienced this flow state? What were you feeling?
Nick: It’s happened several times, but one of them that has been very memorable for me. Actually, it’s in the video I think, in the highlight reel, where I’m running a waterfall, I’m in the green kayak and I slow it down in the video. Running that waterfall, we were there with a photographer and we kind of had to wait at the lip for like a couple of hours for him to get set up. And so the whole time of trying to just sit there calmly and be like “Okay, I’m not even going to think about the waterfall. I scouted it, I know the line and I’m going to nail the line.” Then I had to really focus on, like zoning out and thinking about something totally different for the next couple of hours, because the longer I scout the waterfall and look at the waterfall, the more I felt like I was ‘getting demons in my head,’ and think of different possible outcomes specifically remembering the bad outcomes. Then I think, “Well, if I’m already imagining bad outcomes then I don’t want to run the waterfall anymore.” So I try to only think of the good outcomes.
But anyway, it was kind of this weird experience to zone out at the lip of the waterfall and just think of other stuff. When I did run the waterfall, it’s almost hard for me to recall, because it’s like I paddled in, and then I knew the line that I wanted to do, I got close to the left but then my boat spun a little bit and I had to do this correction stroke and pull it back while I was dropping down vertical like, a lot of different boat control happening all at once. And I don’t necessarily remember doing any of it, I just did it. There was never like an “Oh, sh**! I’m not where I want to be, I need to correct this,“or “Oh, it would be better if I did this.” It was just like I wasn’t thinking, I just did it all and it was perfect!
Then afterwards I remember being like “Oh, what just happened? How did I do that?” Like, I did a lot of things in a very short period of time and I don’t remember trying to do any of them, I just did it all. It was just one of those experiences that I guess I felt like I wasn t thinking, I was just reacting, but reacting so quickly.
That was one of the ones that was super memorable for me, but that happens quite often to a certain extent, where you just kind of react I guess and you’re not necessarily like “Oh, I’m going to put here and pull myself that way, or I’m going to do this and that.” You just kind of do it. I don’t know if that has to do with just several years of paddling, or if it’s some other thing in the brain. There’s a lot of things that happen that always made me wonder, like “Oh, I wonder how you do that?” or “I wonder what’s actually happening?” Because sometimes it feels like my brain just shuts off and I’m better when it does.
It was a very unique experience where just everything felt all connected and I could do whatever I wanted, it was almost like if I imagined it would work. Everything was happening quicker and better and easier, and I don’t know, a unique experience for sure. That’s probably the strongest time that I can really remember, but it happens quite often doing anything that I consider technical whitewater, where I’m nervous about a drop or a rapid or something like that, I frequently find that I’m in the zone and more in-tuned. Whether it’s fear that that kicks in, or adrenaline, but sometimes the harder the whitewater the more I zone out and just react a little bit.
I keep saying reacting, and I don’t know if that’s the right term or not, but I guess it’s just the word that I use because I’m not necessarily thinking like “Oh, I want to drive my boat farther this way or that way, or boof the hole or whatever.” I kind of just do it all, almost as if I’m on autopilot and a much better paddler is paddling my boat.
Cameron: So what about your freestyle experiences?
Nick: Yeah, I was going to say that in freestyle it’s a bit different. I don’t know if it’s a different experience or what, or maybe just a different level of the same kind of experience, but there’s definitely times where I can think of where I just had the best rides I could have possibly had. I was training hard for those events and practicing a lot and was in good physical shape but at the same time it’s a little different because I drop into the wave and have got 60 seconds or 45 seconds, depending on the competition and it was just like bam-bam-bam, like I would just do one move right after another. I wasn’t wasting time, I wasn’t doing anything, but I was very aware of where I was on the wave exactly, just super in-tune with my boat, my edge control, the current, the flows of the wave itself, and it felt like I was almost invincible, the same kind of thing where whatever I wanted to do I could do and I did it. Being that you’re under a time limit for the competition, the more tricks you do and the harder the tricks, the more points you get, so I was able to do essentially everything that I wanted to do.
Cameron: So what routines or preparation did you have prior to the competition that helped you get into flow?
Nick: Going into the competition I had a set routine that I wanted to do, but I hadn’t necessarily ever completed it in the time frame before or even in practice. But it was just like I could drop in and do whatever I wanted, and if I was in the wrong spot of the wave or something like that then I could just re-manoeuvre myself and I could get back into the right spot and continue going way quicker than normal. I guess a lot of it is just you’re not wasting time thinking, you’re just doing, which is pretty cool.
Both of them I was doing a lot of mental practice, just essentially doing the routine in my head. But a lot of it as well was just really trying to stay positive. In both situations there was a lot of pressure and a lot of people. You’re sitting in agony with the other people that are in the finals, and there’s just this severe amount of stress in the air. For me, at the time, it was like I had this bubble around me, and I would just be so happy and try to calm everybody else down. I’d be like “Hey guys, no need to stress! This is so much fun!” and just really being super positive about the whole experience, and I think that same positivity then, when I would drop into the feature, there was no stress about flushing or missing a trick or anything like that, and I just had this feeling like I know I’m going to win the World Championships.
Maybe that’s why I was also so positive at the time, or maybe that feeling came because of the positive outlook beforehand. But yeah, it’s a very unique experience for sure. It’s a little bit like feeling invincible.
Cameron: Can you explain the disparity between flow and winning?
Nick: The first World Championships I ever did, I had a lot of really good rounds where I was winning the whole time, and then in the finals the wave changed for the very last ride. I had this routine in my head that I was trying to do and I had never completed it, and then in my final ride of the event I completed it and I was just thinking like “Oh, I’m untouchable nobody could touch that!” But, because the wave changed and it was a little foamier, some of the judges didn’t like some of the tricks, and so I ended up in third. I guess it’s a different thing (flow) to your results. Sometimes your results don’t show, but the flow state still is there. I could still tap into that same mindset, even though the results weren’t the exact same.
Cameron: Why do you endure high risks and how do you continue to love the sport despite being scared?
Nick: It almost forces you to go into fight, flight, freeze, or flow mode. Like I was explaining before, once you peel out of an eddy and you’re essentially approaching a rapid, there’s no turning back, you’re in the lion’s den. You have to come out victorious, or something horrible is going to happen. When people ask why I love kayaking, I would explain that it’s the love of nature, which is definitely a part of it, but a big part of it is the forced decision-making. You’re forced into these situations to make extremely quick decisions. Kayaking on the river is very different than a half-pipe, a half-pipe you’ve got something solid where you’re going to go down and you’re going to come back up.
You can run the same rapid 100 times, and because water, the way it flows through a river and stuff like that, it’s never constant. The only constant is that it’s constantly changing. So, even though you can pick a line and you’re like “Okay, this is the line I’m going to take.” the current might push you a different way, or something might just happen. The fight, flight, freeze, or flow situations; it’s like you’re forcing yourself into these situations to be put into, to choose one of the four I guess.
We would like to thank Nick for his time and insight. We look forwards to following and helping Nick win Gold in the next championships. We would also like to thank you for taking the time to read this post!
This year World Surf League Margaret River Drug Aware Pro 2015 was a truly special event. Not only did I get to spend some time in the Competitors VIP Tent talking with the current best surfers in the world, but I also got to see some insane surfing in some of the best conditions this leg of the tour has seen in years. Some highlights of the event can be seen here.
I met up with Tom Carroll at the event to chat about flow and understand how it has been instrumental to his life and surfing. For those that don’t know Tom Carroll he has been voted as one of the top 10 greatest surfers of all time and been crowned World Champion twice. Even today, at the age of 53, he continues to push limits, searching the globe to ride the world’s biggest swells for his TV series ‘Storm Surfers’. In fact, when I met up with him, he had just taken a huge beating, injuring his hip, at the intimidating Boat Ramps surf break – a break not for the feint hearted, especially on a day like today with massive swell.
After speaking to Nat Young and Josh Kerr about flow, whose responses echoed the sentiment ‘flow – I’m always in flow, it’s what a I live for’, the legend himself talked about how he sees flow and how he plugs-in.
Cameron: How did you feel when you’re in it (Flow) and what was your top experiences like?
Tom: Well, I had my first really clear flow movement experience when I was 13 years of age. Obviously I’ve done a lot of surfing, to that point, I’ve been already surfing since seven years of age. I was on a board that I absolutely loved, that really fitted into my body at that time. I was surfing a right-hand point-break which I hadn’t experienced before, but it was a very comfortable place to surf, or something that I loved surfing a long wave where I got to do a lot of maneuvres on the wave. It was probably for the first time I’d actually rode a wave where I could do that many maneuvres on, so I was pretty excited. You know, just excited to be out there, loved the board, so I was in a very nice environment. And then, towards the end of the session I will never forget, taking a wave a little bit longer and further down the beach and getting drifted down the beach to a whole new wave. There was no one surfing on it, I was by myself so I got into the flow moment, which I recognised as a moment in time where nothing could go wrong. All my timing was absolutely perfectly in harmony with the wave, perfectly in harmony with my body movements and my timing and my understanding of what was happening at that time. I couldn’t fall off the board even if I tried. That was a really clear moment, and I can feel it now, I can sense it in my body at this point I’m 53 now so it a long time ago! So yeah, you re looking at 40 years ago I can sort of get that real clear emotional response in my body to that.
It was a really lovely feeling, and I just wanted to stay out there and keep in that space, but obviously you’ve got to come in, you know, it’s getting dark. It could’ve lasted, I can’t remember exactly the length of that time, but that’s because of the nature of surfing. I’m paddling out, looking for waves, feeling what’s the best wave to take, feeling the drop, feeling the move on the wave, and feeling totally in sync with how the wave was moving, the board and how I was moving on the wave. I probably came in and out of the experience through that hour or two, but it was long, elongated, suspended a suspended feeling of flow.
Cameron: Yeah. Describe when you were actually in it and on the wave, what were the highest points?
Tom: Yeah, yeah. I’d noticed clearly that I couldn’t fall off, that I was totally in sync. I could move wherever I wanted to, I knew with a sixth sense that I was able to push it, I was able to push my board to its limit and I could push myself to my limit at that time. There was no separation between me, the board and the wave, it was all connected and it was all kind of one thing, not separated at all; I was linked up.
The second really clear instance of flow was in competition, a moment at the Pipe Masters in 1991, I had two days of getting into the flow moment during competition. I’d had a big year of competitive experience that year, I was fine-tuned emotionally, physically, and you’d have to say spiritually at the same time. My wife was having our first child and she was full of little Jenna. She’s 23 now by the way and also a ballerina, so she felt the flow [laughs].
In that time at the Pipe Masters I had several moments where I was just doing and not being, or I guess I was being and not doing, I don’t know how to separate that. I was in flow in the moments where my body, the wave, the board nothing was in the way. Everything was in sync, everything was in clear focus and I wasn’t thinking things through, I was just doing it and being it. There was a move that was recorded you know, they call it the snap heard around the world, there was that move that was done in the preliminary round, in the first day of competition, and then I ended up going on to win that event the next day. In the final I scored a 10-point ride, I got a very, very late drop where I couldn’t think about it I was just doing it and I was able to sort myself, sort my body movement, sort everything out without needing to think about it.
It was all second nature, it was all sixth sense, and most definitely for me that day I was at the top of my game. So, yeah. They were two really clear examples, but there probably has been hundreds of moments where I’ve felt the flow, and even to the point where I felt it the other day [laughs] here at Margaret River just practicing surfing, just for fun!
Cameron: Obviously the critical elements of surfing, the big wave and the consequences of it hurting when it goes wrong help us to kind of push into that pocket and out of our brain and into that moment where we find flow. Is there anything else that you feel is a big help to kind of plugging into that? Is there anything that you do, maybe not consciously, or maybe preparation that leads up to it the morning of, or just before you’re about to paddle, or when you’re looking at the waves before you head out?
Tom: I think connecting with the breath is probably the biggest thing for me. Connecting with my breath at the deepest level, like right down into the hips, and really push my breath. Being aware of my breath and doing a number of breaths very, very consciously brings me further into my body, and that’s where I need to be. Quite often my scattered and very short attention span takes me out of my body, so coming back into my body is grounding. One particular exercise I used to do whilst competing was a chant, that where I used to say the four Ps which was power, precision, performance, perfect.
Cameron: A mantra.
Tom: A mantra yeah! Whilst I was paddling, each paddle I’d say “power, precision, performance, perfect” so my mind would remain focused on what was coming up next for me on the wave. On the wave everything sorted out because I’ve got to respond, I can’t think, the wave always draws me to the present. I don’t have time because mother nature ain’t going to wait for me. [laughs] She’s not going to wait, so what I’ve got to do is respond to her so that everything is sorted out for me once I’m standing up on the wave, as long as I’m out of the way. I’d learnt that working with a mantra helped a lot in bringing myself to the moment and keeping myself focused and not attending to distractions like drifting off on to what the other competitor’s doing, what the scores were, I mean, I need to know what the scores were, but that’s secondary to my performance really.
I’m the only one on the wave, I’m the only one on my board, and I need to be connected to that. I don’t sort of seek constantly and consciously to always be in the flow, I wouldn’t say that’s my main aim, I would say that I do look for it for competitive excellence, but it’s not something that I always, always go for. I do allow myself space to be, you know, just to be allowing my brain to move and be elastic, because I think that’s absolutely crucial for flow.
Cameron: How do you think flow can help other people?
Tom: I think it helps anyone just to be present in what they’re doing, it’s pretty much another kind of meditative state that we get to where our body and mind and attention is really placed upon the most important thing- the right now. We seek to pay attention and be a lot more present in our basic everyday task, whether it’d be doing the washing-up [laughs], whether it’d be opening the car door, being more present in our relationships, being more present in our life in general. I think it’ll help us become more able to make clearer decisions and actually help ourselves and others at the same time. It has such a multiple sort of faceted kind of plus to our lives when we get more present. This has been my experience and it helped me a lot.
We would like to take this opportunity to thank Tom Carroll for his time and words on flow and look forward to hearing his experiences and wisdom on flow in the future. Thanks to you also for reading this post, we hope you enjoyed it!
Martin Seligman, one of the founders of the positive psychology movement, recently gave an important TED talk (which can be viewed below). In his overview of what humans require in order to attain more life satisfaction, Seligman outlined how flow is a major part of the Holy Grail.
The talk starts by explaining the successes of traditional psychology. Psychology was originally born out of the disease-led model and existed to find solutions to mental illnesses that were rife in society. It has succeeded to date by successfully treating fourteen disorders and curing two. More importantly it has provided a scientific approach towards understanding mental illness.
We have been able to measure previously fuzzy concepts such as depression, alcoholism and schizophrenia, and learned about the various causalities. We have also been able to invent and test treatments, and have successfully been able to make miserable people, less miserable, as Seligman puts it.
However, one of the main failures has been the focus on making the average person happier or improving normal lives. This traditional approach to psychology has not found out how to nurture talent or which positive interventions are more successful than others.
Positive psychology has taken giant strides in the last decade towards rectifying this issue. Interestingly it has found that the happiest people are not those that have more money, a religious affinity or a more comfortable life. But there is one significant correlational result; “the happiest people are those that are social. Each of them is in a romantic relationship and each has a rich repertoire of friends,” says Seligman.
Happiness is also a vague concept that has been used and abused over the years, and is often very misleading. As a result, happiness has been defined into three types of lives:
Firstly is the pleasurable life, which is attained by creating pleasure and as many positive emotions as possible. This is the type of life Hollywood sells, as do the many marketing campaigns that so readily litter our environments. Although these positive emotions are pleasurable they are very habitual; meaning that “it’s all like French vanilla ice cream, the first taste is a 100%; by the time you’re down to the sixth taste, it’s gone” as Seligman puts it. He goes on to say that the pleasurable life is not very malleable and heritable.
The second life is a good life. Now listen up, because this is where flow comes in. This life is about engagement, total absorption in what we are doing. It is void of positive emotion, as time stops and we become connected with the task at hand. To attain this lifestyle we must identify our signature strengths and re-craft our life to use these strengths in our work, love and play. Interestingly, people who experience these flow moments that make up the good life are not consumed by positive emotion that the many marketing campaigns will desire us to search for.
Lastly is the meaningful life where we use our strengths for something bigger than ourselves. These altruistic actions leave a lasting level of happiness way past the actual event.
Seligman goes on to say that to understand life satisfaction we have studied these three types of lives: “And we’ve done this in fifteen replications involving thousands of people – to what extent does the pursuit of pleasure, the pursuit of positive emotion, the pleasant life, the pursuit of engagement, stops time for you? How does the pursuit of meaning contribute to life satisfaction?…. Our results surprised us, but they were backward of what we thought. It turns out the pursuit of pleasure has almost no contribution to life satisfaction. The pursuit of meaning is the strongest. The pursuit of engagement is also very strong. Where pleasure matters is if you have both engagement and you have meaning, then pleasure is the whipped cream and the cherry. Which is to say, the ‘full life,’ the sum is greater than the parts, if you’ve got all three. Conversely, if you have none of the three, the ’empty life,’ the sum is less than the parts.” He goes on to say that life satisfaction is more significantly found through finding flow and meaning in what we are doing.
So to attempt to summarise a 20-minute talk into a sentence and relate it to us flow seekers out there: Keep going. Keep searching for flow in everything we do and along the way find our own meaning to what we are doing. If we can experience flow for a meaningful purpose, then we are on the road to the Holy Grail of happiness.
Andrew is a performance coach currently working in New Zealand at the U21 Football World Cup. He kindly agreed to an interview with The Flow Centre so we could pick his brains about how he helps top athletes to plug into flow and peak performance.
Cameron: What does flow mean to you?
Andrew: Flow is a skill itself. It is a state that we can train for and experience in our everyday lives. When we think about flow as a unique mental state, that is not combined with notions of luck or some illusive magic space that finds us at random, we can then empower ourselves to find flow frequently in our lives. If you want to find flow in your performance, practise it in training, but we also need to practice under pressure.
Cameron: Your words echo one of The Flow Centre’s core messages; if we want to experience flow, then we need to train for it. What was the philosophy of your company Brain Builder?
Andrew: Living above the line everyday, day in and day out. We need to adopt a ruthless mindset to succeed and leave nothing to the ‘too hard basket.’ It is a phrase that we can use to instantly assess how we are doing at any given situation are we above the line. We must replicate the performance environment in our training and life as a whole. Performing at a high level is not a magic switch that we turn on and off, preparation is key, you have to guarantee you are doing the best you can in everything you do. We have to be above the line on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, not just on game day.
Cameron: What is one of the primary issues for athletes?
Andrew: Performing under pressure. Pressure is a concept and it is different for everyone, when you put your whole self into the performance, and approach pressure with our competitive fire never give up attitude the pressure reduces. It’s very hard to make it as a professional so if we are not willing to make our bed in the morning how can we expect to make it in professional sport?
Cameron: Do you think finding flow is available to access for everybody?
Andrew: If you put yourself above the line you will be amazed how many flow opportunities become available. It is absurd to think flow is reserved for the elite few, I see students enter flow everyday. Flow is not a magic tablet, it takes practice but we can experience it multiple times a day.
Andrew: Play and fun are the key to maintaining intrinsic motivation. You can’t find flow in something you don’t enjoy.
Cameron: How can we practically experience flow more frequently in our lives?
Andrew: Control our breathing. If we can take a moment to invest ten seconds to control our breathing and really focus on that, we can control our thoughts a lot better. My second piece of advice is to detach from the situation. Understand whether the pressure is situational pressure or pressure from within. Once we understand the situation better we can gain clarity and control.
Cameron: What is the difference between good/ the best performers and great performers?
Andrew: In a one word answer: mindset. For me, this means an unshakeable self-belief. No matter how the odds are stacked up against us the greats have a never give up attitude. The greats always find a way because they have an unshakeable self-belief. Willingness to put yourself out of the comfort zone and not be afraid of failure builds layers of self-belief.
We would like to thank Andrew for his time and thoughts on flow and peak performance. If you would like to find out more about Andrew, then please get in contact and we will connect the dots, or you can find him on Twitter: @mcbride_andy
Thank you also for reading this post, stay tuned as we interview more extraordinary people on how they find and utilise flow in their area of expertise.
It’s not just the British and many other nations seeking out mental skills training to compete on the world stage. The favourites and kings of football, Brazil, are also adopting the view that the players’ psychological training is just as important as the rest of their training.
With so much information what do we actually experience?
The consciousness is taking only the most important and the amount that reflects the maximum possible absorption of objective reality. Of the 400 billion bits of information per second that reach the brain, only 2,000 bits are utilized so that man has conscience of the world around them. It is as much information about the environment, about their bodies and about what kind of decision will be taken in time. The perception of reality so to speak, is extremely limited.