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: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.
We are delighted to announce some great results on a recent study with rock climbers receiving flow training. The climbers received 4 different types of training over a 3 month period and the results far exceeded our expectations.
Below is Camille’s account of what happened. Camille is a budding adventure enthusiast who competes in a multitude of sports and a true inspiration. She runs a great blog for those wanting to see how she quit her job to focus on a life worth living: http://www.farandhigh.co.uk/
Over to Camille and her a piece, she wrote to go on her blog:
I was delighted when Cameron, the training coach from the Flow Centre, offered me to be part of the group of elite climbers selected for a case study on flow training.
Initially, I didn t know what the flow mindset was and it is thanks to the study that I learnt more about it.
“Flow is the optimal mental state that produces performance, creativity, decision-making and innovation.”
Flow is a psychological state we experience during our peak experiences and is behind many of the greatest athletic performances. It is the state when we perform at our best and feel our best.
As part of the study, the climbers were asked to complete the same indoor climbing route twice a week, time ourselves and then complete a questionnaire straight after each climb including questions on our performance and our flow state. We were also asked to rate our overall climb. As weeks progressed, we were provided with training and individual coaching sessions on flow.
Throughout this experience, I’ve learnt some great tips on how to train your mind to get into the flow state and how to maintain that state. I thought I’d share the most valuable ones to me.
Motivation to perform
For me, motivation to perform is the biggest contributor to get me into a flow state, i.e. the desire to get to the top of the route. When the motivation is missing, my performance suffers. When the motivation is at its’ best and I truly want to reach the top, I’m enjoying the moment and I give it me all.
Secondly, finding focus is key to get me in the right state of mind. I need to completely shut down the outside world around me. For example, I need to ignore other climbers watching or shouting tips during a training session (sorry, I know you’re only trying to help J). This is especially true during a climbing competition when I find the audience very unnerving and it makes me anxious. So I need to completely zone out my surroundings and forget about my ego, so I can totally concentrate on the task at hand.
Be in the Present
To reach and maintain flow, I need to be completely focused on the present moment. I can’t be thinking about anything else other than each move as it unfolds. If I’m already thinking about reaching the top whilst I’m only half way up, my mind is not in the present.
The climb has to be challenging enough for me to get into the flow state. If it is during the warm-up or an easy climb, it 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.
So, what can you relate to from the 9dimensions to Flow? I know you ve had a quick look at them. What are the ones that really resonate for you in terms of practically finding Flow?
Lucy:I had a look at your list, and one of the main things is about ‘Level of Challenge’ actually. Certainly with playing the bass, if there 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!
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!
Humans are compared to computers all the time. We both seem to be made up of memory, bandwidth and communication devices all processing at varying speeds. Most notably, the human brain is often described as the most powerful computer in nature. So imagine the intrigue, when watching a lecture on flow, a question at the end came up: when we overclock computer components they degrade faster, is hacking into flow just overclocking our bodies? Short answer; no. But let dig a little deeper…
Normally when someone talks about overclocking their computer, they specifically mean the processor (CPU). (I won’t go into architectural detail of CPU, as we would be here for weeks, but it is fascinating stuff if you’re interested.) It carries out all the complex calculations and keeps all the other components running in time with each other. It is essentially the processing brain of the computer. So the CPU has a standard base clock speed that it runs at, but with some computer witchcraft, you can make it run at a faster speed e.g. 3.6Ghz to 4.4Ghz, improving and potentially hitting its peak performance.
You might be thinking that’s no big deal, if it can cope with the higher speed, just run it at that. But this is the issue, and where our flow comparison comes in. In order to run at that higher clock speed, the component is stressed beyond what is the standard level and so degrades faster than if it was processing at the lower speed. This is how basically all man-made objects perform, if you push it further, it degrades quicker.
So with all the similarities between humans and computers, does this mean that when we hack into flow, achieve a flow state more often than a normal person, peaking for longer periods, our body will decay faster due to the extra stress on its components ? The answer is that it won’t. Your body is not man-made, so to speak. When you train your body, it improves the quality of its components. Think of an athlete. By training, they improve the condition of their body, allowing them to reach a flow state during their performance. This doesn t mean they have a shorter life or lose the ability to walk sooner than anyone else. If anything it gives them a longer and better standard of life into a late age as they are constantly improving the body capacity.
However, one of the downsides of being human, and being very conscious beings, is that we cannot be in flow all of the time. So we are unlikely to ever really test this question to its entirety. So don’t be scared to overclock yourself through flow. You will find that you are simply unlocking the potential you have always had; growing in strength and resilience, allowing you to go further than you ever thought you could.
When we went in search of the ultimate base jumper and skydiver, we expected to find someone extraordinary – someone who was used to pushing the limits and had the ability to freeze time. When we finally hooked up with 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!
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.
The beauty of learning a new skill exists in bringing it all together. There is an almost tangible threshold after which you can suddenly feel your mind expanding and integrating your new skill in a profound way. This is part of the path to mastery and a definite access point to flow.
The process described here is known as chunking . Without being too tangential or abstract about this concept, let me give you an example: To learn a new skill you start with the basic motor patterns. You slowly execute and rehearse these patterns of behaviour day by day until you get proficient at it. That action gets locked in the subconscious as motor memory.
This pattern gets chunked in your brain and accessed as a block of information which is a whole rather than split into its sub-components. When learning to play guitar for example, initially we consciously place each finger on the correct fret in order to play a chord. Slowly as we rehearse placing our fingers in the correct location, it becomes automatic – part of our motor memory. When first learning chord A, we would place all our fingers in the correct position, then strum the chord. It takes a whole lot of brainpower to accomplish this, until slowly it becomes integrated into our subconscious and chunked in to our brain so that whenever we see it coming up on a piece of music our fingers automatically arrange themselves in the correct pattern.
What is fascinating about chunking is that initially complex tasks actually get packaged in a form that is much easier for the brain to handle. The result is less energy expenditure for higher-level tasks. Chunks can exist in multiple hierarchies. The next chunk for guitar playing could be playing a chord pattern that becomes automatic after rehearsing it a number of times. For example, musicians play chords A, D, E, A in order without having to think about the minutiae of the chord changes.
The ultimate experience and gateway to flow occurs when we transcend the motor components of our skills and get into higher-level thinking. We are able to think of the strategy, enjoy the moment and get a greater view of our surroundings if we are on stage we are not thinking about how to play the chords or the song structure.
Instead the experience becomes about engaging with the crowd, feeling the music and communicating with the other band members. Jazz music is a perfect example of this as musicians subconsciously communicate with the band members allowing the improvised patterns to find their own flow. Transitioning from one solo into another becomes an effortless task. Good jazz groups seem highly connected as if they are playing as one. In jazz this is known as being in the pocket . Scientifically, we call this flow. The greater the challenge and intensity of this experience the deeper the flow experience for these musicians.
In kitesurfing, this happened to me when I finally mastered the kite and board combo to the point where I no longer had to think about it in detail. I was then able to take a meta-viewpoint on the situation. Suddenly I was able to enjoy the wind in my face, the view of the ocean and take charge of the direction of travel. It became a whole new experience. Once you stop having to Think and you are able to just Do, it is possible to let go and naturally flow will occur.
The bottom line is that there are many layers to learning and mastering a skill. It starts with the basic parts and slowly things integrate into chunks of information, to the point where you are finally able to transcend the skill itself and enjoy the activity on a whole new level. Flow comes naturally to those who forget about the How because the conscious thinking part of your brain switches off as you take your skill to the next stage. Keep persisting through the challenging stages when learning a new skill as the real fruits of your labour lie further down the path to mastery.
After watching a fantastic film called ‘Whiplash’ I feel almost obliged to inflame a topic that is wide open for debate in many modern day performance arenas. How do we push people beyond their limits?
The film brilliantly depicts the relationship between an ambitious student jazz musician and an abusive, yet highly respected instructor. The student, Teller, is seeking to be more than just a great drummer, but ‘one of the greats’. His teacher, Simmons, equally is only looking to shape and mould the next musical genius. Simmons methods of coaching are outrageous and would send most psychologists into red alert, as his abusive conduct produces heart-broken and dysfunctional teenagers.
His position as Head of Music for the most prestigious school in the country is undoubtedly the reason these students remain in his class despite being physically, mentally and emotional abused in the hope that one day they will graduate as a name to remember. Teller’s remarkable talent is questionably furthered by Simmons who pushes him to his limits and in the process opens up much food for thought and topics for debate surrounding performance.
His methods of gutting their confidence, and putting their heads under the guillotine every time they play installs a fear induced motivation that ironically leaves the musicians driven to train harder and faster than they have before. Simmons uses his power to great effect and yields nothing but exceptional results, yet causes the musicians a life of discontent, isolation, and madness. Simmons power-plays back Teller into a corner where he is either forced to perform or crack. Teller like most of us does both over time but at the end his anguish and determination ignites a mind-blowing peak performance just when he needs it most.
The story is fitting with much of the training that we associate happening decades ago and is still publicly rife in places like China, as they arguably abuse young athletes until they reach a level of perfection. The obvious commentary is that these methods are not only inhumane but also unsustainable – the performers are the ones who have to live inside their twisted minds and bodies long after the lights go out.
This approach leaves behind many broken minds and bodies that given alternative training may have blossomed into something quite unique and amazing. However, Simmons argues the point in the film, that anything else will simply not produce the next genius that will be remembered for generations. This strategy of work harder, faster, until you drop, at a lesser extent is undoubtedly a typical go to response for most coaches, even today. I see it on tennis courts, in fitness instructors, and corporations reminiscing a hangover from World War II that never went away. Although coaches have adopted the social norms and limits that counteract these extreme teachings the underpinning philosophy still bubbles underneath the surface – I see fear installed in many students and workers all around me.
As performers or coaches it forces us to answer the question: How do we go about pushing our limits and of those around us? Do we use fear as a motivator, which always seems to get short-term results but continuously fails to generate lasting desire. Telling ourselves to pull our socks up and do better for the fear of looking like a fool or being somehow belittled is no doubt one of our go-to strategies. One that many of us have been brought up with and use on a day-to-day basis. If we are to not use this strategy, and change a lifetime of conditioning, then what do we use?
With flow as our central ethos there is another method, one that produces self-generated motivation, fulfilled performers and doesn’t reduce the bar of excellence that is needed to be ‘one of the greats’. When our focus is 100% committed on being the best version of ourselves, do we expect anything less than hard work, determination and resilience? Absolutely not. If we do then I would question whether we are seeking flow or an excuse to go easy on ourselves.
Being in an intense state of flow requires our mind and body to be completely congruent. That means every fabric of our body being aligned to achieve the same goal. In this space there is no room for conflict, fear or separation, instead we are completely immersed and at one with the task at hand. To attain this state repeatedly, it would seem logical we need to have our minds and body congruently primed in our training and life as a whole. If otherwise, these conflicts no matter how small will act like splinters, which will undoubtedly lead to cracks in the system and when the pressure mounts most likely cause us to crumble.
We can reach flow through fear or hatred by erupting to a point where we snap and either find our true magnificence or a road to destruction. This snapping point tips us into a place where we transcend out of our body and into the zone that is ironically free from fear and anger. The fear can increase our arousal to a point where we are forced to plug into the moment and let go or be crippled by it and fight, fly or freeze. Although this strategy is possible, dare I say, still commonplace, an alternative more sustainable, fun, and contagious option is readily available flow.
Arguably, one of the most attractive features of working as an entrepreneur is the freedom that comes with it. The ability to choose your own schedule, work as much or as little as you like, and make your own decisions can result in amazing output or lead to disaster depending on the individual approach. One of the most important elements in how this freedom is used appears to be productivity.
In the entrepreneurial world, efficient time management and the ability to delegate or collaborate is well documented to yield great effects. There are countless productivity hacks, and tools to help you organise every second of your day. Yet there is an important element missing in all of this. What do you do in the actual moment you are supposed to be productive? It all planned out, the calendar is set up, the to-do list notifies you what needs to be done. But in the moment of execution, are you being as productive as you could be? Is your actual output in the moment at it full potential? In addition, as an entrepreneur we constantly face curve balls almost daily, which make our previously well organised plans redundant what happens then? And how can we make the most of our time in these situations?
How we perform during these periods is critical. Thankfully, for all entrepreneurs listening there is a way for us to maximise our potential for success through the improved productivity that comes with flow. Flow, is a concept that can provide some of the answers. Hungarian professor of Psychology Mihali Csikszentmihalyi initially described the notion of flow in his seminal work, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, where he describes it as a state of complete absorption with the activity at hand and the situation, a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter. Since his initial description and exploration in the 1970 , flow has been utilised in elite sports and in the offices of top executives alike due to the profound effects it has on performance. A 10-year McKinsey and Co. study on flow and productivity found top executives 500 % more productive when in flow. Let just take a moment ..that is five times more productive. Meaning if we worked all day in flow on Monday we could take the rest of the week off. Any takers?
Being in a flow state or ÔÇ£in the zoneÔÇØ allows for deep concentration and ultimate immersion in the task at hand. This allows for complete attention on a subject and maximises productivity and output in a given time frame. This is important for the entrepreneur or CEO who must not only manage what they do with their time, but also maximise the benefit of the actual time allocated to various tasks.
Time management is about prioritisation and what you do when. But flow is about the how you do what you do. Using flow in your day-to-day means devoting 100% of yourself to the task at hand. Flow is about doing one thing, doing it undistracted, and doing it well.
Productivity is not only vital for the individual but for teams, and entire organisations. In Forbes magazine, James Slavet of Venture Firm Greylock Partners suggests a new metric to measure a great start-up team. He calls it the Flow State Percentage , which is the proportion of the day employees are in flow as a measure of performance. He argues that every team comprises of jobs that require a lot of brain power and that our current work scenarios are not providing the optimal platform to maximise efficiency and output. Ideally 30-50% of a productive day should be spent interrupted. Things such as emails, phones, meetings, colleagues all snap us out of flow when we are really starting to get things done. Studies show that getting back into flow once interrupted takes 15-20 minutes, if possible at all. James Slavet challenges us to measure this in our teams. How much time is spent interrupted and in flow in a day? Divide this by the number of work hours and this is your flow state percentage.
So, how do we minimise distractions when you are in productivity mode? John Reed, the former CEO of Citigroup kept his office door closed from 7am to 10am every day, refusing to take any calls or visits until he opened his door. Follow Reeds lead and get creative. Set up your working environment for yourself and your team to achieve maximum output and flow. Look to find flow on a daily basis or get a flow coach. The difference between finding flow frequently or not whilst working, not only is the difference that makes the difference to success, but also makes the job a whole lot more fun.
Flow is a place where external and internal elements align to create a state of peak performance. Purely by definition it is impossible to always be in flow.
For some, flow is an elusive state of being that they may have experienced once in their lifetime. It all happened so fast, was so blissful and almost indescribable in nature. And somehow it has been impossible to get back into. Often in these cases, it was pure luck that the necessary ingredients were available to create a flow state in that person. So in some ways you could argue that on a population level, flow is a statistically rare event. But it not to say that we can t be in flow more often using the concepts applied through The Flow Centre.
Everyone goes through cycles of expansion and contraction. Taking a close look at your day I m sure you can pinpoint the times you are the most alert, most active, and most productive. You could also pinpoint the times you feel more relaxed and calm. The same cycles appear on a weekly level where you might feel different on a Monday compared to a Friday. Now consider the seasonal changes in your state of mind. Winter is different from summer. These are all part and parcel of the normal ebbs and flows of life. Hence it not a reality to expect flow all the time, but we can definitely increase our chances by creating the most optimal platform during those times our mind naturally expands.
Using concepts from The Flow Centre it is possible to do two things. First is to increase the number of opportunities to access flow by creating the conditions to cultivate it. The second is to maximise the number of times we enter flow by seizing these opportunities when they present themselves.
So do we always want to be in flow?
As a flow seeker and a person who also seeks balance in life, for me personally the answer is no. For me, flow is an amazing state of being that is a very important component to a fulfilling life. It is these peak experience, which give life purpose and meaning. But at the same time I value and understand the importance of down time.
We all need time to recharge, centre, and collect our energy. In fact this is a huge component to creating the foundations of flow. If our minds and bodies are constantly drained of energy, how could we expect to enter peak performance states? Part of the balance is to nurture important parts of life including relationships, physical health, emotional health, career and personal goals. This takes down time. It ok to cycle through periods of contraction. Often it important to let nature take its course and allow the process to happen. Consider these times as the foundations for your next expansion, which you can use as a launching pad to get more flow down the line.
In summary, getting caught up and anxious that we might not be feeling 100% all the time is counter productive. Expand, contract, and join us at The Flow Centre to get more flow in your life.