The First Step to Finding Flow

The First Step to Finding Flow

Performance Skills

In order to find Flow, the first step is to first understand what exactly is the actual experience. 

Through understanding the nuances of the flow experience, we definie and label it; in doing so we give our mind and body signposts towards finding it. We separate it from those performances that were successful but felt stiff and forced, and also  moments of ecstasy that lacked focus and execution.

“I was already on pole, then by half a second and then one second and I just kept going. Suddenly I was nearly two seconds faster than anybody else, including my teammate with the same car. And suddenly I realised that I was no longer driving the car consciously. I was driving it by a kind of instinct, only I was in a different dimension. It was like I was in a tunnel. Not only the tunnel under the hotel, but the whole circuit was a tunnel. I was just going and going, more and more and more and more. I was way over the limit, but still able to find even more”

  • Aryton Senna, widely regarded as one of the greatest Formula One drivers of all time explaining Flow

“When you get in that zone, it’s just a supreme confidence that you know it’s going in. It’s not a matter of if – it’s going in…Everything slows down. You just have supreme confidence. When that happens, you really do not try to focus on what’s going on [around you], because you could lose it in a second…You have to really try to stay in the present, not let anything break that rhythm…You get in the zone and just try to stay here. You don’t think about your surroundings, or what’s going on with the crowd or the team. You’re kind of locked in”. 

  • Kobe Bryant, 5 time NBA champion and widely regarded as one of the greatest of all time

These are descriptions of Flow experiences from two of the best in their craft but these descriptions are unique to them. In the ether, across all professions, there are thousands of unique descriptions of these treasured moments. 

You may have felt something similar while you were listening to music and dancing or just chatting with a friend. The experience is unique and unquestonable when felt deeply.  When trying to recreate these moments, however, pinning down exactly how to find flow or a distinct description of the experience can seem  elusive and complex.

Many can identify with the feeling of our actions ‘flowing’ as if nothing else existed at that time, yet when trying to consciously grab it, it disappears, and our recalled descriptions become jumbled. The common descriptions include feeling as if ‘time slowed down’, ‘the world around us melted away’, ‘I witnessed an out-of- body experience’, or as Aryton Senna recalls, reached ‘a different dimension’. 

The challenge is that these descriptions seem so far removed from our usual experience that we quickly turn a blind eye and move-on before we sound like a fool. 

Flow can seem so intangible or baffling, that the natural reaction is to simply breeze over them as we move on to more palpable concepts to grapple with. 

As renowned author Joan Didion states, “We forget the things too soon that we thought we would never forget”.

First hand experience is really what it takes for someone to understand the true value and beauty of these moments. Nevertheless, there are countless articles and scientific articles surrounding flow. Much of flow practice is unfortunately hidden away in academic journals, ancient wisdom, or kept close to the heart of elite performers. 

A travesty we hope to change.

We want to make the practice of flow and inherent  knowledge available to the world, so that everyone can learn how to cultivate it into their life. 

If you are interested in finding out more. Please check out our free overview and introduction to flow.

Our excellent team of experts have dedicated their lives to understanding and teaching flow in others. We offer one-to-one coaching as well as evidence-based online courses, updated constantly, and based on cutting edge flow research.

Join our community and become a Flow Seeker. 

Think less, be more.

I move, therefore I am. How the brain is wired and what it means for our mindset

I move, therefore I am. How the brain is wired and what it means for our mindset

Performance Skills

The human brain is arguably the most complex, most important, and most fascinating (in my opinion) instrument we have. It is so complex that we barely understand how it works, meaning that we rarely, if ever, get to use it to its full potential. 

How would we even know when we use it to its fullest potential? 

As the control centre of human physiology and psychology it would’ve been amazing had it come with a manual… 

We can only dream…

Nevertheless, Daniel Wolpert, a renowned neuroscientist explained in his TEDGlobal talk, the brain has evolved not to think and feel, but to control movement

This is because everything is initiated and mediated through movement. Falling in love, speaking, feeling sad or advancing science, all occur through the contraction of our muscles. Our brain has evolved marvelously to fine-tune our neurological systems with the goal of perfection in efficiency.

No, your taxes, or the chores you have to do at home today, are not your brain’s primary concern. Indeed, these higher-order cognitive thought patterns are scripts and agendas that we have developed over millennia, and are indeed ever present in our minds. However, they are ultimately of secondary concern to our brain. 

Movement is indeed of primary concern, without it we cannot talk, communicate or ultimately further our species. 

Ordinarily we might associate movement with the body. We typically separate mind and body for ease of understanding, but we are ultimately beings of embodied cognition. Our mind and body are inexplicably linked. Which is why many neuroscientists want to change Descartes famous quote from “I think, therefore I am” to “I move, therefore I am”


The complexity of human movement 

The ability to see into the future, retain incredible amounts of information, and grasp complex and abstract concepts are all remarkable aspects of human intelligence. Look at chess for example, designing AI that was able to beat the best human chess player was an eye-opening and spectacular moment in AI history. Designing this AI involved the use of an algorithm which calculated all the possibilities of the game and chose the most intelligent move every turn, without failure. Something a human can rarely match.

Now, think about this.

Have you ever seen a robot move with the same fluency as a 5 year old moving a chess piece? 

The answer is no, and it’s because recreating such intricate and precise movement that is highly adaptable to moment-to-moment interference requires complex and state-of-the-art programming. In fact, when it comes to replicating dexterity, we are not even sure what type of algorithm could be used. 

It may seem simple to you at first, to reverse engineer the method by which humans control movement , but let me explain why this assumption is dead wrong. 

Our brain and body communicate internally to move our muscles and continuously interpret sensory feedback. Feedback from our vision, skin, and muscles are all processed and compared in real-time to our prior knowledge and beliefs on what is likely to happen in the future. 

This is called “Bayesian inferencing” from Bayesian theories of mind. The perpetual interpretation of feedback, reflection, and cross-referencing against our beliefs in order to predict the best course of action, all occur in real-time, and involve an infinite number of variables and opportunities for alternative movements.

An incredible system right? You can begin to understand that moving a chess piece is not just about reverse engineering the physical movement, but a continuous process which interacts with the environment. A million different stimuli being processed in a matter of nano seconds. 

Now, imagine this Bayesian inference process during performance conditions in which many of the external variables are changing and uncontrollable, such as the actions of an opponent, or the violent movement of the water in a river. One of the biggest challenges of this whole process is that the multitude of  feedback (millions of bits of information) we are continuously assessing and integrating real-time to fine-tune our movement is not understood yet. 

During these complex conditions, our brain is assessing such an incredible range of probabilities in order to make predictions to determine our next best movement. This process is so filled with noise and fuzziness that it distorts the feedback we receive. Whether it is when interpreting someone else’s actions or our own confusing emotions, the mind and body are continuously overwhelmed with a plethora of unclear information to process.

This confusing and complex processing greatly interferes with our innate fluency and ability for optimal decision-making. Even after we have deciphered the signals and made up our next moves, we are again confronted by conflicting thoughts or new confusing feedback; how to execute this decision? which muscles to move and when? and so on.

This is why most experiences feel somewhat clunky.

It is also why the focused and immersed state of Flow in which our actions are completely effortless is so special. 

If you would like to explore all of this in more detail and practice, then please explore the site or join us on one of our next courses.

Think less, be more.

Flow is the Answer to Aristotle’s Call: Be the Greatest Version of Yourself

Flow is the Answer to Aristotle’s Call: Be the Greatest Version of Yourself

Performance Skills

The concept of Flow originates from the study of optimal psychological experience, in an effort to answer the question, what constitutes meaning in our lives and highly engaged fulfilling experiences? 

Can we reverse engineer such experiences and replicate more of it into our lives?

Through advancements in psychology and neuroscience, we are able to conceptualise and understand the answer to these questions more than ever before. Why do these characteristics of the flow state experience have such a monumental and life changing effect on us?  

Tapping into Flow

In Flow we unleash biological abilities that we would’ve never known to exist. Without the usual distracting and critical thoughts that often consume our minds, we allow ourselves to perform to our optimum, explore our talents, realise new capacities. Creating precious moments where we live with our unshackled true self.

Moreover, in doing so, we realise that this state of being has been residing within us during our whole life; we just rarely tap into it. 

Such an experience of self-discovery and empowerment leaves us feeling energized and fulfilled; often leaving us craving more of it. They can drive years of effort and become a backbone to overcoming adversity simply to experience it again. Intimate experiences with flow can literally organise and prioritise an individual’s life experiences.

Flow is also a primary reason why so many people go through such extreme lengths and put themselves through incredible risk and hardship purely for the sake of an experience; it is why flow experiences are so prevalent in extreme sports, for example. 

@thomasvictorcarroll – Flow Centre Ambassador & Pro-surfer

Once it’s on the radar, we are continually evaluating the “flowability” of situations, directing our thinking and engagement. This subtle guidance not only aims to help us feel fulfilled from deep engagement but also aims to help us seek out more of our true selves within these experiences; the complexity and depth of experience allow individuals to expand abilities and find true capacities. It can not only be the difference between success and failure, but an engaging and meaningful life, or not

“Flow captures the intention of all life experiences and is certainly the intention or stated purpose of every human endeavour, be it individual or group, team or institution. All the ‘iatry’ (care) aspects of the helping sciences (e.g. Psychiatry and psychology, medicine and all the human sciences and social sciences) are embroiled in the task of pursuing flow. This is ultimately the purpose of human existence for we wish always to have a better world laced with care and of course a living performance level that enables all to contribute to the best of their capacity moment-to-moment.”
– John Hendry, distinguished Professor (OAM).

Being in a flow state creates such a richness in our experiences that it seems to echo Aristotle’s call for us all to find and live with our true selves. 

A central premise to Aristotle’s idea about living life was that focusing on what truly matters is important. Our time on this earth is so incredibly short, that it is such a shame to let it slip by. Each experience, from moment-to-moment, is valuable and should be prioritised as such.

Most of us tend to live our lives putting our experience aside in order to get on with more important things such as being more productive. We often settle for mediocre experiences because we are too busy striving and surviving, or maybe we are naively hoping that eventually we will be rewarded for our hard work. This way, our present moment becomes a means to an end; and ‘the beat goes on’ Consequently, many of us tolerate the boredom of the day-to-day or sacrifice experiences that we truly value for these future promises. We literally watch life slip through between our very fingers. 

Sound familiar? 

If so, it’s time to change that, and right now. The price we pay by not caring or prioritising a richer experience in the here and now is incomprehensible. We are paying for our laziness and lack of action, literally with our lives. You deserve better than this. We all do.

If you’re concerned that change at this level may not be possible, idyllic at best, or thoughts of unrealistic luxury. Think again.

For many, it is our perception of our ability that limits our motivation to change. Many of us tend to think of our potential as fixed from birth or due to our life experiences thus far. Through the work in neuroplasticity and biology, however, we have an insurmountable amount of information showing us the contrary. Change is always possible. Meaning that an increased capacity to flow or experience richer moments in life are possible at any time, to anyone. No excuses. 

It is only ourselves that choose to get in our own way and talk ourselves out of opportunity and limit our own ability for optimal functioning. 

This opportunity-cost and experiential-loss is completely unacceptable. 

The search for meaning in what we do must start now if it hasn’t. 

We are here to help you simplify matters. With a focus on flow, life really can be more meaningful, more rewarding.

Flow states enable improved efficiency, creativity, learning, well-being, productivity and performance and seems to be our most natural, native state of functioning when we remove our self-limiting beliefs, thoughts and actions.

If you want to begin your journey, the Flow Centre is here to help you. If you are interested in learning and cultivating Flow into your life experiences, we have an excellent team of experts who have dedicated their lives to understanding and teaching flow in others. We offer one-to-one coaching as well as evidence-based online courses updated constantly based on cutting edge flow research. 

Join our community, become a Flow Seeker. 

Think less, be more.

Making it a year of self-development and discovery

Making it a year of self-development and discovery

Performance Skills

Over the last couple of years, the self-development industry experienced an incredibly rapid rate of growth. A growth which is projected to not only be maintained over the next decade but continue to rise on a steep trajectory. 

This era of increased awareness of mental health, self-recognition and the pursuit of happiness is what is expected to drive the demand for further personal development content. 

Due to the competitive world we live in, people are seeking methods to improve or attain all sorts of personal skills, characteristics, habits, mindsets and emotional control. As well as striving for ways to attain not only physical but mental and emotional health. The importance of these things has become widely recognised to encompass overall health and understood to be vital for optimal performance. The notions of working as many hours as possible to maximise productivity are outdated. These old schools of thought are fading away as current research shows their inefficacy and damage to productivity and well-being.

It is no longer acceptable to be ignorant about the importance of psychological, emotional, and cognitive health. These affect human performance and well-being greatly and without the right care and training in ALL of these domains, you WILL lag behind more and more in this modern world. With the internet, the resources are available for most, and there are no excuses for not researching and investing in yourself. 

Flow’s role in self-development is thought to go beyond optimal functioning, well-being and mental health remedies, but also to have far-reaching implications in fabricating our individual identity and evolution.

In a recent study by Antonella Delle Fave, President of International Positive Psychology Association and Editor in Chief of the Springer Group’s Journal of Happiness Studies, Flow experiences were deemed a major contributor to how we think and what we do. Meaning that the benefits of Flow are so rewarding that the brain is constantly subconsciously engineering our thoughts and decisions in order to find more Flow in our lives.

This suggests Flow shapes what narratives and activities we deem to be important to us. Echoing the notion that ‘we become what we believe’ and ‘we are what we do’. 

I’m sure many of you know what he is talking about. Have you ever been stressed out, and just wanted to go to the gym, or listen to music, or meditate? These are similar to Flow in that they require your attention to the present moment with little distraction. These activities can take you away from your current stress when we need it. When you experience an immersive Flow state during certain activities, your subconscious gears you towards recreating that experience substantially.

Even though our genetics, the environment and our cultural inheritance help to shape our life’s trajectories and personal development, our mind also plays a moment-to-moment role in selecting information and making decisions. Because flow is so intrinsically rewarding and the mind and body is innately attracted towards the internal harmony experienced in Flow, there is a continuous bias towards it that governs much of our decision-making, knowingly or not. 

Human Development

Flow can be so rewarding that we can engage in activities that produce flow, even if the activity bears risk or potential negative consequences. It is why graffiti artists risk being arrested, rock climbers risk their lives, people work into the night without recognition, or why we often develop hobbies that feel good but aren’t very productive. Our subconscious presses us to continue these activities beyond rational reasoning in order to experience more Flow. In doing so, these activities can reveal our true interests, and help us to uncover new capabilities as we stretch ourselves in various ways. 

@Hazel_findlay Flow Centre Coach and Pro-climber

This complex layering of skills and continuous growth advances us as human beings. We develop mastery of the context and improve our ability to navigate our socio cultural environment. These skills help us survive and become better equipped to operate in our environment.

Integral to our primary drives to survive and reproduce, an individual’s ability to find Flow is considered essential to increasing these chances of survival and leaving a more evolved gene to our progeny. In short, Flow experiences are a fundamental driver to what, and how, we do what we do. With the work of Csizkentmihalyi, many other researchers, and here at the Flow Centre, research from all domains has greatly advanced our understanding of how we can experience Flow and how to train it in others. 

If you are interested in learning and cultivating Flow into your life experiences, we have an excellent team of experts who have dedicated their lives to understanding and teaching flow in others. We offer one-to-one coaching as well as evidence-based online courses updated constantly based on cutting edge flow research. 

Join our community, become a Flow Seeker.

Think less, be more. 

The Number 1 Leadership Competency of the Future

The Number 1 Leadership Competency of the Future

Performance Skills

Creativity is commonly accepted as a critical skill in most human pursuits from the arts to marketing and considered of great value both in academia and industry. 

With the exponential boom in technological development, computers and AI are taking over thousands of human jobs. Almost every sector of endeavour has become and is becoming more competitive due to the growing population and rise of technology. More and more, creativity is becoming an invaluable skill. Our unique and unreplicable (hopefully) edge over technology and AI. 

For example, a landmark study in 2010 for IBM to understand the challenges and goals of today’s CEOs met face-to-face with 1541 CEOs, general managers, and senior public sector leaders in 60 nations and 33 industries, who cumulatively singled out creativity as the number one leadership competency of the future.

Furthermore, LinkedIn Learning performed a study using their Economic Graph to determine the one skill companies needed the most. Can you guess what it was? 

In order to successfully navigate an increasingly complex and uncertain world such as new government regulations, changes in global economic power centres, exponential technological transformation, and rapidly evolving customer preferences, CEOs believe that ‘creativity’, more than rigour, management discipline, or even vision, is required. 

There is a clear desire and necessity for the cultivation of creativity. Unfortunately, this same study also discovered that under 50% of global CEOs believe their enterprises are sufficiently trained to appropriately meet the complexities of the ever-changing business environments. This is despite the fact that 25% of companies with over 100 employees provide some method of creativity training for their employees. Furthermore, an article published in 2014 by the International Journal of Design Creativity and Innovation reported that design tutors are unable to articulate HOW they helped their students develop their individual creativity. 

The problem is not that we don’t recognise the importance of creativity. It is that we do not know how to train it. Our understanding of the type and quality of training best suited to teach and stimulate creativity is lacklustre in many cases. 

Academic reviews have identified hundreds of different creativity training programs, including divergent thinking to creative persuasion. These same reviews concluded most of these methods to be ineffective and extracting what has worked from these programs and why has been just as ambiguous. 

It is clear that there is an enormous discrepancy between our desire for creativity and our ability to train it. This is a problem. 

This is where Flow training has something to offer. 

Ordinarily, creativity training targets cognitive changes or out-of-the-box thinking strategies, helping individuals to think differently. However, being truly creative is not solely about adopting new thinking processes, although this can help, rather changing the state in which we are operating. 

Our brains are capable of performing beyond your perceived limits, all the information you need is already there. Just waiting to be realised. One’s ability to connect disparate thoughts and produce new ideas is a state of being, not a definitive process or method. 

You only have to think back on a moment when you were at your most creative. You will realise that you were in a different state, immersed in a different experience to normal. 

If you want to learn more about this state and how to cultivate it into your life, we have an excellent team of experts who have dedicated their lives to understanding and teaching flow in others. We offer one-to-one coaching as well as evidence-based online courses, updated constantly, and based on cutting edge flow research. 

Join our community and become a Flow Seeker. 

Think less, be more.

Flow Therapy – An alternative remedy for PTSD and mental health issues

Flow Therapy – An alternative remedy for PTSD and mental health issues

Performance Skills

Soldiers are often forced into Flow or die situations during intense training, or in real-life battlefields. Situations which call for the most focus and attention one can muster and pour their every being into the task at hand, engineering survival. 

Soldiers have reported that they feel more alive in Flow than in any other moments in their lives. So much so, that they tend to have a desire to re-experience this sensation which can drive soldiers to return to the blood-soaked battlefields despite the awareness of its dangers. 

War has its prices, especially on the soldiers who experience tremendous levels of stress often leading to PTSD. The consequent mental conditions can be so debilitating and due to its nature, prevent many from being able to live and experience moments in the here and now. Traumatizing flashbacks and vigilant thoughts often pull PTSD victims straight out of the present moment or prevent them from focusing solely on the task at hand. 

Unfortunately, there are still no known treatment options which can consistently alleviate symptoms in PTSD patients. Prolonged exposure therapy (P.E.) — the treatment option considered to be the most effective — faces the problem of high drop-out rates as it involves the gradual exposure of the patient to a traumatic stimulus. Seal et al. (2010) showed that only 9.5% of 49,425 U.S. veterans attended the recommended nine treatment sessions during a 15-week program. As an alternative to P.E., medication options for PTSD have been shown to only slightly reduce symptoms across several studies. However, these options may leave patients at high risk of experiencing side effects or becoming addicted rendering treatment options ineffective for these disorders. Therefore, it is important to look at alternative treatment options to help alleviate the suffering of these patients. 

This is where Flow therapy may be an interesting research field for PTSD or other mental disorders alike. Eleonora Riva from the University of Milano outlines how Flow therapy aims to instil the principles of Flow into the subject’s life to help foster positive change in their behaviour and approach to life. Flow therapy has been successful in both group and individual interventions with participants displaying an understanding of Flow experiences, and are able to proactively manage and produce Flow experiences. Studies have shown that finding Flow has played a crucial role in treatment adherence, treatment outcomes, and improved functioning in daily life among individuals undergoing programs in physical rehabilitation, eating disorders and obesity.

A great case study for Flow and mental health is the work by Clemens Ley, a researcher at the Institute of Sport Science in Vienna, Austria. She is fascinated by the idea of using Flow-inducing interventions to alleviate PTSD symptoms. She conducted a three-year study with torture and war survivors, who had come from various conflict-torn countries. Twice a week for three months the participants engaged in a sport and exercise therapy program which included Flow-inducing games and activities such as basketball, dance tasks and art therapy. Ley found that despite their mental health problems, in a short time the survivors were able to experience Flow and not only find relief from their everyday trauma but relished the flow-inducing activities. They reported that the intervention facilitated an experience full of pleasure, a distraction from their regular illness-related distractions and thoughts, and allowed them to truly be in the here and now. 

It is no wonder programs such as ‘Operation Surf’ an organisation that teaches wounded soldiers how to surf has had such success. Studies from this program reported that military participants have decreased their PTSD symptoms by 36%, depression by 47%, and increased confidence by 68%. 

The integration of Flow as a framework for therapeutic solutions is in its infancy, but it certainly offers great hope for current and future mental health patients. 

If you are interested in learning and cultivating Flow into your life experiences, or providing solutions to mental health, contact us. We have an excellent team of experts who have dedicated their lives to understanding and teaching flow in others. 

We offer one-to-one coaching as well as evidence-based online courses updated constantly based on cutting edge flow research. 

Join our community, become a Flow Seeker. 

Think less, be more. 

Aristotle’s call to society – A rich and meaningful life

Aristotle’s call to society – A rich and meaningful life

Performance Skills

Centuries ago an orphaned boy spent long days pondering within a grove of olive trees that were dedicated to the goddess Athena. There, he would question the teachings of Socrates and debate the meaning of life with Plato. All in his search for the answer to the meaning of his own name, ‘the best purpose’.

This curious boy is described as the “First Teacher” by Medieval Muslim scholars and “The Philosopher” by Christian scholars; his name was Aristotle.

Aristotle identified eudaimonia (translated to mean human flourishing) as the optimum activity of the soul and the objective of all human deliberate action. One of Aristotle’s prominent messages was his clear distinction between action and production. He proposed that the greatest rewards for man came from actions which were driven by a search for our greatest self and not by productivity.

This call for individuals to recognise and live with their ‘daimon’ or ‘true self’ demands that we follow our interests and realise our full potential.

Aristotle’s wisdom is till this day reiterated in modern guides to a fulfilled life. Yet, when it comes to the practical path to this enrichment, it is obscure, making it difficult to live up to.

By now, many of us believe that we have the potential to perform better, be happier, be more creative, but we continue to fumble and trip over our own laces.

We deny ourselves from the richness of our greatest self.

This is the case even at the elite executive level. A survey conducted by McKinsey Global Research Institute asked leaders across all industries what they thought was most missing for them and their colleagues. They invariably replied” a strong sense of meaning.

This research found that in these 5000+ executives, they were five times more productive in Flow, but they were in Flow well below 10% of the time. The executives asserted that the reason for this bottleneck was not intellect or emotional barriers but rather, the ability to add meaning.

What these executives needed more goes beyond defining direction or attaching a virtuous goal to the workload, something which has already been continually applied in organisations. Rather, the experience at work needs to be richer, more complex, and of higher quality. Experience in which people can play with their edges, explore their potential, and that is intrinsically rewarding and fulfilling in themselves despite its outcomes and company benefit.

This call for finding more depth and meaning to human experiences are not reserved for elites but rather a call to action for the whole society, to each and every individual.

There has never been a more vital time to develop personal skills for Flow. Despite the byproducts of optimal functioning, creativity and well-being, that most of us seek, Flow experiences are invaluable experiences in their own right. Flow is the pathway to both our personal and professional prosperity, not just about innovating the next best invention or winning the next challenge. Although those are great by-products of Flow and the reason for most to seek Flow training.

It’s important to keep in mind that Flow is much bigger than, even those, remarkable outcomes. The concept of Flow initially arose as the answer to the study of optimal psychological experience. The answer to the driving questions of what gives life meaning?

Flow can blast us out of the humdrum of our everyday life, into deeply fulfilling autotelic experiences where we are redefining our own perceived limits. Research has highlighted that when individuals associate their tasks at work with flow, they report a more positive and complex quality of experience in all its characteristics.

How?

If you are interested in learning and cultivating Flow into your life experiences, we have an excellent team of experts who have dedicated their lives to understanding and teaching flow in others. We offer a suite of courses to help add meaning to your life, and one-to-one coaching to help you do just that.

Join our community, become a Flow Seeker.

Think less, be more.

What makes a life worth living?

What makes a life worth living?

Performance Skills

In the 1970s, a world-famous psychologist and World War II prisoner, Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi, had a strong curious drive to answer the question, “what makes a life worth living? He studied countless people carefully searching for how and why people do what they do. What drives them? What is a life well-lived? 

If you were to do this study and asked an artist, “what brings you true joy and fulfilment in your life?”, what answer would you expect? It would probably be the satisfaction of seeing the piece of work they spent weeks on finally being completed, right? 

Interestingly, across the tens of thousands of people he studied, he found that it was the PROCESS that gave people a true sense of purpose. For the artist, the sense of fulfilment and focus during their painting exceeds the satisfaction of seeing the end-product. When their actions flow seamlessly from one to the next was when they felt at their best. There’s more to this experience. 

He discovered that during these experiences that people described as fulfilling and brought them true joy, there were several consistent and fascinating descriptions which he compiled together into this following definition.

Csikszentmihalyi describes this state of ‘flowing’, now known as ‘Flow’, as

“Being so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like jazz music. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost…The experience itself is so enjoyable that people will repeat the act even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.”

In short, it was this rich experience of Flow that led to people’s fulfilment and drove them to repeat the activity. Consequently, Csikszentmihalyi wrote the book, ‘Flow: The psychology of optimal experience’. 

This research was hugely significant in the post-war shift in the field of psychology.

Psychology up until this point was predominantly focused on “curing” people that were “damaged”. This was largely the case because most funding came from the American government who wanted to cure the affected war veterans. However, when Martin Seligman became President of the American Psychological Association, he changed the orientation of the treatment to focus on the most positive qualities of an individual in what many called ‘positive psychology’.

He and many others believed that to live a rich and fulfilling life, it is not as simple as removing the negatives. We must actively seek out the positive qualities which make up a fulfilling life. In his words “curing the negatives does not produce the positive”. 

Of course, many researchers believed that there were more important and pressing issues such as poverty, obesity, or mental illness, which require more time and resources. However, the positive psychologists felt that this perspective was short-sighted and believed that it is often in one’s ability and interest to recognize and employ their strengths that can help to resolve these pressing problems.

Both Csikszentmihalyi and Seligman asserted that happiness could be learned and nurtured by cultivating our signature strengths as opposed to shoring up our weaknesses. Empowering the individual and therefore the community, to become proactive in their mental health, happiness and fulfilment in their lives. 

Led by Csikszentmihalyi and Seligman, research shifted the profession’s paradigm away from pathology, victimology, and mental illness to positive emotion and virtue. 

Csikszentmihalyi explains that “Flow is important both because it makes the present instant more enjoyable, and because it builds the self-confidence that allows us to develop skills and make significant contributions to humankind”. This approach echoed the assertion of Thomas Edward Lawrence’s (Lawrence of Arabia: one of the most iconic figures of the early 20th century) that happiness is not an end in itself, rather “a by-product of absorption”.

Since then, Flow experiences have been linked to our most optimal experiences that not only helps us perform optimally from moment-to-moment, but leaves us feeling remarkable and motivated to repeat the experience. This self-determined and intrinsically motivated approach to engagement with tasks and the development of skills accelerates growth and fulfilment. 

In the 1970s, in one of the biggest psychological studies ever undertaken spanning over decades, Csikszentmihalyi found that this state was consistent across a wide range of people including and not limited to rock climbers, surgeons, students, jazz musicians, artists, Navaho sheep farmers, Italian grape farmers, elderly Korean women, Nobel Prize winners, Japanese teenage motorcycle gangsters, Detroit assembly line workers, a range of athletes, and many others from different walks of life. Since, Flow has been rigorously tested and confirmed across ages, cultures, activity type, skill level and demographics.

If you are interested in learning and cultivating Flow into your life experiences, we have an excellent team of experts who have dedicated their lives to understanding and teaching flow in others. We offer one-to-one coaching as well as evidence-based online courses updated constantly based on cutting edge flow research. Join our community, become a Flow Seeker. 

How can Flow Enhance Resilience and Happiness?

How can Flow Enhance Resilience and Happiness?

Performance Skills

“To overcome the anxieties and depression of contemporary life, individuals must become independent of the social environment to the degree that they no longer respond exclusively in terms of its rewards and punishments…

…To achieve such autonomy, a person has to learn to provide rewards to herself…

…She has to develop the ability to find enjoyment and purpose regardless of external circumstances”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience 

The benefits of the Flow state is not only applicable to performance. Countless studies have linked Flow with happiness and well-being. 

Daily experiences of Flow have been associated with job satisfaction; positivity and commitment in employees; life satisfaction in primary students and school teachers; high self-esteem, low anxiety, and well-being in employees, athletes, musicians, primary students, undergraduate students, teachers and the elderly. These benefits are seen consistently and throughout the entire population. 

How could this be? 

Flow enables us to reinterpret challenges which you may have deemed as unmanageable and therefore anxious when thinking about them. When in Flow, difficulties are embraced. There is  no fear of what others think or conflicting and doubtful thoughts that you might otherwise willingly take on the challenge.

The stress which arises from resisting such difficulties and procrastinating or avoiding these challenges diminishes. Instead, we see these challenges as stepping stones to higher functioning, we see these as opportunities to stretch, grow, and test yourself. 

When we don’t recognise life stressors as threats to our comfort or competence, but instead as positive opportunities, then there is no reason for our brain to stress. Which is how the Flow state allows us to embrace challenging situations and thrive through the stressors of life.

It is a natural and sustainable coping mechanism for stress. 

Let’s get a bit more specific.

No matter who we are, we all experience stress in our lives, whether through overworking, lack of skills, or illness; stress finds us all. Within every minute of everyday, our mind is constantly thinking, continually experiencing stress whether we are aware of it or not. This is because as the most intelligent beings on this planet, we have evolved this incredibly powerful and highly intricate processing system that is our brain. 

Our brains, unlike any other species, can see into the future, revisit the past, imagine any scenario possible, all while doing the dishes. Whether it’s looking at the work schedule for tomorrow or worrying about what we said to someone, we all feel the mounting pressures of the thoughts which arrive from trivial daily challenges. These thoughts enter and exit our heads constantly. In doing so, they typically make our mind and body tight, if not rigid at times. 

However, it is precisely because of our stress response that we have survived and evolved. Our stress response heightens our senses, increases our heart rate, releases energy and circulates it to our extremities, and primes our body to fight or flight. 

Stress is actually beneficial in many circumstances, even in exams! In a study conducted on college students, results showed students who had more circulating cortisol (stress hormone) performed better. However, when stress is perceived negatively or becomes excessive, it leads to anxiety and negatively affects your performance. The key differentiating factor being how you perceive the stress, whether you use it to embrace the challenge, or crumble under its pressure. 

Understanding the power of your own psychology to harness stress for its benefits will ultimately boost not only your performance, but your well-being. 

The stress response is what keeps animals alive, but it is not designed to be activated constantly. As the only creatures who can stress about something that’s not actually happening to us nor may never happen, we can easily become victims to the power of our incredible brain. 

Here is a list of things to work on and think about to help you employ a better mindset for stress, and allow you to dip into Flow more easily. 

  • Stress is there to help you overcome challenges. Remember this next time, and try not to become stressed about the fact that you are stressed. 
  • Reappraise the meaning of the events. These challenges are not threats to your competence or ability, they are challenges to help you grow and surpass your perceived limitations. 
  • Practice your craft and continue to learn. The more resources you have to call upon during these challenging moments, the more you can rely on yourself. Stress can’t teach you how to surf or speak another language, you must continue to develop your skill set. 

Learn how to turn your stressful experiences into Flow experiences where you are functioning at your best. If you are interested in cultivating Flow into your life, we have an excellent team of experts who have dedicated their lives to understanding and teaching flow in others. We offer one-to-one coaching as well as evidence-based online courses updated constantly based on cutting edge flow research. Join our community and become a Flow Seeker. 

Think less, be more

Flow – Integral to the Future of Education

Flow – Integral to the Future of Education

Education Performance Skills

In a world in which 65% of primary school students will work a job that has not yet been created, one of the most important abilities to develop in order to be ready for the future is one’s ability to self-regulate towards Flow. 

For the past 200 years, it is widely argued that linear curriculums have adversely affected the outcomes of many educational systems. Instead of teaching kids HOW to learn and succeed, we seem to be brainwashing them with predefined content in order to hit predefined targets. We have encouraged parrot-like repetition for the sole purpose of achieving state-led targets and producing “A+ students” at the cost of their curiosity, their love of learning, and their desire to think for themselves. 

Students are not the only casualty, equally, teachers are often conflicted and pressured into top-down teaching specific content rather than fostering inspiration in their students and facilitating bottom-up learning. “State education departments and their surveillance systems, along with the “national” comparison assessment systems, in combination, have made many schools ‘stations of anxiety”. These demotivating ‘anxiety cultures’ are getting worse and have resulted in student mental health an all-time low. The teaching profession is suffering with teachers leaving in droves, including principals. “The current ‘education narrative’ is toxic and focusing on Flow would be a major step in the right direction”, explains John Hendry. John is a distinguished professor who was awarded the Order of Australia Medal (OAM) for his outstanding work in education and transforming Geelong Grammar School into Australia’s most sought after school. 

Let’s take a look at why and how we should use Flow in education. 

The characteristics one experiences when in the Flow state are extremely conducive for optimal learning in education. As a state defined by extreme focus, zero distractions, and creative problem-solving ability, Flow has been long associated as the state for optimal learning and engagement. Not only does Flow induce short-term benefits such as enjoyment, gratification, creativity and a sense of mastery from overcoming the challenges inherent within learning tasks, but Flow also has longer-term benefits. 

The positive feelings of Flow have been researched to encourage academic confidence and develop an individual’s desire to seek out further education; traits hugely important for academic success and an enjoyable academic experience. 

The benefits of Flow doesn’t stop with helping students. 

Flow within music teachers has been reported to induce higher levels of motivation, greater control of their actions, and a deep sense of satisfaction and joy. In 2014, David Shernoff, Director of the Center for Math, Science, and Computer Education at Rutgers University in New Jersey, and his colleagues reviewed much of the research on Flow in education. They decided to assess, first-hand, how a variety of instructional activities designed to facilitate Flow would affect the learning experience. Their results were consistent with previous literature in that optimal learning environments were indeed created through facilitating flow. Student engagement occurred more frequently and for prolonged periods during conditions in which  Flow had been intentionally incorporated into the activities. 

Interestingly, the occurrence of Flow seemed to go beyond the individual benefit. 

 A study examining 178 music teachers and 605 students across 16 different music schools, concluded that Flow is contagious; meaning it crosses over from the teachers to the students. The studies concluded that the teachers, and specifically their own ability to find Flow, may play a more pivotal role in establishing student Flow than first thought. 

In order to apply Flow into education, educational entities must ask themselves, what type of human being are we creating? 

Are the current learning methods the best way to engineer learning? 

Students can certainly be disciplined into memorising spelling and grammar through traditional top-down driven learning, but does this make them competent at writing a good story or a persuasive argument? Does it make them a writer? 

No.

The educational institutes which flip the equation and place a student’s experience and learning first, aim to develop students’ intrinsic desires and passion to learn. As a result, students are better able to self-regulate their motivation to learn, manage their concentration and derive meaningful takeaways from their learning. In this manner, organisations  that put Flow first actually reap the results of high engagement that most learning organisations suggest that they desire. 

Interestingly, schools examining Flow reported that students’ Flow scores at the end of semester 1 were predictive of academic performances at the end of the year. In fact, researchers such as Jean Heutte, Professor of Education at Lille University in France, even advocate measuring Flow in addition to the usual exams at school that traditionally assess memory retention and cognitive thinking. The logic being that understanding a students ability to find flow gives great insight as to a student’s current capacity and self-determination to learn; a great benchmark for future grades and performance. This has already been adopted in preschool children and onwards in Denmark. 

Even if a systemic change is unlikely in your organisation, perhaps examine whether it would be fruitful to assess how much Flow is already experienced. It may well be the difference that makes the difference. 
If you are interested in cultivating Flow into your life experiences, we have an excellent team of experts who have dedicated their lives to understanding and teaching flow in others. We have provided several academic institutes with the knowledge and training to facilitate Flow in their classrooms and workplace. As well as one-to-one coaching and evidence-based online courses updated constantly based on cutting edge flow research. Join our community and learn more about how the Flow state can help you and become a Flow Seeker.

Think less, be more.

What Flow is NOT

What Flow is NOT

Performance Skills

There are many misconceptions surrounding the Flow state. 

Flow research hasn’t been around a long time and Neuroscience much less so.  However, when it comes to rigorous scientific research, first, flow must be defined clearly and specifically, if we are to understand what we want to engineer. Otherwise, how do you know if you are training Flow or another muscle? 

The Flow state is our optimal state of functioning, our ideal mental and physical state to generate peak performance. It is denoted by absolute absorption of the task at hand to the level of time dissociation, as well as effortless ease throughout  the performance. 

In understanding Flow it is important to note that Flow is not ecstasy, where we feel great but cannot apply ourselves optimally. This feeling can certainly share similar characteristics with Flow, such as the distortion of time, distance from self-consciousness, but more often than not, this feeling is antagonistic to the awareness of surrounding objects and the proximal environment. It is epitomised by the loss of self-control (to an extent) and is capable of neither optimal actions, communication or decision making. 

Flow is not the experience of total absorption induced by hallucinogens or stimulants. 

These drugs can help reach a state of bliss, heighten creativity, and open doors in the mind to reveal remarkable insights. They may also be energizing and absolutely thrilling, but they simultaneously dampen other senses and functions that are necessary for optimal functioning. For example, someone under the influence of these drugs would not be able to catch a glass that has been knocked off the table. Neither could they tackle complex situations and make optimal decisions instantaneously. The absorption and excitation experienced due to drugs are often not controllable, meaning it is just that, the feeling of absorption and excitation no matter the context. Although these exogenous chemicals can temporarily relieve us from the dominating conscious-thinking ‘monkey mind’, these momentary uplifts will only leave us crashing back down to earth as the mind and body recover from the cognitive fragmentation and artificial chemical invasion. 

Contrary to this, Flow leaves us feeling surprised, creative and fantastic. And obviously, there is no threat of becoming dependent on the “drug” after repeated encounters with Flow.

It is a natural state, afterall. 

You may have heard of the recent rise of nootropics, otherwise known as smart drugs. Scientists are trying to reverse engineer a neurochemical cocktail which has been associated with enhanced cognitive performance. These drugs are designed to activate the parts of our brain that increase our ability for certain specific cognitive tasks. However, these drugs also fail to be beneficial in situations requiring the engagement of other facets of the brain such as empathy, and do not necessarily lead to optimal physiological functioning. In short, they amplify certain abilities at the cost of others.

Although many of these drugs are researched to avoid physical dependence, psychological dependence is unavoidable. Any supplement you take to enhance your ability will only leave you feeling inadequate without it and anxious when you need to perform without it. These external means are not only less effective in terms of overall sustainable performance but also unnecessary if we instead manage to generate an internal ability to change our states beyond our normal conscious experience. 

Determining a natural and sustainable methodology to finding flow is surely of greater importance even to the ‘short-termists’ out there.

If you are interested in cultivating Flow into your life experiences, we have an excellent team of experts who have dedicated their lives to understanding and teaching flow in others. We offer one-to-one coaching as well as evidence-based online courses updated constantly based on cutting edge flow research. Join our community and become a Flow Seeker. 

Think less, be more. 

The Secret to Peak Performance?

The Secret to Peak Performance?

Performance Skills

Five-time NBA champion Kobe Bryant, renowned not only for his outstanding physical ability and basketball prowess but for his absolute focus and “Mamba mentality”, had reported on his experience with Flow on several occasions. 

“It’s hard to describe. You just feel so confident. You get your feet set and get a good look at the basket—it’s going in. Even the ones I missed I thought were going in.”

He went on to share that… 

“everything becomes one noise” and that “you don’t think about the surroundings”. 

An expert on extreme focus and optimum mindset, Kobe had excelled in increasing his propensity to achieve Flow. Therefore, he frequently achieved moments of peak performance, more so than his opponents. However, even Kobe Bryant struggled to maintain it, stating that “you can lose it in a second”. 

In elite sport, the difference between winning and losing is often dependent on whether the athlete can reach their peak physical and technical performance when they need to, and under immense pressure. At the pinnacle of the sport, athletes train at their maximum ability day in and day out. They have access to the latest technology and training based on biomechanical perfection. These are undoubtedly advantages, but they do not define whether one becomes a champion or chokes. 

The factor which truly defines athletic performance is often the ability to remain absolutely focused, and limit the mental barriers in between your ability and execution. An ability to focus on performance when distractions want to inhibit your execution. 

When you can control your racing thoughts and attain absolute psychological absorption on the task at hand, your performance is ultimately greatly enhanced because there is more available attentional bandwidth in which to make decisions and execute. 

During heightened states of contreation , you may also experience an effortless ease in your movements and an intrinsically rewarding sensation throughout the activity, regardless of the outcome of your performance. When these elements of deep concentration and a fluidity of action come together, it is highly rewarding, highly memorable. Indeed, many people refer to this mental state as being in the “zone”, however, in the scientific world it is referred to as the ‘Flow’ state. 

When we take a look at our physiology, optimal functioning in Flow seems to be inevitable. 

In flow, our mind and body display a rare state of internal synchronicity. In our brain, vital areas responsible for attentional and cognitive control amp up and sync up. Not only do functions relevant to the task power-up, brain areas which induce conflict and self-doubt such as, “Can I do this?” and “What are others thinking of me?” become increasingly inhibited. This synchronicity results in extreme focus and limited distractions by our inner and outer critics. Brain systems which ordinarily fire when our comfort or competence is threatened become down-regulated enabling further energy to be expended towards the task at hand. 

That’s not all, in Flow, we can consistently and continuously make and execute effective decisions and perform confidently, despite the rising pressure. This is because parts of the brain which emotionally bias our cognition and distract our decision-making processes cease to have the same impact. This frees the mind to think clearly and make faster decisions.  

In essence, Flow allows us to bypass our usual stumbling blocks, allowing our previous hard work or training to be reproduced undistracted without hesitation. This is an undeniable and very tangible advantage in competitive sports. Just imagine an F1 driver who hesitates on a bend due to emotional bias and self-doubt, compared to one in Flow. 

The advantages of Flow in our performances are not just limited to the effortless replication of learnt behaviour. In Flow, we often find another gear or utilize our skills unexpectedly and creatively. Once the shackles are unlocked, the brain naturally utilizes the optimal system for the task, moment to moment, and the conflicting parts of our brain are bypassed. The brain becomes free to maximise the best of our innate biology, and the net result is that our decision-making abilities and capacity to perform jump through the roof. 

Flow is surely the state responsible for the pinnacle of one’s performance, yet the current adoption and prioritization of Flow is rarely present in performing circles. We only need to look past the podiums of the world’s performance arenas to see a plethora of anxiety-driven, demotivated, burnt out, choking, and frustrated performers in need of restorative psychologists. 

Flow needs the attention it deserves, so we can harness its power and perform better than we ever thought possible. 

In understanding what permits you into the Flow state, we must first dissolve the delusion that our optimal performances are an act of talent (full stop). An act exclusive to the beholders of natural talent. 

To the contrary, we’ve all felt Flow before; whether you were a child helplessly absorbed in a puzzle or a writer whose pen is flowing effortlessly. It is a very natural state that is attainable for all. A state that has been scientifically studied for decades.

When purposefully seeking the state of peak performance, however, it is incredibly hard to find and even harder to maintain. Which is why we exist, to help everyone find and sustain Flow in their lives.

If you are interested in cultivating Flow into your life experiences, we have an excellent team of experts who have dedicated their lives to understanding and teaching flow in others. We offer one-to-one coaching as well as evidence-based online courses updated constantly based on cutting edge flow research. Join our community and become a Flow Seeker.

Think less, be more.