Andrew doing crab reach

What is flow

Jan 08, 2023

The term "Flow" was coined by psychologist and author Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and is the mental state in which a person is fully immersed in a particular task. It's the fluidity between the mind and body. Your senses become heightened, and action and awareness sync to achieve optimal performance.

Some athletes refer to it as being "in the zone" It's Neo from the Matrix finally realizing he's "The One" and for you anime fans it's like going Plus Ultra like in My Hero Academia.

Flow can occur in a number of different ways and is not exclusive to physical action. It can be seen in sports, in art, while having sex or even in the workplace.
Achieving flow is less likely to occur during periods of relaxation and more present during challenging and engaging activities.

In the book "The Way Of The Superior Man" by David Deida he suggests that in order for one to achieve greatness and become the best version of themselves, we must continue to lean just beyond our edge in everything we do and not remain lazy in our comfort zone.

Csikszentmihalyi supports this notion by stating.

“The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times… the best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.” To that end, engagement and concentration are key in achieving flow state.

Indications that you are in flow:

  1. Time becomes irrelevant and hours can pass like minutes.
  2. You aren’t thinking about yourself, only your activity.
  3. You aren’t interrupted by extraneous thoughts such as what to make for dinner.
  4. While you may be working toward an ultimate goal, you find the activity itself to your primary motivation.
  5. You have control over what you are doing.
  6. You work effortlessly.
  7. You would like to repeat the experience.

In Csíkszentmihályi, book Flow he mentions a few factors that involve the experience of flow. While many of these components may be present, it is not necessary to experience all of them for flow to occur:

Clear goals that, while challenging, are still attainable

Having clear goals helps to direct your focus on a task. A map is only useful if you know where you want to go.

Strong concentration and focused attention

If you're a skier, going down a mountain or a rock climber climbing up one, you can't afford to lose focus by thinking of anything other than the present task. If your mind drifts even for a moment, this can take you out of flow.

The activity is intrinsically rewarding

The task at hand (rather than the outcome) is its own reward. Certain achievements take time and If the goals you set for yourself are always outcome-based you're more likely to feel unfilled and unsatisfied. You must enjoy the process over the final outcome.

Feelings of serenity; a loss of feelings of self-consciousness

Flow has no room for negative thoughts, Not worrying about one's self leaves you free to be fully engaged in an activity. If you're worried about how you look in the eyes of others while doing a task it is impossible for you to achieve a state of flow.

Timelessness; a distorted sense of time; feeling so focused on the present that you lose track of time passing

Some athletes who have reported being in a state of flow have referenced It as time slowing down or passing by quickly. Your reaction time increases and your level of perception is heightened making you more efficient at performing a task.

Immediate feedback

Feedback will help keep you motivated and reassure you of whether or not you're doing things correctly. Feedback, whether it's from your own interpretations or from that of a mentor/expert, will help you make the necessary corrections and ensure that you're performing at the highest level possible.

A balance between skill level and the challenge

When you engage in an activity that is too easy in comparison to your skill level you're likely to experience boredom, on the flip side if you engage in an activity that is too challenging you'll feel anxious. flow is that activity that exists between boredom and anxiety. We can call it the Goldilocks effect in which the challenge is not too hard and not too easy but just right

Challenge and skills graph

*Based on the diagram above:

The letter A represents Andrew, a person learning how to dance. Andrew is a novice dancer and starts off with very little dance experience and enrolls in some beginner dance lessons and while challenging, he enjoys it and is likely to be in flow (A1). However, after much practice, his skills begin to improve and now the beginner classes are becoming boring (A2), so he decides to take an intermediate class and again is presented with new challenges but just enough that fits his current skill level (A4). However, let's say that at the beginning of Andrew's dance journey, rather than taking a beginner class he chose to live dangerously and enroll in an advanced class, this would surely overwhelm him (A4) and he'd either have to reduce the challenge or increase his skill quickly in order to get back into flow.

Feelings of personal control over the situation and the outcome

The fear of failure diminishes and you experience a feeling of empowerment over a challenge as if you are unstoppable.

Lack of awareness of physical needs

When you're running on autopilot and feel at one with your body and your mind.

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