What is flow?
Imagine for a moment that you are running a race. Your attention is focused on the movements of your body, the power of your muscles, the force of your lungs and the feel of the street beneath your feet. You are living in the moment, utterly absorbed in the present activity. Time seems to fall away. You are tired, but you barely notice.
What you are experiencing is “flow” – also known as “the zone“.
Named by psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi (pronounced me-high chick-sent-me-high), flow is a state of “being completely immersed in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”
Flow experiences can occur in different ways for different people. For me personally, finding flow happens most easily in three activities: Surfing, preaching, and gymnastics. In all three instances I feel completely alert and in tune with my surroundings. There is a sense in which “time stands still and everything else fades away except the task at hand”.
But it’s not just sports. Others might find flow while painting, drawing, or writing. Even everyday life provides opportunities for flow. If you’ve ever lost an afternoon to a great conversation or gotten so involved in a work project that all else is forgotten, then you’ve tasted “the zone”.
The Benefits of Flow
The flow state has been described as “the ultimate experience”. In flow, the emotions are not just contained and channeled, but positive, energised, and aligned with the task at hand. The hallmark of flow is a feeling of spontaneous joy, even rapture – producing high levels of gratification, and even lasting contentment after the fact.
Did you get that? Finding flow for just 15min in the day, can make you happier for the rest of it.
In addition to making you happier, researchers have also found that flow can dramatically improve performance and learning across a wide variety of areas.
Nowhere is this more obvious then in the emerging world of action and adventure sports. As Steven Kotler – author of “The Rise of Superman” – writes, “Over the past three decades [these athletes] have pushed human performance farther and faster than at any other point in the 150,000 year history of our species.”
For these guys finding flow is a matter of life or death.
Whether that’s scaling a sheer cliff-face without ropes, riding monstrous waves, or clearing giant gaps on a skateboard – these “impossible” athletic feats are now actually helping scientists to decipher the mysteries of flow, so that we can apply this knowledge across all domains of society.
Where is your flow?
So the challenge to you today is to figure out where you find flow? Where do you find yourself becoming utterly absorbed, where action and awareness merge and all else fades away?
Finding flow is crucial, whether we are parenting, planning, pioneering or parachuting. I mean, who doesn’t want to know how to be their best when it matters most? To be more creative, more contented, more present? To soar and not to sink?
As the deeds of those extreme athletes prove, if we can master flow, there are no limits to what we can accomplish.