What is flow? Discovering the secret to high performance and happiness
“People ask me how I make music. I tell them I just step into it. It’s like stepping into a river and joining the flow. Every moment in the river has its song.”
Just play. Have fun. Enjoy the game.
Have you ever felt the feeling of being fully present and in the moment, where everything just connected? That moment where the mind subsided and the activity felt pure and simply immense?
Flow is simply a state of heightened focus and immersion in activities such as art, play or work. It’s a state of being in which we become fully present, alert, focused, fully charged and ready to perform; those moments where it all simply comes together; that bit of inspiration where all our worries disappear and we become completely immersed in what we are doing.
We have all experienced flow in areas of our life. It can be as simple as playing with your kids, training in a sport, or performing a task at work. It’s an optimal state of consciousness; a peak state where we perform at our highest and feel at our best.
We see flow regularly performed by elite athletes. It’s that bit of magic that took your breath away, whether it was a Michael Jordan three pointer, a Tiger Woods hole in one, a Murray backhand, a Conor McGregor knockout or that David Beckham free kick.
Flow enhances the energy in the performer; an encompassing energy that can be picked up by the audience, your teammates or your family. It brings connection, not only through skill and performance, but a connection through spirit, dedication and application.
Rules and triggers
Having a clear framework will really help you build flow into your daily life. If we can begin to create more automation in our life, we can then begin to actively add flow into points in our day. Let’s start with some key factors that help increase flow. Once you nail the basics we can look at adding it to your day-to-day routines.
- You have a clear set of goals
- The challenge needs to be ‘in the gap’ of boredom and anxiety, therefore the task is not so hard that your fear levels go through the roof, but also is not too dull: as attention falls, your engagement deteriorates
- You are fully focused on what you doing, completely present
- You can get some direct feedback, whether through a teacher/coach or the environment
- You enjoy a sense of control
- You experience deep involvement in what you are doing: the everyday stress of life seems to vanish
- Your sense of self disappears, but paradoxically your sense of self emerges stronger
- Your sense of time disappears
- Time flies – during the activity, time seems to move quickly as you are enjoying the process
- Engaging environment: an environment that is rich with novelty, complexity and unpredictability can increase flow. You are forced to use your tools and skills in that moment, e.g asking someone on a date, finding the right environment to meet new people etc
- Relationships: relationships are so important to any successful endeavour so here are a few key points to optimise flow within them
- You are the average of the five people you associate with the most, so choose your relationships wisely
- Listening: a huge skill to cultivate in any team. Creating a flowing culture and having top communication can massively impact confidence and decision making. Seek first to understand others, delegate and build a proactive team/culture
- Familiarity: keeping everyone on the same page once the goals are set and keeping members engaged and fulfilled is the key to success
- Equal contribution (skill level): when everyone is on the same page and contributing equally, we create a gateway to flow
- Group flow: there is no group flow without the risk of failure. Simply changing the group’s relation to risk and fear can increase flow. We can always have a contingency plan in place, but by simply addressing the fact that there is no creativity without failure,. Creativity, innovation, failure and risk go hand-in-hand.
- High risk/consequence: if the environment has high risk consequences, flow can be triggered very quickly, as it’s a do-or-die situation. This is at the extreme end of performance, and includes activities like sky diving, surfing, motocross etc. This type of environment will drive your focus levels through the roof: there is little time to think and you are forced to focus, as diverting your attention away from the activity could end in injury.
4) Creativity: we are all creative. Simply put, we all have the ability to unleash our creative endeavours. If we combine both pattern recognition (the ability to link and learn new ideas) and our level of risk, we raise our level of flow.
Taking action and stepping into flow
These rules can be used as a guide to help you get started. Can you apply any of these to a sport you are currently training in, a work role, your workout routine, writing or another daily ritual? Start with one area of your life, then you can begin to add it to other areas.
Remember, always start small. Begin by adding one rule/trigger at a time. This could be simply starting something brand new like learning a language, instrument or martial art; something that allows you to use these rules and triggers.
You could start with a dream you have, a routine, your diary, anything! Take the first step and always remember, it’s taking actionable steps into it which will propel you forward.
4 extra tips to help you get started today
- Choose one area of your life where you would like more flow, something you really enjoy
- Set some clear goals within that activity (remember, it needs to be goals that are going to push you just past your limit)
- Find a environment that will enhance this: a gym, a new class, somewhere that you can begin to develop existing and new relationships
- Get feedback – whether this is finding a new coach or talking to a member of staff
Step into your greatness by find more flow in your life today!