The Flow State: Exponential Human
Updated: Sep 11, 2020
Life is an art, and like perfect art it should be self-forgetting - Suzuki
What is flow state?
It is pretty much the source code for ultimate human performance and optimal wellbeing. In short, you feel your best and perform your best.
So, how do you enter a flow state?
Have you ever lost track of time whilst being completely absorbed in a highly pleasurable activity?
Maybe you were playing a musical instrument?
Painting your inner landscape?
Writing spontaneous poetry?
Having a eureka moment?
Finding your bliss through Yoga?
Engaging in an absorbing conversation?
Dancing ecstatically to the beat of the drums?
Running amidst breathtaking views of the natural world?
Maybe you’re an adrenaline junky and you jump off planes for thrills?
Or ski down mountains at velocities that frighten your grandma?
Or surf waves that make you feel as though you belong to the heart of the ocean?
Whatever that activity may have been for you, I’m pretty sure you’ve experienced the addictive qualities of a flow state.
The question is not whether you’ve experienced this state.
The real question is, how often do you experience this state?
Do you label it as an elusive state that spontaneously chooses to arise when the stars have aligned in your favour?
The flow state is ubiquitous, meaning, it can show up for anyone, at any time, provided certain preconditions are met. The spectrum experience of flow can range from micro to macro flow for both the individual and the group. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, often referred to as the “Godfather of Flow Psychology”, described flow as follows:
"In the flow state, action follows upon action according to an internal logic that seems to need no conscious intervention by the actor. He experiences it as a unified flowing from one moment to the next, in which he is in control of his actions, and in which there is little distinction between self and environment, between stimulus and response, or between past, present, and future"
Following a series of empirical studies with top performers from various disciplines, he concluded that similar aspects were reported by Hindu yogis and Japanese teenagers who race motorcycles, by American surgeons and basketball players, by Australian sailors and Navajo shepherds, by champion figure skaters and by chess masters. This was one of the largest psychological surveys ever conducted!
How do you know whether you are in a flow state of mind?
In their book Stealing Fire, Steven Kotler and Jamie Wheal explains the Phenomenology of Flow using the acronym STER:
Selfless: There is a loss of self-consciousness where action and awareness merge.
Timeless: Your sense of time distorts. You feel as though time slows down or speeds up.
Effortless: Every action feels as though it is automatic leading from one to the next in spontaneous, creative fashion. It feels like effortless effort. Flow feels flow-y.
Richness: Your mind feels as though it has access to a vast database of information.
The flow phenomenon emerges during tasks that require focused attention and optimally challenges one's skillset to the point where everything else disappears but the task itself. This is typically characterised by an altered perception of time and surroundings. When activities are chosen with discernment; considering intrinsic motivators, challenge and skill level, it can lead to heightened life-satisfaction and meaningful achievements. For effortless effort and enjoyment to arise from an experience, one must continually balance the challenge skills ratio, ensuring that personal skills are well suited to given challenges. Swann et al (2012) interpret the result of flow as elevated feelings of well-being; improved self-concept; and more objective, less critical self- judgement of performance. This may correlate with enhanced creativity and self-expression. Donner and Csikszentmihalyi proposed that one benefit of flow is the quality of the subjective experience it facilitates; having a positive experience increases productivity.
Why should flow even matter to you?
Research demonstrates that flow was the single most highest predictor of life satisfaction and meaningfulness. The people with the most flow on Earth, are those that build their lives around it. They understand how to leverage the flow cycle to explore the upper possibilities of human potential. The creative flow cycle is an integral model for peak performance and wellbeing. In flow, you have access to:
500% boost in productivity (Research from McKinsey & Company)
430% boost in creativity (Research from university of Sydney)
490% increase in skill acquisition (Research from Advanced Brain Monitoring & DARPA)
Improved decision making
My take on the flow state of mind
The best part about flow is that it can be leveraged during conditions labelled as VUCA: Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous. The exact words I’d choose to describe 2020 in a nutshell! If we have undergone appropriate training, the neurochemicals that show up in a high-stakes environment can catapult us into peak performance mode. In an exponential and uncertain world, ignoring the possibilities for flow may in fact be bordering on naïveté. My invitation to you is to explore the upper reaches of your human potential to contribute positively and exponentially to our planet. As Maslow said, "All that a man can be, he must be". Adjust for gender neutrality ;)
If you want to learn how to induce a flow state, check out 22 Flow Triggers: The Ultimate Peak Performance Toolkit For Hacking Flow.
“....It is when we act freely, for the sake of the action itself rather than for ulterior motives, that we learn to become more than what we were” - Csikszentmihalyi
Raiza is a peak-performance consultant and an embodied leadership mentor training creatives, entrepreneurs, and executives in peak mental states. Feel free to reach out via email for any questions or book a discovery call to see how flow can help you level-up. Wishing you flow for life!