What is flow?
Sometimes you see something in so many places that is it impossible to ignore. For me, this was the concept of ‘flow’. The books Thinking Fast and Slow, The Inner Game of Tennis, The Art of Learning, and even The Wisdom Of Psychopaths talk about flow. I was half reading Inner Game of Tennis during the day and Audible-listening to Psychopaths at night so my brain kept stopping and took notice of this similar point being pressed. These four books are different on the surface, but all allude to a higher level of performance that is achieved through this state of flow. Flow is what Buddhists use to meditate. Flow is what basketball players use to start a shooting streak. Flow is the elimination of anything except the present.
Ok enough salt, Jeff, now tell us what the Hell is flow!
Ok flow is best described through examples and I’ll try to include everyone in a variety of them.
Example 1 (Sport): Whether you’re playing basketball or tennis, it is easy to tell when you’re ‘in the zone’. You’re swishing baskets or hammering balls over nets without any hesitation and with immense confidence. Your focus is so on point that you effortlessly move like water. You’re graceful and full of immense mental energy. You could play for hours. If asked to describe how you got into that zone, you are at a loss for words. It just happened.
Example 2 (Writing): Suddenly, you aren’t stuck in the mud coming up with ideas. Words and connections flow and you can’t type quickly enough. Feels as if you took an Adderall and it’s a special type that is going to last until you’re done (taking adderall is cheating but just so you know a feeling to compare it to). Time goes by quickly and you’ve lost all idea of it.
Example 3 (Video games): Your headshots are on point. You know where to move without being detected. You can predict your opponents’ moves and this allows you to implement a counter strategy to squash them. You don’t need anymore of that Monster laying next to you. Your parents and roommates loathe you so much as you continue to play without talking or noticing anything. It doesn’t matter, you’re winning.
Flow is basically your subconscious taking over. You’re not thinking at all because thinking would disrupt your rhythm and would cause you to perform worse.
The inner game of tennis relates thinking as “self 1”, or the inner critic.
You miss a shot or spell a word wrong and the inner monologue comes along, “god damn it, Jeff! You know better. You know what you need to do.” Your frustration grows and the more you talk to yourself the worse you perform unless you put trust into your “self 2” or your subconscious, which knows how to perform at the level you want.
The achievement and pursuit of flow also has other benefits. You can’t be anxious if you’re present and focused. You can’t be depressed either. This centering of yourself usually requires meditation or a mindful practice of some sort. I use self hypnosis audio for example to delve into my subconscious.
Now, this isn’t to say you don’t need to train or do the work. Obviously you need to know the material before you can perform at all, let alone peak performance. But the important part is once you do the work, you need to trust yourself.
To work with your subconscious, ie. “Self 2”, it’s important to remember that your subconscious works with images. Imaging your desired outcome in detail without judgement will guide you.
Being wholly present in anything is a skill that takes mastering. If you’re in your head, you’re not present. If you’re thinking of what you need to do after, you aren’t present.
Try looking at anything in your room with total concentration. When does your brain give up?
To reach flow you need to be present. It isn’t entirely sure if you could reach flow at will, but you can always perform your best if you’re in the moment and see only what’s in front of you.
With today’s technology, this state might be harder to reach then ever, but if you’ve reached a plateau and want to cross to new boundaries, you might take a meditation class after all.