Coaching, Inspiration, Lifestyle, Thinking, Training

Finding your ‘Flow’

The observant may point out that someone working under the title ‘Live2Flow’ should perhaps have actually written something about the concept of Flow in one of their first 50 blogs. Quite frankly, you would be making a good point…

So, somewhat belatedly, this is the first in a series of blogs about Flow. I want to explain the concept here, then in my next post go on to look at how to find Flow in adventure sports before finally taking a look at achieving Flow in everyday life.

The Flow State is being so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter: Every action, movement and thought flows inevitably from the previous one. Your whole being is involved, you’re using your skills to the utmost and the result is a feeling of spontaneous joy.’ – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

If you reflect on the above statement, I expect you can recall a number of times that you have experienced Flow in your life. It may have been only a handful of times, maybe only for a moment, but there will have been a time when the above statement applied to you. This may have been during sport, in a creative art, through performing music or even at work but the problem is, for all too many of us the sensation was fleeting and hard to recreate. But there is a recipe for Flow, and understanding this can help give us a chance to achieve the joy of the Flow state more often…

The Recipe…

If you want to reach the flow state there are a few factors that will need to be in place. Firstly, the experience needs to be Intrinsically Rewarding; you will never reach the flow state doing something unsatisfying or for an indirect reward such as payment or kudos. In addition, there needs to be complete Clarity of Goals so that success is immediate and obvious. For this to work there must also be Immediate Feedback to provide real time information on progress towards those goals and you must feel the task is completely within your Control so not relying on fortune or variables you cannot manage.

So what does this look like in practice? Perhaps it is best described through an example, so let’s look at someone who is surfing a wave and check if they are meeting the requirements. First, assuming they are there because they want to be and it is not a competition, then the requirement for the activity to be Intrinsically Rewarding is met; they are are surfing because they love it. As they paddle to catch the wave there is complete Clarity of Goals and their success will be immediate and obvious from the Immediate Feedback the wave is giving. Success or failure is completely within their Control but there is one other factor that now comes into play, and it is critical; that Control is only there if the wave they have chosen is within their skill level to surf. Otherwise, the only Flow they feel is the turbulence of the water as they wipe out!

The Balance…

Which brings us nicely to the final crucial factor to achieve flow; there must be a balance between the level of Challenge and your level of Skill. The diagram above goes some way to explaining this idea, showing how there is a sweet spot where Flow can be achieved when the difficulty of challenge you are facing matches your skillset. If the difficulty of the task is too tough you are more likely to experience anxiety than Flow, if the task is too easy you will simply get bored. This links very closely to my use of the ‘Maybe Zone‘ concept for effective practice, and you could argue that if you are in your Maybe Zone then you are in the right area for achieving Flow too.

It is important to note that the implication of this is that you do not have to be an expert to achieve Flow in an activity. In fact, quite the opposite as finding the right level of challenge when your skills are highly developed can be quite hard. So the Flow State is accessible to all of us at any stage in our skill development in any activity that requires us to focus and take part fully in a challenge that matches our skillset.

So if we now go back to our surfer, her one final requirement is that the surf spot she has chosen on this day is providing steady sets of waves that are challenging enough to make her focus and test her skills but not so huge that she is scared and anxious. And then, just maybe, when she catches that wave and gets to her feet, she is going to experience the Flow State, and it will be joyful…

If you have time, here is a description of Flow from the man who wrote the book on it…

In the next blog I will look in more detail at how to access the Flow State during outdoor sports, offering tips to maximise your chances of balancing the different ingredients to find a mix that works for you.

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