Have you ever got into a zone where you lose yourself to the rhythm of what you are doing? A zone where you exist freely but perfectly. Your focus is acute and you are completely and totally involved that you lose yourself to the moment. Hunger, thirst and pain escape you. The purity of the moment is all that it is. The outcome of such moments is the excellence in performance. You are on a high while riding your wave. The totality of the experience makes you feel alive and you are happy and may later think ‘wow! Where did that come from?’
Psychologist are describing such moments in life as peak experiences. More commonly witnessed by sports persons and endurance athletes, peak experiences are closely tied to their optimal performances. World records get broken, thresholds lowered and endurances reached. But what gets them there?
Have you ever wondered what it takes to break world records or become a grand master?
Until recently Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers advocated the idea that anybody can be world class with 10,000 hours of deliberate practice. But today a new theory is doing the rounds decreases this time by fifty per cent.
Every human has the potential to access what is described as the flow state. In his book, Flow: The psychology of optimal experiences, Mihály Csíkszentmihályi elaborates these exceptional moments. He calls it flow because that’s the way people describe the feeling of effortless action when they have exceeded their better to become their best. Being in flow means you are totally and completely dedicated to the moment in hand. Your focus is undivided, you zone out anything that could possibly distract you and give it your all; almost as if your life depends on it. This simple act sets your body into rhythm and your performance excels.
It is intrinsic. There is nothing external about this state. The sense of accomplishment or happiness that follows flow is of your own doing and that is why it is such a powerful state of mind. It also leads to awakening of your consciousness with a greater quest and understanding of life.
Although this is a new topic for discussion and research, flow state is as ancient as the idea of meditation. Siddhartha was led from the pain of suffering towards the path of enlightenment and became known as Buddha through techniques of meditation that required 100 per cent focus. Vipassana. A pure state of flow.
I like the flow state because it deals with three of my favorite things – sports, creativity and excellence. Within the flow state I have accessibility to all of the three.
If you are a runner, flow state would set in with your rhythm and increase your performance by both speed and distance. As a writer, flow state will excel your creative process. As a dancer, the flow state will influence your kinesthesis. The list is endless.
What is so great about the flow state is that excellence in performance happens with half the effort you would otherwise take. All you have to do is zero down on the thought process and narrow into the awareness of the present moment.
There is an entire neuroscience behind flow state which makes it universal to all humans.
There are a few prerequisites and they can be challenging especially if you are someone who has difficulty focusing. But the rewards of flow state are enough of an enticer to get you to try it.
Steps you need to keep in mind to hack flow state:
Unclutter: The greatest challenge here for you will be getting rid of mental clutter. To do this you need to physically write down what are the tasks at hand that you might want to do and assign them priority. This will stop them from popping up into your head and allow you to focus.
Minimise distractions: Whatever the task at hand, make sure you have the opportunity for total concentration. Turn your phone off, unplug any distraction and create your own flow spot. For flow to happen you need to give it your 100 per cent and focus is crucial.
Brain ready yourself: Feed and hydrate your brain. It takes a few moments to get into flow mode and during that time if you are going to feel hungry or thirsty it’s going to be a distraction.
Create a ritual for yourself to drop into the zone: When I write I prepare my desk space as my ritual. And before I begin I close my eyes for a few moments, take a few breaths and visualise myself, hand extended tapping into the flow of the universe and smile.
When I run I do the same; take a deep breath and visual my body getting into rhythm mode and then watch the skyline.
Get yourself in the zone and see the way you enhance your life.
(The writer is a clinical psychologist, psychotherapist and the HOD of psychology at Carmel College for Women)