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The “Flow” State – can you find yours?

I’d heard of “Flow State” long ago and was re-introduced to the term and this very powerful notion recently. Turns out there is a huge volume of literature written on it, and the term was proffered by a psychologist in 1975. Flow is basically a state of mind where we become completely immersed in whatever activity we are performing. The subject and object disappear. Our whole being is involved and we are using our skills to their utmost potential. Even the ego falls away.

I realized this is what I was able to find on my bike – training smartly and rigorously, and racing at the highest level. Being completely absorbed for hours, interested in all aspects of optimizing performance, and refining the approach to be better.

Then, years later, and continuing now, I find the Flow in my daily yoga practice – getting completely absorbed practicing and studying the poses, my capabilities, my breath, the movements of energy in my body, and how these things change from day to day.  After practice, most times I feel I can achieve just about anything – empowered, focused, and refreshed, setting a tone for the rest of the day.

There are 10 main characteristics of Flow; here are some of the top ones: 

1. There is a complete focus on the activity itself.
2. The activity is intrinsically rewarding.
3. The goals are challenging yet attainable.
4. There is a sense of serenity and a loss of self-consciousness. 
5. There is a sense of timelessness.  

Modern science has identified specific neuro-chemical responses when Flow occurs; the brain releases dopamine, norepinephrine, endorphins, anandamide and serotonin (even more on these in future newsletters). These are all performance-enhancing, pleasure-inducing chemicals that have very specific attributes. Dopamine and norepinephrine, for example, tighten focus and enhance pattern recognition. More focus lets us gather more information per second and heightened pattern recognition lets us process information quicker.
In popular sports, watching Roger Federer win a grand slam or Michael Jordan (who I’ve met and who credits yoga with enhancing his career) hit a last minute shot after scoring 50 points in the game are just a few examples of athletes being in Flow and having an enhanced dopamine and norepinephrine experience.

Think of it this way:  people who achieve Flow regularly have a higher tendency for:

  • Greater enjoyment of life: There is a lack of mental activity when one is in Flow.  This leads to a more rewarding and fulfilling experience. The more we experience this, the more we can repeat it and bring that state of consciousness into every day life.  
  • Better emotional regulation: A feeling of “getting out of ourselves” allows for easier growth towards emotional complexity and deepening peace even in stressful situations.
  • Improved performance: This goes without saying…research has shown that Flow can enhance performance in a wide variety of areas including athletics, music, teaching, learning, and many other creative areas.
  • Greater happiness: With the increased endorphin release, research suggests that Flow states are linked to increased levels of joy, happiness and self-actualization, and a decrease in depression.

Get after it. Find your Flow.