IN THE ZONE: THE CONCEPT OF FLOW

You’ve had it before. MJ’s had it before. Countless others have had it before.

Sometimes brief, sometimes long-lasting. Its that feeling of unconsciousness or maybe its actually a moment when you feel like you are in complete control. Either way, you are total absorbed in the moment. Nothing can distract you from that very moment. If you’ve ever been skydiving I equate it to that euphoric feeling you get when in free fall. If you’ve never been skydiving think back to a time at work when you were in flow. Completely in the zone and getting things done. The day just flew by.

What is “FLOW”

Flow is a term coined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (good luck with that one). I like to call him the God Father of flow. It’s that moment when you are totally absorbed in what you are doing that you forget about yourself. What you are doing seems effortless and natural. You’ll often heat athletes say they’re not sure how they performed so well, “I was just in the zone.” Musicians often get there and you might here them say, “I couldn’t even hear the crowd, almost like they weren’t even there.” Some other ways to describe Flow:

  • lose yourself
  • feeling it
  • zone out

It almost sounds like a state of unconsciousness. But in reality it is a heightened state of consciousness where your awareness is a such a heightened state that it feels like you are completely on another level. I know you have all felt it before. But why are you not in constant flow? How can you get back to this state more often?

You’ve got it ass-backwards

Not just you, but society as a whole has it ass backwards. So much time is spent focusing on what went wrong and the negative aspect of things that the important and positive stuff gets over looked. This may sound weird, but after a while the positive stuff sort of says, “Hey man, if you are not going to pay us any attention and recognize us when we show up, we won’t bother coming by anymore.”

Sounds crazy I know but think about it like this. If you do a good job every once and a while you probably like to be recognized for it. Same goes for positivity. When something goes right it wants to be acknowledged. One way to keep yourself out of flow is to always be focusing on the negative aspect of things. Lets look at it like this.

You’re trying to lose some weight but the scale hasn’t budged in two weeks. You’re frustrated and upset. Nothings working and you’re trying so hard. This is probably what 90% of us would do. Now flip it into a positive. You exercised five times this week, stuck to your nutrition plan, and had more energy all week long.

SUCCESS! 

Some might even forget about the two inches they lost in their waste, the fact that their skin is clearing up, that they lifted more weight then they ever have. Instead, all of your focus is on the scale while all along all this other positive stuff was going on right around you.

Getting in the zone

the chess master

The god-father of flow tells us that in order to experience flow it needs to hold the following characteristics.

  • voluntary
  • enjoyable
  • require skill
  • be challenging
  • no ulterior motives

The only argument I would make is that I’m note sure it necessarily needs to be voluntary. Often we are given a task or goal to reach by someone else, a challenge perhaps and although not initially excited about it we end up finding a state of flow once we get started. Although it may be different for others I would say that more weight can be given to the actual challenge and skill required to enter a state of flow.

Lastly, sometimes skill is not totally necessary to enter flow. I think it plays a large role in achieving it but recently I went swing dancing and I essentially have no skill what-so-ever. Yet, I was able to get into flow because I totally embraced the challenge and found it to be enjoyable. I don’t want to get of in a tangent here so more on all this later.

Lets take a look at those characteristics real quick.

Voluntary: I don’t think this necessarily means something you do for free or without reward. I define it in this context as the ability to accept a challenge. To know something might be difficult and will take hard work but that is embraced and welcomed. Like getting in shape for example. Developing the exercise habit is hard work. Preparing meals ahead of time can be difficult but you accept the challenge and volunteer to do it.

Enjoyable: Again, I may have a different view but for something to be enjoyable I think it is up to the individual to find the joy in it. Doing sprints outside when it’s 20 degrees might not seem enjoyable but it is up to you to find the joy in it. Maybe the hot bath after is the joy, or the relaxation by the fire with the family afterwards. Or maybe the joy is in the sheer fact that you have some serious BALLS and have enough dedication to get outside and do it!

Require skill: This is essential. If the task doesn’t require you to utilize any of your skills you will just get bored. Boredom is a sure fire way to never enter flow. What are you good at? Do more of that? However, if you are acquiring new skills that you are really interested in this is a sure fire way to get into flow. Think learning a new language, riding a motorcycle, taking a trapeze class, learning how to lift weight, or taking a cooking class.

Be a challenge: The most important concept in my opinion. I am al for extreme challenge but to get into flow the challenge should be something that is aligned with your skills or skill development. If the challenge is to tough you may get anxiety, if it is to easy you may get bored as it will require less of you. This is something you may have to adjust on the fly. Maybe trying to lose 10 pounds this week was a little much. Or maybe walking up the hill with your bike was a little to easy. Next time try to haul ass up! The main thing is to be aware and make adjustments as you go. Allow yourself to be flexible.

To consistently find flow we need to do the following as outlined by Mihaly.

  1. Set clear goals
  2. Concentrate and focus
  3. Lose self consciousness (be free, don’t allow yourself to be judged)
  4. Get direct feedback
  5. Our skills must be aligned with the challenge
  6. Within our personal control

If these six concepts are applied to the four characteristics outlined above a state of flow can be obtained fairly easily and maintained for an extended period of time.

But don’t search for the flow. Ever get the feeling the harder you try the further away reaching your goal seems to be. Now I’m not saying don’t try. But instead focus on specific activities that you find meaningful and rewarding to not only yourself but to others. So if you are trying to get back into shape forces on WHY you are doing it and not so much how you are doing it. This extends into all aspects of our life, not just our health. If you have a project at work concentrate on the task at hand and WHY what you are doing has a positive impact on you, others, the job, and beyond.

Sh*t…I had Flow and now it’s gone

buried treasure

“The one that got away syndrome.” You had it, and now it’s gone. How do you get it back?

A sure way to get out of flow is to NOT be doing something you know you should be doing (click here). You have to take action and put theory into practice. If you fail and are wrong, so what. What are some changes you can make to improve.

It’s great if you’ve been reading about how to eat paleo/primal but simply reading about it doesn’t do you a whole lot of good. Education is awesome! But eventually you have to put it into play.

Take a look if you are spreading yourself to thin. To get into a state of flow your energy needs to be invested in that moment. Are you making your health a priority? Maybe your health is not the goal at the moment, maybe starting your own business is. Is your energy being spent there? Are you watching TV when you should be working on your business? Are you going out to eat ate a fancy restaurant when you want to take a trip to Hawaii?

A sure fire way to get out of flow is to let your actions get out of alignment with your goals. Get them on the same path again.

Being bored or anxious is another sign you are out of flow. To get back to it try learning new skills or accepting new challenges that have a clear goal you are striving for. Look for problems and try to solve them. Every so many months I have to tackle an adrenaline rush. The 52 books in 52 weeks is another way I try to stay in flow. I love learning, it is quite the challenge, and reading offers so many new skills.

The ability to transform adversity into an enjoyable challenge might be the greatest skill known to man.

What are some ways you can get back into flow?

  1. Make a list of things you want to get done, try, do, see, etc… LIMITLESS LIST (I need to update this 😀 )
  2. What skills do you have that will allow you to do these things?
  3. Do these things challenge you?

Mo’Flo Fo’Sho

Pay attention to those times when you hit YOUR flow. Seriously, write it down! Where were you, what were you doing, what time of day was it. Get specific. You’ll probably start to see a pattern that can help you get in “you zone more often.” Especially if you are doing the health thing. Write down when you had a great workout and were just feeling it! Document a perfect day of nutrition as defined by you. How were you able to achieve it?

When do you find yourself most often in a state of flow? Post to the comments. I’m totally curious.

Live limitless,

Justin

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