Or have you been so focused on an interesting task so there was no place in your mind for internal dialogue, criticism and usual doubts?
Did it ever happen to you to react accordingly and immediately to any challenge that the task presented to you? And – in spite of effort and difficulties – to feel a sensation of mastery, relax and confidence?That is to say, the task to be intrinsically rewarding?
If – as I hope – this has happened to you, it means that you experienced the so-called “in flow state”, a state of mind that is at the same time cause and effect of a peak performance, a state where we can access resources from a different level, a state where usual fears and limitations have no more effect, blocks disappear, and we can express ourselves to the maximum, knowing that we can rely on an inner nucleus of authenticity that perceives reality – and evaluates it, and responds to it – with a precision and a speed infinitely greater than the usual rational thinking.
This mind state has been well known for thousands of years, and every athlete, dancer, artist, writer, performer tried to give a personal description of it: someone talks about being “in the zone” or “in the groove”, others about ecstasy or grace state… and martial arts masters talk about mushin, “no mind” or about mizu no kokoro, “mind like water”.
In recent time there has been a scientist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who did a lot of researches in this field, studied countless athletes and performers from different domains, and published a great number of books about this mind state.
As a trainer, coach and consultant, I was always interested in performance and in methods to improve it, and every time I went deeper I met this “flow concept”, even if it was called with different names. This concept appeared absolutely fascinating to me, and I become convinced that this “flow state” is the true key to achieve excellent results in every kind of activity.
As usual explanations didn’t seem too convincing to me, I did researches in my way for years, and I’ve arrived at some personal conclusions about what flow state is and how it can be produced and used, either to achieve peak performances or, simply, to be more efficient and relaxed in day to day life.
I’ve named “fluxogenics” the systematization that I did and, as it is based on the more recent discoveries about the brain, some of the conclusions that I found can appear really surprising.
There is not enough space here to talk about neurophysiology, evolutionary psychology and modularity of the mind; to keep it simple, we can say that the mind – far from being an unitarian system – is made by an enormous number of routines, sub-routines, sub-systems, networks, programmed reactions and so on, each of them having evolved to cope with environment challenges, each of them functioning perfectly for the purpose of increasing our survival chances in this environment.
Rational consciousness – the “I” that makes us human and that we are so proud of – is nothing more than the more recent of these “mind modules”.
And if the rational mind – with its fantastic ability to create explanatory and previsional models of reality – is what has made possible social and technological development, by the same reason this mind – when over utilized – is what creates anxiety, stress, doubts, fears, criticism, and what – in the end – paralyzes a perfect mechanism as the human organism.
So, far from being something extraordinary, what I consider flow state is only a state where the different parts of the mind, instead of acting independently in a disorganized way, move in the same direction toward a common goal; a state where the rational side of the mind – instead of paralyzing our performance with doubts, criticism, fears, negative thoughts and so on – does its real job, that is to choose goals and directions and then to let the other parts of the mind – now aligned and focused – do their job without useless blocks.
If you like the metaphor, the rational mind must act as an orchestra conductor, who gives indications, tempo, interpretation, but then leaves the musicians to play without interfering in the mechanical part of the job.
Of course, this is not a simple task, and to achieve this separation between rational decisions and execution is just the purpose of the mental training in martial arts; the same purpose of the more technical part of fluxogenics.
Anyway, even if we can’t directly provoke the flow state, we can verify if the principal conditions that make the flow state possible are met:
-mental and physical relaxation
-well established goals, with clear rules to verify the results
-absolute concentration on the determinant aspects of performance, putting aside what is not relevant in achieving the goal
-when it is possible, immediate feedback about the effect of actions, in such a way that they can be modified moment by moment to achieve the maximum result
– balance between ability level and challenge: the activity is hard enough to demand the use of our full resources but not so hard to be perceived as impossible and to produce frustration
-full mastery of technical aspect of performance, and consequent high level of confidence
If we can concentrate our attention on this aspects, maybe we can realize that flow state is not something mysterious reserved to an elite of peak performers, but something that we can use with good results in personal and professional life; in the meanwhile, maybe we can discover that by learning how to master the flow state it is not so difficult to become an elite peak performer….