Have you ever heard of someone being “In the zone”? The expression is used to describe someone who is operating at peak performance. It can be an athlete making a devastating play, a musician pulling off a grueling solo, or a surgeon performing a complicated surgery.
Being “In the zone” is a state of consciousness wherein thought drops away and the activity we’re engaged in absorbs all of our focus. When someone is “in the zone” their attention and the activity their engaged in become one.
Being in such a state of consciousness is also referred to as being “Hyperfocused”, “Peak experience” and being “In flow”.
Up until recently it was believed that accessing the flow state was reserved to the privileged few who had achieved the pinnacle of performance in their field of expertise. But recent advances in the field of flow psychology have revealed that this is not the case.
The flow state is accessible to everyone, with the proper practice. What Anders Ericssson, an “expert on experts”, calls “deliberate practice”. To practice deliberately means to engage in an activity challenging enough to make us unfomfortable and keep us attentive, while receiving immediate feedback on our performance.
This article will explore the flow state. It’ll give you a personal account of what it’s like to exist in flow. It’ll also tell you how I enter flow – it’s a deliberate choice I make and anyone can make it, with the right guidance. Prayer in the name of Christ is a powerful way to enter flow.
Sound like something for you? Then read on!
What Is Flow State?
Like I wrote in the introduction to the article, the “Flow state” is the merging of attention with activity. When someone is in flow, the thoughts which are constantly buzzing around the mind cease; the mind becomes a pristine lake of glass, upon which the focus of our attention is reflected clearly.
The flow state has several characteristics:
- Action and awareness merge – Nothing else exists to you but the action you are performing at that moment. There is no thinking, there is only being.
- Selflessness – You lose the concept of the “self”. As your self-consciousness vanishes so does the overthinking inner critic.
- Timelessness – As you attention becomes focused on a point it is no longer wandering to the future nor to the past. You exist as a point of attention and time becomes now.
- Effortlessness – The work you do while in flow becomes the end itself. Since you’re not working for a reward but to do the activity for itself, it becomes effortless. The activity is the reward.
The flow state sounds pretty rad doesn’t it? That’s because it is. It’s the optimal state of human consciousness. People produce their best work when their in flow.
Ever fallen in love? Falling in love with someone releases a cascade of feel-good hormones and neurotransmitters in our brain and body. When we’re with the person we’ve fallen in love with nothing else matters to us. Our attention homes into the moment and togetherness is all that is.
Falling in love is being in flow. Being in flow is being in love.
A Brief History Of The “Flow State”
The term “flow state” was coined in 1975 by the Hungarian-American psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi (pronounced chick-sent-me-high). Since then, research on the subject has steadily increased with the emergence of a branch of psychology known as “flow psychology” dedicated to study the phenomenon.
In this TED Talk given by Csíkszentmihályi he mentions how the human brain can process around 110 bits of information per second. He says that the human brain needs to process around 60 bits per second in order to understand a person who is speaking to us. This is the reason we can only understand one person speaking to us at a time.
He goes on to describe that when a person is completely engaged in the process of creating something new, he doesn’t have enough processing power left over to pay attention to how he feels. So existence becomes temporarily suspended. The person’s attention merges with the activity.
He also says that for a person to be in flow state he/she needs to be experiencing a level of challenge that is equal or slightly higher than his/her level of skill. In other words, we are in flow when the activity we are engaged in is difficult enough to be challenging, but not too hard that it frustrates us and not so easy that it’s boring. It has to be just right.
This article by the Flow Research Collective states that the magic ratio of challenge/skills is about 4% higher than what you are comfortable with.
What It’s Like To Be In Flow
While being in flow is describable in words, you don’t truly understand what it is until you have actually experienced it.
It’s like going to a restaurant. Imagine you’re sitting in a restaurant, looking through the menu. As you look at all the food on offer and read the descriptions you can imagine what the food is going to taste like. But do your imaginings compare to the experience of actually tasting the food?
They don’t. The only way you can know and understand what being in flow is like is to actually experience it.
I can tell you that when I am in flow time and space drop away. This doesn’t mean I see myself as a disembodied point of attention floating in nothingness. It means that the task I’m engaged in becomes the sole point of focus. Time passes and I am unaware of it. The space I’m working in changes and I am unaware of it. All that exists is the activity I’m doing then and there.
It happens when I write. It also happens when I hang out with my friends, meditate, pray and when I am doing a fun physical activity, like cross-country skiing or skating.
When I’m in flow I am operating at my best. I’m fully focused on my immediate experience, so I can respond elegantly to any situational change. Things work out effortlessly and they do so for the best. Being in flow ensures the maximum effectiveness of energy input to results output. It minimizes waste of time, energy and attention. It’s also fun like nothing else.
We Are Meant To Be In Flow
God has given human beings the gift of flow. It’s a state of consciousness accessible to most of us. If you are a human being, have a brain and are conscious, then you can enter the flow state.
The issue most people have with entering flow is that they are constantly distracted by the stimuli of the world. With so many distractions attempting to pull our attention away from fully focusing on the activity we’re doing, how can we expect to be able to enter the flow state at will?
People’s attention has been shot after decades of over-stimulation. Our devices; radio, television, laptops, desktops, cellphones, tablets, and now even our thermostats and our fridges, are designed to pull at our attention and keep it there.
I know this because my attention was fractured and feeble just a few years ago. The flow state was something that I had heard of through pop-culture. But it was inaccessible to me because I was constantly distracted. On top of that, I dedicated my creative time to activities which I found boring and meaningless, which also prevented me from being in flow.
If you’ve never been in flow and want to, you need to be doing an activity you like. Otherwise, your attention will remain at the surface of your experience. Once you have experience entering flow, you can do it even when you’re doing an activity you don’t like.
How I Enter Flow State
Entering the flow state is a skill. I regularly enter flow, when I want to and how I want to. I’m in flow as I write this! It has taken a while for me to develop this skill, but rest assured, like any other skill it can be trained and perfected.
So how do you train entering flow? I have three ways which over the years I’ve discovered work for me:
- Doing Six Degree Flow by Scott Sonnon
Meditation is the systematic training of attention. By meditating we can take hold of our rambunctious mind and gently guide it to where we want it to be, rather than allowing it to romp around however it wishes. An untrained mind is an unfocused mind.
I’ve been meditating for several years and I can vouch for the effectiveness of the practice. Meditating regularly took my attention from being scattered and diffuse, to being centered and focused.
Additionally, as a Christian, I’ve learned that the meditation I practice does not conflict with my faith, nor any other faith. The meditation I practice is simply guiding my attention to focus it where I want it to be, when I want it to.
Flow is all about focused attention. Can you see why meditating would be a phenomenal way to enter flow? By meditating we sharpen our attention and bring it under our control. Rather than having our attention perennially pulled by whatever device is vying for our attention, by meditating, we can become the masters of our attention and direct it where we want/need it to.
So I recommend you learn a little about meditation. If you’re interested, you can read this article I wrote on the subject.
Prayer is how God and I communicate. By praying to God in the name of His son Jesus Christ, I align my will with the will of God. Since God is the all-knowing, all-seeing, all-good Creator of the universe, by aligning my will with His I align with the highest good.
In prayer, I ask God to become the director of my life. I ask him to show me the way, to give me the wisdom I need to make choices which are pleasing to Him. Rather than have my own, limited, selfish will be done, I ask for His will to be done. I humble myself in prayer and ask Him to take me where he wishes.
When we humble ourselves before God and give Him the reins of our life, we enter flow. Why is this unsurprising? Because God is perfect. Everything He does is at the perfect time, in the perfect way, for the highest good. By surrendering to God’s will we become an instrument for Him to work through. He makes a way for us in the most unexpected way possible.
You might ask me how I know that God is working through me. It’s not something I can describe in words. I just know. When I put my trust in God things happen in ways I would never expect and work out in elegant ways that I would never be able to accomplish without His help. All He asks is that I have faith and take the step to trust Him. He takes care of the rest.
For those who are doubtful, remember this. True Christians pray every day and have been doing so for millennia. Why? Because prayer works – it’s how we talk to God.
3) Six Degree Flow by Scott Sonnon
Six Degree Flow is an exercise program designed by martial arts champion Scott Sonnon. I wrote a review of it, you can read it here.
Scott Sonnon designed Six Degree Flow specifically to activate the biochemical pathways which put a human being into flow. It’s an exercise program unlike any other, rated by Men’s Health as the world’s smartest workout. I’ve been practicing it for years and couldn’t be happier with it.
By practicing Six Degree Flow and following the instructions you enter the flow state. As you enter the flow state more regularly you will begin to do it more and more easily. You will begin to restore flow to your life.
The world has convinced us that we need to force our way through things. We need to force our minds to think; force our bodies when we train; force other people to give us what we want. That’s an exhausting way of living.
Final Question: Do You Want To Flow?
Restoring flow into our lives is a gradual process. It doesn’t happen overnight. By practicing the habits I have listed in this article you can begin the task of restoring your flow.
God made us to be in a relationship with Him. He has equipped us with a miraculous body and mind so that we may serve Him. Flow is the pinnacle of human performance – when we flow we are using our God-given mind-brain-body to the fullest.
The world we live in does its best to rob us of our flow. It convinces us to be sedentary static consumers, cut off from God and His plans for us. This is a tragedy we can see being lived out by many human beings today. People’s minds are so scattered, they consider their lives to be devoid of meaning, lacking any creative spark.
It is not God’s will for our lives to be meaningless. God meant for our lives to have meaning, but they can only have meaning if we choose to have a relationship with Him. God gave us free will, to choose how we want to live. He also gave us rules to follow; woe to those who choose to go against them (I write from experience in disobeying God). Read Matthew 7:13:
“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.”
I hope this article inspires you to look into flow, but much more importantly, I hope it inspires you to look to Christ for salvation. He loves you and wants to have a relationship with you. It’s up to you to choose to let Him in.
To God the glory.
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