My previous article discussed the flow state. If this is the first time you’re encountering the term, I highly recommend you read the article. It will tell you what the flow state is, the psychologist who coined the term and how to enter the flow state.
In a nutshell, being “in flow” is being “in the zone”. It’s the state of consciousness in which action and awareness merge. There is no “I” doing “something”. There is only doing. It’s the state of consciousness responsible for peak performance and creativity.
This article is going to describe what it’s like to be in flow, personally. I once believed being in flow was inaccessible to me. I had heard of the term and longed to find an activity which absorbed my attention to the degree that I lost myself in it. As a young adult I mostly drifted through life without being able to focus much on anything difficult nor productive.
Then I discovered a couple of habits, discussed in the previous article, which gradually enabled me to enter the flow state. This article will describe what being in flow is like for me, what I do when I’m in flow and I will repeat how I get into the state.
What Flow Is Like For Me – Rowing Indoors
I was part of the rowing team in university. The off-season in rowing is during the winter. As rivers ice over it becomes impossible for a crew to row in them with any degree of safety. Although my coach would certainly push the limits of safety.
During the off-season rowing practice is moved indoors, onto an indoor rower, colloquially as “erg”. Much like a treadmill is used to simulate running and a stationary bike is used to simulate cycling, an erg simulates rowing. It’s the gold-standard in training conditioning for rowing. If you want to get faster in rowing, you erg – a lot.
Basically, the erg is a rail with a rolling seat which slides along its length. There’s a handle attached to a chain attached to some form of resistance-producing device. In most cases, the resistance is provided by a fan which moves air with every tug on the chain. A rower starts with bent knees, extends his knees, tugs on the erg’s chain, exerting effort to move air and returns to his initial position. There is a screen positioned directly in front of the rower’s face which displays the strength of each repetition (example: 800 Newtons), the rate at which he’s rowing (example: 24 strokes a minute), the time he has rowed and other things. This YouTube video shows what erging is like.
Practicing on an erg is doing the same movements over and over again until practice ends. It’s very repetitive.
You Develop A “Feel” For The Erg
Naturally, the more you row on an erg the more of a “feel” you develop for the machine. You come into communion with it. You begin to feel into the erg; feel how the chain slides into and out of the fan’s compartment, feel how the chain catches the fan, how the seat’s wheels slide over the rail. Your attention begins to merge with the activity.
Erg long enough and you eventually enter flow. It just happens. The activity is so repetitive, so mind-numbing and boring, that your mind shuts off. There’s no other way of dealing with it. The more conscious you are when you erg, the more painful and boring it is.
Then, as your mind shuts off, something fascinating happens. You begin to notice things you never noticed before. What the chain feels like when it catches the fan at just the right time. What your breath is like when you deliver the strongest strokes. How your head is positioned when you’re at peak efficiency.
Every rower knows that there’s a sweet spot when you pull on the chain of an erg. It’s like a diver slipping into the water without making a splash. Or a batter hitting the bat’s sweet spot to score a home run.
When a rower pulls on the erg’s chain at just the right time and place he hits the sweet spot and he knows it. It’s unmistakable. Being in flow on an erg is hitting that sweet spot over and over again.
Flowing On An Erg
When you enter flow while on the erg you are at your highest level of performance. It only happened to me a couple of times, but those were when I did my best. Every time I pulled on the chain it felt like I was pulling on the sweet spot.
Being in flow means pulling on the sweet spot over and over again. Mistakes are minimized and attention becomes so focused that nuances which were previously unnoticed become noticed. When in flow, the rough edges of our performance are sanded away, leaving a clear reflection of our consciousness on the canvass of our reality.
No energy is wasted. Every muscle twitch, every breath, every change in position is delivered at just the right time to move you closer to your goal. Whether it’s rowing a 2000-meter piece on an erg, catching a pass for a touchdown in American football or playing a solo on an instrument. When we’re in flow there is no waste. There is solely doing.
You don’t even think about the goal, because if you think then you’re not flowing. The goal becomes secondary. It’s the doing that matters. The internal shifting towards the asymptotic of perfection.
If all of this sounds abstract and poetic it’s because it’s meant to. I’m describing what flow is like for me.
When I first experienced flow while rowing on an erg I had no idea what had happened to me. I knew something had happened, but I didn’t know what. Now I know that what had happened to me was flow. It wasn’t until another decade when I discovered the concept of “flow” and began to deliberately cultivate it in my life.
Today I can confidently enter flow whenever I want to.
What I Do When I’m In Flow
Today the thing I most enjoy doing when I’m in flow is writing. I enjoy conveying ideas to people through the written word. My writing might not be noteworthy. It won’t win any awards nor start any revolutions. But I enjoy doing it. I believe I can accurately convey interesting ideas to my readers and that’s incredibly satisfying to me.
I also love writing in flow. Time and time again I’ve noticed that when I’m in flow my writing feels effortless, is more creative, accurate and contains fewer errors than when I’m not in flow. Writing in flow is guaranteed to be productive. There is no writer’s block when I write while in flow. When I do encounter a challenging idea to convey in words, I take some time, walk around the room, allow my mind to purposefully wander and I come up with a creatively accurate way to say what I want to say.
Writing is my favorite activity to do while in flow, but it’s not the only one I do. I also enjoy running while in flow. Just like with rowing on the erg, when I run while in flow every step feels like it’s taken in the sweet spot. As the shock of the step travels up my foot into my knees, hips, torso, neck and head I feel a deep satisfaction. It’s difficult to describe.
How I Get Into Flow
If you’re interested in learning how I get into flow read the previous article. But I’ll go over it briefly here. I maintain several habits which get me into flow:
- Six Degree Flow by Scott Sonnon
Meditation is the systematic training of attention. If your attention is diffuse and unruly you have a harder time entering flow than if your attention can be focused and disciplined. Meditation is a powerful tool to train attention – it has no rival. As a Christian, I meditate – it helps polish my focus so I can keep it on Christ and away from the distractions of the world.
Prayer is supremely powerful for getting into flow. Prayer, in the name of Christ, aligns our will with God’s will. God has a will and a plan for the universe; resisting that plan, by sinning, causes suffering in the short and long term.
When you align your will with God’s will, He begins to make a way for you. This doesn’t mean life gets easy, it means life becomes more meaningful and dynamic as you serve the Almighty with every choice you make. Prayer gets you to that state. You can expect struggles in prayer as you sand away the rough edges of your heart into a shape that is more pleasing to God.
Six Degree Flow by Scott Sonnon is also a powerful tool to enter flow. It’s like meditation, but moving. It builds the body and mind. It’s a fantastic system of exercise, designed by Scott Sonnon, a world-champion martial artist and world-class coach who works with top athletes and military organizations.
Christ And Flow
I mentioned Christ in the previous section of the article and want to expand on Him here, as I am able.
I only recently became a follower of Christ. Before coming to Christ I experimented with Eastern spirituality and philosophy. They served me, to a point – Eastern spiritual practices, particularly meditation, allowed me to sharpen my mind and become more spiritually discerning.
But when it came to providing me with a framework on how to live a good life, these Eastern practices failed me. They did not provide me with a standard of truth against which to measure myself, so I was caught up in my sin without even realizing it.
Christ addressed my sin. He held up a standard of truth to me, where I saw myself in my sin. It hasn’t been easy, recognizing how I’ve been cultivating a life of sin, but the path God has had me walk has prepared me for the encounter. I am now actively battling my sin, refusing to allow it to root in me while handing everything I can over to Christ.
As I do this, interestingly, I am finding flow being restored to other areas of my life. It’s fascinating. This is particularly true in my social life. Repenting of my sin and giving it to Christ is purifying my mind and heart so that I can be of service to a community of Christians in my city. Christ is allowing me to keep my mind focused on praiseworthy things and as that happens I am aligning my will with God’s, who is always good.
New opportunities are coming into my life as a result. Evidence that Christ makes everything new again.
Restore Flow To Your Life!
This article briefly discussed the flow state; what it is, what it’s like for me and how you too can enter flow. The flow state was once thought to be reserved for expert performers who had dedicated thousands of hours to mastering their skillset. And to a degree that is true, the deepest levels of flow in any activity are only accessible with focused, deliberate practice maintained over several years.
But that doesn’t mean that all levels of flow are inaccessible to the average human being. Flow is accessible to most people, all it takes is cultivating the right habits for a long enough time. Maintainthese habits listed long enough and one day you will discover that you’re in flow. You will just know. You’ll say “Aha! This is what it feels like to be in flow!” It’s unmistakable.
Final Thoughts: Practice These Habits To Restore Flow To Your Life!
If you have no experience with meditation, prayer or moving meditation, then I suggest you start with prayer. Praying in the name of Christ is always good. It can show you things which you are thinking/saying/doing which hurt you, so that you can begin the process of healing. Anyone can pray, and it can be done anywhere at any time. I invite you to pray today!
As far as meditation goes, it can take a while before the fruits of doing it regularly show up in our lives. But they do show up. I was meditating for about a year before I noticed that my attention was becoming sharper. Meditation is a long-term investment in our attention.
Finally, Six Degree Flow is a powerful way to get into flow. That’s why it has the word “Flow” in the name! If you’re physically competent, or are looking for a challenge, I recommend trying out the program.
Will you try out any of the habits listed in the article? I look forward to your comments!
To God the glory.