Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Flow

Definitions

Flow-state can be defined as ”The mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.” or as ”An optimized state of consciousness where you feel your best and perform your best.”

Why flow-state is important?

During flow you are in an optimal state of performance. Your creativity, productivity, and feeling of happiness is the greatest. According to Temple University sports psychologist Michael Sachs, all the olympic gold medals have been achieved during flow-states. Or are achieved at least partly by having a flow state. Fast problem solving occurs during flow. Your focus is the highest, when you are in it. You are more aware about your environment, your time flies, and your self disappears. All this helps you to move you fluidly from one decision or action to another. The level of performance is much higher than without it. It is not achievable without enough challenges. Flow state is not achievable while you are performing routine tasks.

Basic properties and components of the flow-state

In flow, you have a profound mental clarity, you are emotionally unattached and everything works completely automatically. Your thinking parts of the brain are shut down during flow, especially, your prefrontal cortex that performs executive functions. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the ”father” of flow has identified ten components for flow:

  1. You have clear goals. You know what you are going to do and what is needed to achieve it. You are also skilled enough to perform it. Your task is challenging and your skill level is high.
  2. Your focus is on a limited field of attention.
  3. Your action and awareness are merged.
  4. You have lost a sense of time.
  5. You will get a direct and immediate feedback from your action. The boundaries of success and failure are clear. Learning occurs, or high level of risk damages the performer.
  6. Flow is most probable, when the challenge is a little bit harder than your skill level. Some flow researchers talk about 4 per cent.
  7. Your control of the situation feels complete.
  8. Your motivation is very high and intrinsic.
  9. You do not feel hunger, exhaustion, or any other bodily needs.
  10. You are not aware of your surroundings. The activity itself is the only thing that matters.
Out of these ten components, the right challenge/skill ratio, direct and immediate feedback and clear goals are demanded for flow. Rest of the components are not always present. They exist only at some point of the flow cycle.

A flow cycle

Flow can be divided into a four part cycle. First stage is called a struggle. You fill your brain with information. You may focus on problem analysis or fact gathering. Stress hormones flood to your body and brain. At this point, you have no idea how to proceed. You are also conscious of your surroundings and you are identifying and repeating patterns until they become tiny, clear goals. Getting through the struggle leads you to the second stage called release. You start relaxing and your mind wanders off the problem. Stress hormones diminish and the levels of feel-good neurochemicals start rising. After the release, the third stage in flow cycle begins, the flow-state itself. The final stage of the cycle is recovery. Most people will feel totally exhausted after the flow-state, at least mentally. Flow-state requires lots of energy. Recovery takes time. Starting the cycle again is hard work and some people never get back into flow. Recovery feels more like struggle than release of the flow-state itself. If you want to get back into flow, you need to recharge completely in recovery.

Flow has a dark side.

The state itself is very consuming, demanding, and unpredictable. Your brain and body are full with highly addictive hormones and neurotransmitters during flow cycle. It is not hard to go too far in a flow-state. And once you go too far, consequences can be terrible. Some people in extreme sports went too far. Because you have to get better all the time to achieve a flow-state, you have to take bigger risks and sometimes those risks are lethal. Your ability to realize those risks decreases and fear becomes less touchable. You may evaluate your life differently. Flow may become a personal need or an addiction, rather than something your mind and body wanders occasionally.

This is all about flow-state, for now.


-TT

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