The State of Flow
How to reach your peak performance
The Flow — the state of peak performance so desired by many
We all heard of it and we experienced it many times but we still struggle summoning it back when we need it the most.
I’ve just finished my essay about the productivity where I mention the state of flow.
Let’s define it first.
The state of Flow is a state when doing things becomes so natural that you exert little or no force in order to keep doing it.
Running your task at hand in the state of flow is unburdensome and light, it happens easily and you enjoy doing it.
You already know how it feels as most likely you have been finding yourself in the state of flow many times.
You remember yourself when you had long promenades on the street with your earphones in before placing yourself in social situations. It feels funny at first. Something inside you cringes when you need to start talking to people. But you talk to one person, then another, then they make you laugh, then you tell a joke and make them laugh in return. After some time you feel how effortless it is. You get into the flow of communication.
The objective is to be able to reinitiate the state of flow at will.
Find the flow in the things you do.
Find those activities that just flow through you and try to understand and anchor the feeling itself.
How do you feel when you are in the state of flow?
Usually, it is so intensive that the conscious part of you takes a step back giving space for unconscious one.
Snowboarding is my best example of the state of flow. When I ride a board it feels like flying. I don’t think about the control of the board neither I need to choose where to turn next, it just happens automatically. But it wasn’t like this before. At first, there is
1. Struggle phase.
You will fall. In snowboarding, you will fall literally. At other tasks, you will start doing something and indulge in procrastination.
You feel bad in the struggle phase and this is why many people give up without pushing through the resistance barrier.
In writing, for example, the struggle phases starts right from the start when I sit down and stare at the empty screen. I feel dull and useless. I taught myself not to do it.
I learned that the main obstacle on the way to the flow is the initial inertia. The bad thing about the inertia is that it grows with time. The more I stay in the state of inactivity the stronger is the struggle.
I learned how to start with throwing random ideas in the form of keywords on the paper jotting down the things that I want to deliver in my essay.
Afterwards, I start to develop each idea one by one unfolding keywords into ideas and this the moment when I reach
2. Release phase
I find the Flow as an attribute of a Deep Work. I can only get into the flow when I immerse myself in certain activity for a significant period of time and a certain intensity.
Shallow work is the enemy of the flow. I have to cut any distractions such as notifications or external sounds when I am working. If someone or something distracts me my flow nullifies and it takes from 10 to 20 minutes to get back into the zone.
As times goes by I start to feel how writing gets easier and easier.
Momentum. The most important thing is to build momentum.
It usually feels like a a release of energy. A step up. Finally I get into
3. The Flow State.
The words start to flow through me. I become a channel, not the source. Of course, I have my down-days conditioned by sleep deprivation and sometimes I stumble upon the word due to the fact that English is not my native language, but I just keep writing.
Silence and mindfulness about the inner sensations like breathing or heartbeat make it easier for me to stay in the flow and just keep doing my thing.
I read that in order to become somewhat decent at writing I need to write an average of 1,000,000 words. It means that with the pace of 2000 words per day of every day writing I will need about 500 days.
It sounds very intimidating considering the fact that squeezing my head like a lemon everyday in order to juice down 2000 words is not a piece of cake task. With me being a very slow and inefficient typist it takes up to 3–4 hours.
Understanding that every time I start the flow will be coming back if I persist and remembering that I have another 1.5 years of overcoming the daily resistance of initial phase walk me through the last step.
4. Brain Rewiring
After you finished the work and your flow calms down you need to consciously recognize the fact that you just had it and it is possible to reach this state again.
The memory of how it feels in the state of flow will fade away but the memory that it is possible will not.
That is the crucially important mindset.
You need to convince yourself that you will get there every time you start.
I use the Flow in the gym. My every workout starts with a struggle. My body is sore from the previous day and it feels like I will not be able to work efficiently. But I know that all of this is a mind game.
I start slow and try to feel every muscle in my body. Slow and thorough stretching in the state of high-awareness of what is going on inside the body allows gaining the momentum. When the blood rushes into muscles the pain always leaves I feel pumped up and can work again on high-performance ripping myself apart. I don’t remember clearly how I feel on the peak of performance but I remember the fact that it is possible. This what makes me come back even when the part of me tells me to take a break.
Challenge and Skill levels.
The Flow happens as a result when the challenge meets the skillset. When the level of challenge is high and you possess necessary skills you fell excitement and entering the state of flow during the work will occur naturally.
High skills and a low-level challenge will result in boredom whereas low-skills and a high-level challenge will result in anxiety. Both of these states are highly undesired.
The opposite of the flow is apathy. It is the state when you have neither energy nor motivation for performing on the task. It happens when the skills are low and the task is not challenging enough.
As a result, we have a pretty simple recipe:
Always make sure that the task at hand is demands the best of you and corresponds your skillset, and vice versa — elevate yourself, constantly upgrade your skills in order for them to meet the challenges of the world.
Procrastination is a state of stagnation. There is no movement.
The stillness — this is what causes doubts and hesitations and drains the energy out of you.
Movement dissolves the doubts.
Movement allows you to gain the desired momentum that keeps you going.
The best way to start is to start.
That sounds silly but this is true. It doesn’t matter what kind of activity you decide to start with. You need to move.
Of course, it doesn’t mean that it is better to start with small irrelevant tasks because you are shying away from the first checkbox on your to-do list.
What it means is that you need to start with at least something. Let the first steps be futile and cumbersome. They are not supposed to become the core of your valuable work. They must become a foundation for what is coming next.
Keep up the good work and keep the flow running.
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