In two hours in flow I can accomplish tremendous things! ~Sir Richard Branson
Have you ever experienced a flow state? If you’re interested in unlocking the deeper formula underlying human purpose, meaning, and happiness, understanding the dynamics that help us experience flow in our lives is key.
The concept of flow states became popular after psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi wrote a book on the topic in 1990 called Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.
A recent book called The Rise Of Superman by Steven Cotler has stoked a resurgence of interest in flow states and how individuals are harnessing this extraordinary state of being to do amazing—superhuman—things. Cotler is also the cofounder of something called the Flow Genome Project, the organization who produced the immersive flow state video below.
What Is A Flow State?
Wikipedia defines Flow in the following way.
In positive psychology, flow, also known as zone, is 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.
So what does a flow state look or feel like? Think about those moments when you became absorbed in something you were doing. Time passed with your knowledge, everything just clicked, and the present moment was alive with a sense of perfect harmony, aliveness, and implicit order.
According to Dr. Greg Cartin, a sport psychology consultant who works with professional athletes, artists, and performers, flow emerges at a unique intersection of skill and challenge where the challenge at hand is just a hair more demanding than our actual skill level. You can listen to our interview with Greg about flow states over at The OneMind Podcast here.
Flow State Experiences
For me, I remember experiencing flow states while playing competitive soccer and lacrosse. I would tap into some other order of energy and it was like time slowed down. I didn’t have to think before I acted…everything just clicked like a synchronized dance. The feeling was overwhelmingly positive and fulfilling.
I sometimes drop into this same state when I do mindful exercise like yoga or when I went on hour-long runs and felt all my concerns evaporate. Step by step it was like I was tapping into some deeper mode of being where everything felt possible and the present moment was all there was.
I also remember entering flow states as a server waiting tables in different restaurants. Moving from table to table, anticipating needs and pleasing customers, it was if I was tapped into some deeper pattern or choreography. It was a dance and I would blissfully follow cues, moving through routines, and enabling the whole thing to unfold seamlessly. It was ecstatic.
I’m guessing you’ve probably had variations on this kind of experience for yourself. Can you relate?
The experiences also above align with the rest of the wikidepia entry which had this to say.
According to Csikszentmihalyi, flow is completely focused motivation. It is a single-minded immersion and represents perhaps the ultimate experience in harnessing the emotions in the service of performing and learning. In flow, the emotions are not just contained and channeled, but positive, energized, and aligned with the task at hand. The hallmark of flow is a feeling of spontaneous joy, even rapture, while performing a task although flow is also described (below) as a deep focus on nothing but the activity – not even oneself or one’s emotions.
How Do Flow States & Meditation Relate?
Based on these descriptions and the experiences I’ve described, it’s not hard to see the parallels between meditation and flow states. In my estimation, being in a flow state is similar to moving meditation forms like tai chi. It involves a focused awareness approach to meditation where your attention is trained on one thing to the exclusion of all else.
In a sense, flow is what that principle of focused awareness meditation looks like in action.
So it was interesting to recently learn about the Flow Genome Project, a trans-disciplinary, international organization committed to mapping the genome of Flow by 2020 and open sourcing it to everyone.
Here is their immersive and mesmerizing video, which attempts to give you a direct experience of Flow. I recommend putting it on full screen and listening with stereo headphones to get the full effect.
If you want to create the conditions to experience more flow in your own life, try our free How To Meditate Mini Course.