I fully expected to be on the plane home from London Heathrow to Melbourne, Australia in November of 2000 after my first round loss in the, “Wimbledon of squash”, the British Open.
Instead I found myself warming up to play the World Number 3 Simon Parke on the All Glass Squash Court in Birmingham arena in the 2nd round, when all of a sudden, I felt myself raise my hand to the ceiling in victory and walk towards Simon to shake his hand. It was an incredible feeling and I could hardly believe that I had just won the match 3-0. Hard not because I didn’t believe I was capable, but hard to believe because I couldn’t really recall anything about the match that lasted for about an hour. Where did the time go? Where did my memory go? And how did I just get to the winners circle and have no real recollection of doing it?
In 2000, I pulled off one of my greatest results, making the final of the British Open after not playing for about 8 months and barely spending time on the court before I went. How? I think there are a few answers and reasons but the one that I commonly fell back on was “I was just in the Zone”.
Fast forward to today and my training and learning has led me to the research and science of Flow State. Not only has this allowed me to understand some of my best performances in my squash career, but more importantly how I have navigated my life and searched it out on a daily basis. It also has now allowed me to use this science to redirect and connect with my higher values, passion and purpose in a big way!
Flow has been scientifically defined as an optimal state of consciousness where you feel your best and perform your best.
In a massive global study done by the Godfather of flow Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, people consistently described the experience of flow as one where every decision, every action, flows seamlessly, perfectly, effortlessly, from the last. He studied all sorts of people all over the globe that did all sorts of different careers and activities and the description was always very similar.
Steven Kotler refers to the state as those “moments of rapt attention and total absorption, when you get so focused on the task at hand that everything else disappears. Action and awareness merge. Your sense of self vanishes. Your sense of time distorts (either, typically, speeds up; or, occasionally, slows down). And throughout, all aspects of performance, both mental and physical, go through the roof.”
There was no way I could really ever articulate or describe how I felt during that event and in particular in that one match, but this description sums up my experience. It felt freaking amazing. And it sure wasn't the regular 'day at the office' experience.
I used to believe that “In the Zone” moments were purely reserved for athletes, musicians and performers. Fast forward to today and it has been proven time and time again that it is something we all experience and are hard-wired for. We all have the ability to tap into this unparalleled state of peak performance no matter what we’re doing, as long as we are meeting certain prerequisites to trigger the state. If you’re human–– know what flow feels like! There is a good chance that if you can trace back the greatest moments in your life, a flow state would have been at the forefront of it.
This state is accessible at work, at home, in your hobbies, having coffee with a great friend, basically anywhere you focus your attention, and I mean really focus your attention. It often shows up when we are doing something we love so much that the love of just doing the thing is the reward in itself. Csikszentmihalyi says “flow is what people feel when they enjoy what they are doing, when they don’t want to be doing anything else.” What makes flow so intrinsically motivating? The evidence suggests a simple answer: In flow, the human organism is functioning at its fullest capacity. When this happens, the experience is it’s own reward.
The beauty in it is unquestionable, and it is attainable. Sadly however, it is only experienced on a consistent regular basis by few. I do consider myself fortunate to live a life where I have searched for this feeling of flow in all I have done, but many live a life full of moments and beliefs that don’t allow them to experience this state of epicness on a regular basis. Why is that?
One conversation to consider is that around the fear of failure. During a session with a client, we discussed her performance for the opening night of her show, and she was clearly anxious and nervous. As we discussed this feeling we landed on how grateful and fortunate she was to be able to experience this energy. By putting herself out there- by doing the thing she loved doing the most– she was able to lean into her fear and embrace it, allowing it to lead her into the magic of flow.
If this talented performer let that feeling get the better of her, if she submitted to it and didn’t follow through, she would never get to the other side to experience her full potential. The kind of potential that arrives when flow shows up. So many people let fear block them from accessing flow. Without pushing through the struggle that precedes flow, the massive enhancements in performance and learning are not realised.
I see it often and I found myself in that space not long ago. It is not a great place to be, in fact it led to some of the more darker and mentally challenging times in my life, and I am so happy that I have found my way back by following my intrinsic signs and allowing the intersection of my passions and curiosities to meet. This has enabled me to empower and train others to purposely find more flow in their universe –– not only improving the quality of their own lives but also those around them. And I won’t even start on the global impact a world full of lit up rock stars can have on the evolution of our species!
Flow tip #1 - What’s the one thing you love to do or used to love doing that gives you the feeling of flow described above? Cool––do that more often! The more time you spend in flow the more flow will show up in your life!
If you would like to have a chat on how getting more flow in your life, business or teams can enhance and optimise your performance, shoot me a note to book in for a free performance call.