The magical, wonderful, amazing state of flow, where t i m e slows down and s p a c e stretches. How many more times am I going to write about this? Many more! I’ll write a whole book about it one day! It’s one of the most delightful, delicious, desirable things a human can experience.
The reason I talk about playing tennis so often, is because it’s where I have most often been in the zone. Sometimes I maintain the flow state for several weeks. In that state, I win every match, even if the opponent is normally better than me. If my momentum breaks, it can take weeks before I get back into flow. Because I am a coach of optimal performance, I closely observe the factors causing flow and falling out of flow.
There are levels of flow, from simply lucid and “things working out to my favor” all the way up to supernatural. That’s when the ball looks as big as a beach ball and floats toward me in slow motion, as if I had all day to position the racket. Someone just hit a serve into the far corner at 70 mph. My jumping there and scooping it up would be next to impossible without the flow-state. My skill certainly isn’t at that level yet. I am able to whip the ball where ever I like with incredible velocity and precision. But this magical level is rare. It might be too windy, too hot or I might be playing with someone who has a bad vibe. But those are excuses. Were I to intend flow more deeply, I could also get into it in bad circumstances.
At the highest level of flow, I’m not even trying. It’s a blast. “He/She makes it look so easy” is what they’ll say about you. An athletes reflex actions, the position of their body and their tools (in my case a tennis racket), one’s focus and timing (judgment of time, space and velocity) are all inner, mental and emotional processes. That’s why success in sports is not only a matter of physical training but also mental and emotional training.
Flowy Golf players who get a hole in one have reported that it felt like the ball traveled on a straight, pre-determined laser-beam and the hole seemed gigantic. Flowy Quarterbacks have said that time slowed to a point to where it seemed they had all day to find someone to pass the ball to and their pass was like a magnet to the receiver. Flowy Soccer players have reported feeling in this state, like shooting a goal is unavoidable and can often predict that it will happen within minutes (and it does).
So how do I get into this state????????
If only I had an answer to this question that always works! I wish I knew! But there are a few behaviors that prepare the ground for a state of flow. I will explain them using Tennis as an example, but they apply to all other areas (beyond sports):
- Soft Focus. Rigid Attention is the greatest block to flow. Attention becomes rigid when we feel under pressure through our own expectations, the opponents superiority, unresolved emotional issues, etc. Focus becomes too hard and I stare at the ball, the opponent or elsewhere. In this case, I need to slow down. It sounds paradoxical that slowing down would increase my performance, but that’s exactly what happens. If I myself s l o w down, the ball s l o w s down. A trick I often use is to hit the ball slightly later than I normally would. This puts me into an e x p a n d e d mental state because it assumes I have more time to hit the ball. Even if I do not get to a state of magic, it puts me in control of myself and the game. I just wait about 1 second longer. Yes, this applies to other things too: On your next phone call, why not wait 3-5 seconds longer before responding? Your answer will be more to your liking, because it will be more conscious. Another way to soften attention is to stop looking or staring in the same way. I’ll begin noticing the clouds, the surroundings, the trees, the hills, the birds, the players on other courts. This opening of attention, softens attention. When attention is fixated, there is a drop in awareness. The flow state is high awareness (but without effort). Soft Focus is neither a loss of focus nor over-focus.
- Let go of Worry. Typical concerns are about winning or losing. What others think of you. What you think of others. That it’s too hot or cold. The way to let go of these during play, is to acknowledge that they are there and intend to release them on the out-breathe. Simple as that. Unless something is a big issue for you, then you require an Emotional Releasing session. You might think that “wanting to win” is a good thing, but it won’t help you with Flow. Have you ever noticed how you play much better when you no longer care whether you win or lose but play for the sake of enjoyment? Yes, you should intend to win, but that’s different than wanting to win or worrying about it. It’s a brief intention at the start of a match or phase.
- Fully Embrace the Situation As-Is. Letting go of mental resistance, supports Flow. As long as you are not 100% committed and present, you won’t experience flow. If you are wishing or thinking of being elsewhere, doing something else or if you are distracted, you won’t be present. Eagerly being “into it” will create flow. This is a different state than being a dissociated observer. The dissociated observer state is also useful, but not for flow. In flow, you are not the observer but fully identified with what is going on. Reality gets an effortless, liquid quality, because there is no observer-self monitoring the situation. It’s as if you are slightly drunk, with a mind deeply at ease, but without the unconsciousness or unawareness of drunkenness. One could say it’s a meta-observer, not a critical-observer that’s present. The meta-observer is aware of what is happening, but has no preference or label on what is happening.
Soft Worry-less Focus and Presence support the state of Flow. Having an opponent similar to your own level also helps. If the opponent is much worse or much better than you, no back and forth momentum can be developed.
I’ve been able to transfer the state to Business, Family and elsewhere. Just the other day, I told someone to buy certain stocks. He did. He made thousands of Dollars within a few days. What he doesn’t know: I know nothing about that stock. Then why did I tell him to get it? Intuition. Intuition comes from flow. It’s inexplicable. Magic. In flow, you often know things but don’t know why you know them. It’s a no-mind state. I have a long History of accurate predictions. But if you press me to explain how I knew these things, I couldn’t tell you why. Intuition doesn’t follow the rules. “Fred, you are not supposed to do it that way!” I have often heard, in different contexts. But I do it anyway, and it works. Why didn’t I get those stocks? I’m not into stocks, I find it boring. Following things you enjoy (rather than things that bore you), supports the state of Flow.
How to be in a better flow with your Partner, Spouse, Friend: Be present without expectation. Present, label-less attention is the greatest gift you can give a person. And if you could just put your phone aside for some time and put your own opinions and automatic-responses and beliefs and prejudices aside for some time and just be open to…whatever!…you can get into a flow state with your partner and surprising things can happen.
When you are on vacation, is it better to plan or to “go with the flow”? My definitive answer to this is: If you are unable to get into flow, it’s much better to Plan. But if you are practiced in higher states of consciousness, it’s better to be without a plan. My solution? I choose the effortless, intention-less, definition-less no-plan vacation. But just in case I don’t get into flow, I have a backup-plan. I do the same for Seminars. My seminars are done spontaneously. But I have a backup plan just in case.
Can the magic of flow be used in Gambling? Yes it can, and no I don’t. In Basketball there is a term called “hot ball”. That’s when a team has momentum and every ball seems to go in. In Casinos, there is a term called “cooler”. That’s someone who comes in and disturbs the energy just in case a person is in a too good of a flow. The trick to using flow in gambling is to quit the very first time you are out of flow. Don’t be tempted to continue. You might be in flow and make several wins. But if you make one single loss, quit. Then you still have a plus. However, I don’t gamble. Why not? Because there are so many better ways to use flow. Casinos and online betting is always rigged against you and the scene is full of seedy and desperate characters. The Get-rich-quick-mentality often found here, is poverty-thinking.
Negative people and events disrupt flow. Honesty supports flow. Suppression disrupts flow. Free communication supports flow. The most common flow disruption comes from being too ambitious. Over-focused people never enjoy the stuff they work so hard to achieve. Nor do they ever achieve anything without hard work. In flow, work is much easier. If you hope to attain flow, you neither under-perform nor over-perform. You hit the sweet-spot in the middle.