March 4, 2015

How to Achieve Flow State in the Most Intense Situations.


The first thing to hit the ground was Dean’s face.

He had gone off a jump on his mountain bike, and on landing both forks had snapped clean in half. Before Dean could lift a finger from his handlebars, he was kissing rock.

When we got there to help he had just regained consciousness, crumpled face first on the ground. I remember walking around in circles while fumbling with my phone to call for help. I was in a panic.

Dean’s brother, Steve, on the other hand was cool as ice. He sized up the situation and gave instructions. His tone was relaxed and fluid, as if we were changing a tire.

Steve’s presence had the most energizing and soothing effect.

When I look back, I realize that Steve was in a state of flow. At that moment in time, his skills and life experience met the challenge of the situation with exquisite grace. Steve’s ability to slip into a state of high performance made a lasting impression on me.

How could he make such rational and wise decisions in the heat of such a scary moment?

Fortunately, because he is a good friend I have been able to observe Steve, over a period of many years.

This was no fluke. He does this kind of thing all the time. His actions were an automatic reflex, conditioned by many years of conscious and unconscious practice.

Here are three lessons we can learn, from Steve, about turning huge pressure into high performance.

1. Our attitude determines who we will become.

Our choice of perspective is fundamental to living a life of flow, joy and happiness. Life throws endless challenges at us, but it doesn’t throw us a single problem. Our thinking mind manufactures problems like a Chinese toy factory.

As Steve says:

“You can either look at things as if they are big trouble, or fun. What I enjoy the most, whether at work or in my own time, is thinking of ways to find solutions. Creating a challenge opens a pathway of exploration, rather than a path of fear”.

Reality and the perceived reality, that our thinking mind creates, are usually two very different things.

This is one of life’s secrets. Choose our perception wisely so that we open the pathway to exploration.

Over the course of time, the perspectives that we choose, to take on life’s challenges, correlate to the type of human we evolve into.

“Watch your thoughts; they become words.

Watch your words; they become actions.

Watch your actions; they become habits.

Watch your habits; they become character.

Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.” ~ Lao Tsu

This is an ancient way of looking at the modern concept of neuroplasticity—the brain’s ability to change size, shape and functionality depending on the prevailing and consistent thought patterns we have.

If we think about Steve’s flow state, when dealing with his brother’s accident, it’s evident that his character and brain have been shaped by a lifetime of words, actions and habits.

So in daily life, ask yourself if there is another way that you can look at the challenges that crop up?

Is there a perspective and attitude you can choose to take on that will lead to greater joy and flow?

Over time, if we choose to see the silver lining or the rose amongst the thorns, our will brain will change, as will our character.

2. Present moment awareness.

Steve’s ability to flow, when the rest of us were paralyzed by panic, had a lot to do with presence. He wasted no thought on what might be and diverted 100% of his attention to the exigencies of the moment.

To understand the power of staying present when in stressful situations, lets look at an earlier event that has undoubtedly shaped Steve’s character.

When Steve was 19, he crashed his car into a ditch. He was at least a two-and-a-half-hour drive from home and in the middle of the bush. He had no phone and had not seen any cars or houses or people for a long time.

So what did Steve do? He had one of the best nights of his life, of course. He ran and ran and ran, with a smile on his face.

He listened to the koalas and the sounds of the bush. He enjoyed the rain on his face. He ran for 12 hours in the wet and dark before coming across a house. What an adventure! Steve was so focused on the minute detail of this experience, that there no room left in his consciousness for fear.

What can we learn from this?

Every moment of our life is full of wonder.

Take away koalas and rain and we still have our heartbeat, our breath, our senses and much more.

When we learn to tune in its wonderful kaleidoscope, life reveals itself. The simple and profound key to tuning in to awareness is to tune out of excessive thought. Simply change the channel.

How do we do this?

Spend time in nature, in solitude, engage our senses and meditate. These are the most powerful ways to reclaim our full human power and step into the flow of life.

3. If we live inside the comfort zone, life becomes full of fear.

When we live outside the comfort zone, life becomes full of adventure.

Deliberately placing himself outside the comfort zone is more than a habit for Steve: it is his life philosophy. He actively seeks out extreme situations. This meant that when his brother was injured, Steve’s automatic reaction was not panic. This was just another situation in which he could perform with skill.

To understand how this works lets take a look at the golden rule of achieving flow states: the challenge/skill ratio.

This rule implies that for us to enter a state of flow, the challenge of the situation must match our skill level. If our skill level is too high for the situation, we will get bored. If it is too low, we will be overwhelmed.

The sweet spot for flow is on the outside edge of our comfort zone.

We do not have to seek out the kind of challenges that Steve does, to find our flow. It is relative. The borders of our comfort zone are our sacred stomping ground.

So, seek out mildly daunting situations, in the knowledge that when we learn to habitually spend time in this zone of growth, our relationship to fear will transform and our ability to deal with intense situations will evolve.

We do not have to do anything extreme or drastic.

According to research, the most effective zone for flow is if the challenge exceeds our skill level by four percent.

In what way can you push yourself four percent beyond your comfort zone?

If you have experienced flow during high stress situations please share in the comments below. I’d love to hear about them.

Relephant read:

7 Steps to Increase Synchronicity in our Daily Lives.


Author: Jiro Taylor 

Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock

Photo: flickr

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