The first in a series of articles on ‘up grading’ yourself through a deeper understanding of how your mind determines performance in your chosen action sport.

Introduction to flow states

You are in the mountains. It’s a bluebird day with 2 foot of fresh powder. You decide to hike off the beaten track to ride a line you spotted from the lift. You strap in, soak in your surroundings and revel in the awesomeness of life. A backdrop of snow-capped mountains as far as the eye can see. In front of you… snowboarder heaven. A steep, untracked chute, opening up to a wide open face with pockets of trees, fluffy pillows and drops. You feel calm and focused, yet the butterflies fluttering in your stomach signal you are nudging the edge of your comfort zone. You visualise your line and take a few deep breaths. And you drop…

 

….Deeply into the present moment. The totality of your awareness becomes absorbed by your glide down the mountain. There is no thought, no ego, no past, no future. There is only NOW. As your subconscious takes over, your reactions become rapid and automatic. Your senses sharpen and you see the subtleties of every contour below you. You hear the faint swoosh of your edges sending plumes of powder skywards. You ride hard, pushing your limits, taking on drops and racing through tight lines through the trees before coming to a stop in the flats. You are bursting with ecstatic joy, super-charged with energy. You feel a profound sense of clarity, peace and purpose. You feel at one with the mountain, one with everything. Dopamine and norepinephrine flood your brain and your entire being craves more. More of what though? More flow of course.

 

“Elite skiers, snowboarders, climbers, kayakers, base-jumpers, surfers, free-divers- all athletes who rely on achieving control of consciousness to push the limits of achievement, stand at the pinnacle of flow state mastery.”

Alexa_hohenberg_flow_state_snowboard

Alexa’s line contemplation deep in the Alaskan backcountry

 

What is the Flow State?

Flow is a psychological term that describes an optimal state of consciousness in which we experience peak performance and enjoyment. Recent studies have redefined how psychologists and neuroscientists understand what underpins happiness, creativity and human achievement.

 

In the 1970’s Dr Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi was at the forefront of early research into positive psychology. While researching what contributed to human happiness and success, he noticed a behavioural pattern amongst painters who would be so obsessively engaged in the act of creating art that hours could pass without talking or eating. Nothing existed for those hours beyond creating art. Yet when the piece was finished they would put it to one side and move on to the next. There was no attachment to the end product. He named this state of absorption the “flow state” to describe how every action and every decision moved smoothly, effortlessly, fluidly from one reaction to the next.

 

Csikszentmihalyi’s hunch was that the immersion in the activity itself, rather than the end product was what motivated artists to create. This was a radical theory at the time, one that shattered previous assumptions that happiness and success were intricately tied to material possessions, achievements and status.

 

This hunch led Csikszentmihalyi to conduct the largest psychology study ever undertaken. He surveyed many thousands of people across all demographics and proved his theory that flow was a key driver of  happiness and fulfilment for all humans- young or old, rich or poor, male or female. The results were emphatic: those who experienced more flow were happier, more creative and more successful than those who experienced less flow. He concluded that “control of consciousness determines the quality of life”.

 

With surfing you experience the flow state

Sarah and the rhythmic dance of duck diving

 

What exactly does flow do?

The best way to understand what flow does is to observe the subset of humanity that has mastered the flow state more than any other: Adventure sports athletes. Elite skiers, snowboarders, climbers, kayakers, base-jumpers, surfers, free-divers- all athletes who rely on achieving control of consciousness to push the limits of achievement, stand at the pinnacle of flow state mastery. Surfers riding 100 foot waves and skiers jumping off 100 foot cliffs have all used flow to accelerate learning and redefine the limits of what is possible.  As Steve Kotler, author of Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance notes: “When pushing the limits of human performance, the choice is stark: It’s flow or die.”

 

The Flow state pushes humans to their state of optimal performance. Changes occur in the brain which accelerate complex decision making. Pattern recognition and creativity are boosted.  A dazzling array of neurochemical, neuroanatomical and physiological changes occur that allow us quite simply, to do shit better and faster. Ned Hallowell, Harvard Medical School psychiatrist describes the shift best:

“Flow naturally catapults you to a level you’re not naturally in. Flow naturally transforms a weakling into a muscleman, a sketcher into an artist, a dancer into a ballerina, a plodder into a sprinter, an ordinary person into someone extraordinary. Everything you do, you do better in flow. From baking a chocolate cake to planning a vacation to solving a differential equation to writing a business plan to playing tennis to making love. Flow is the doorway to the ‘more’ most of us seek. Rather than telling ourselves to get used to it, that’s all there is, instead learn how to enter into flow. There you will find, in manageable doses, all the ‘more’ you need.”

 

Sky diving is a great way to experience the flow state. Sky diver Bella Smart drops in.

Bella high above the earth ‘dropping in’

 

How can we use Flow in our lives?

Csikszentmihalyi’s discovery that engagement with the moment drives happiness and performance might have been radical for 20th century psychologists, but for Buddhist monks or Yogi’s this is about as obvious as it gets.  Living in the moment, becoming present, losing attachment with possessions and status… these are the very foundations of eastern philosophy, and also the creed that has shaped the lives of many dirtbag climbers, beatnik surfers, and snowboard seasonaires living hand to mouth, 8 to a room for the thrill of the ride.
So the amazing aspect of Flow state research is less about the fact that being in flow makes us happy and perform well. That much is obvious to anyone who has caught a wave, slid down a mountain or jumped out of a plane.
The amazing thing we can learn from flow state research is how we can use flow to achieve higher performance in every sphere of our lives. Flow is about you and I. It is about self-mastery.  If we can learn how to add more flow to our our lives, we hack perhaps the most powerful yet most elusive codes of ultimate human performance. We become more creative, learn faster, make better decisions, tune into our subconscious, hone our intuition, increase our emotional intelligence. We powerfully upgrade ourselves.

 

Stay tuned for more articles on this topic of upgrading ourselves through flow state mastery.

Deep in concentration and deep in the flow state.

Sarah 100% committed

Article written by Jiro Taylor.

 

Jiro Taylor is a surfer and performance coach based down in Manly, Australia. He is the founder of Flowstate Adventure – a coaching and retreat business focused on the intersection of mind training, happiness and adventure sports. Flowstate is all about recognising and harnessing that magic feeling when we are surfing and snowboarding- that feeling of transcendence and timelessness. That’s the flow state, a modern term for what ancient monks and Yogi’s might have called “pure awareness”. Our mission is to create a difference in the world by teaching an alternative path to access higher consciousness and to help others realise their full potential. Jiro spends most if his spare time exploring the coast of Australia in his van, and experimenting with different ways to get in flow.

 

 

About the author

Still Stoked (Alexa)

Hiya, I'm Alexa. Always on some sort of adventure! I'm excited to share my stories & introduce you to other rad women, also living the dream.
I'm here to inspire you to do the same :-)

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