A flow mindset allows a person to approach life with curiosity and exuberance. The goal of a flow mindset is the attainment of peak experiences, which foster productivity, success, and fulfilment.
Flow – also called ‘the zone’ – is a mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is absorbed by a feeling of energised focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process.
Flow is experienced when we have developed a skill to the level where we can express ourselves creatively without exerting deliberate attention to detail. This is different to being on ‘autopilot’, when our brain unconsciously responds to a low challenge situation with a pattern that has been ingrained through repetition. Examples of autopilot may include driving, cooking, cleaning, even answering emails. In these situations the challenge level is low and our brain saves energy by switching to what is known as the default mode network. This network is responsible for mind-wandering, daydreaming and managing repetitive tasks that don’t require our full attention.
Flow vs Autopilot
While they share some commonalities, flow is quite the opposite of autopilot. In flow, one experiences timeless absorption, combined with hyper-awareness. While the individual does not need to focus on specific patterns of response, she is, however, acutely attuned to the variables that will determine a successful outcome.
An example of autopilot: An individual has driven along a road several times. Today they ‘drift off’ into thought about work allowing their default mode network to engage in controlling the car. This network responds to environmental feedback, of which is there is not much. The individual’s biology remains stable, with no increase in heart rate or brain activity. The car continues to drive and the individual arrives home safely, with no memory of the journey.
An example of flow: A surfer has surfed a range of conditions and is confident in big waves. Today they find themselves in the prime position for a large set wave peaking toward them. The individual paddles hard but does not think about each stroke of the arm. They know instinctively where to position themselves. Without considerable practice, the individual would undoubtedly be experiencing distress, increased heart rate and a wash of brain activity. The skilled surfer will instead be in flow: acutely aware of the variables but not paying attention to them. They will, instead, be in a state of calm, focused, quiet absorption. They are not focused on a single detail but instead experience a kind of unity, where they are in tune with the environment and can explore it playfully.
The Flow Mindset
Based on the surfing experience, the Flow Mindset is a way to approach life as a series of targeted challenges. Think of them as sessions. Instead of trying to perform at peak consistently, which is unsustainable, the practitioner chooses when to ‘max out’ and when to engage autopilot – or, even better, when to actively disengage (relax).
The key to success is deliberate practice in challenging conditions. Elite athletes, soldiers and performers run high-intensity simulations. They push themselves past flow into distress so that they expand their skill set. When peak performance is required, they are comfortable with the challenge at hand. They no longer need to think about individual elements of the task (kick the ball, pull the trigger, follow the choreography). Instead, they are free to express themselves creatively. Here they develop personal style.
Flow = Style
Flow enables us to break free of the shackles of conformity. We can express ourselves in creative new ways.
How can we develop flow in everyday life?
Welcome to a new series that explores using the framework of surfing as a model for living well. The practitioner gains mastery of foundational skills while experiencing microflow and active disengagement. Then we ramp up the challenge and aim for peak performance, always interspersed with reflection and restoration.
The Flow Mindset breaks free from the Monday to Friday 9-5, because life doesn’t run on a clock other than night, day and each person’s biology. We learn to align with natural rhythms and invest effort wisely. We choose challenges, define sessions, paddle out and engage fully.
Contact [email protected] to find out about the course.