In the early nineties, Laird Hamilton, world champion surfer and father of big wave surfing was facing a dilemma. His favorite activity in the world, surfing, was beginning to lose its appeal and excitement for him. He was circling the edge of boredome which for him was worse than death. As a man who had made a living and a reputation as one of the best surfers in the world, he was reluctant to give up surfing as his passion and his primary flow trigger (more about that later).
At that same time a massive, lesser know wave called Peahi (aka Jaws) near Maui, was calling to him. At over 50 feet tall nobody had ever ridden it and all the locals said it was impossible and insane to even attempt. This calling to do something exponentially more dangerous and more challenging than anything he had ever done before ended up defining him as the greatest pioneer in big wave surfering the world has ever seen.
How did he do it? One word…Flow! In the following series of articles I’ll deconstruct this elusive mental and emotional state and share with you some very real and actionable practices you can do to train your brain so you can access your own flow state.
Getting Into Flow:
Being in flow is one of the most rewarding experiences we can have in life. Don’t believe me? Ask any of the thousands of adventure sports athletes and enthusiasts who are consistently pushing their comfort zones even to the edge of what is safe or sane…or even possible, as a means to get into flow.
The thing is, you don’t have to put your life or sanity on the line to experience the neurochemical highs and the health benefits of regularly being in flow state. Being in flow, or alternatively, in the zone, can help us maximize our insight, creativity, focus and clarity. Also, as you will read here, the scientific data on the psychology of flow suggests that it’s possible to to 5x our productivity and to get answers to problems that we could not get without being in that highly coveted state.
The following tips, tools and strategies have been compiled from my daily posts on flow and peak performance that I add to my facebook group regularly. If you’re a high achiever and want to be part of a community of other hard chargers who are pushing their own personal edges, you’re invited to join us. Just click the link here and request to join.
Find Your Flow State (Aug 15-22nd)
Flow Tip 1 – What It Is
The neurobiology of Flow underpins all innovation and advancement in every field. This is a state of high focus and inspiration where work feels like play and time melts away.
It’s possible to regularly and predictably enter into flow state using specific flow triggers. Recent studies have identified about 22 flow triggers
A flow trigger works by driving our attention into the present moment in very interesting ways.
The good news is that flow triggers are trainable! In this series of posts I’ll review the most common flow triggers and discuss how we can use them to:
-improve focus and creativity
-accelerate motivation and productivity
-induce altered, almost-mystical states
Flow Tips 2-3 – Primary Flow Triggers
Flow Tip #2: The neurochemical effects of being in a flow state can persist for 24-48 hours beyond the time spent doing the flow activity. This is the reason it’s important to know what your primary flow triggers are!
Flow Tip #3 – Find your primary flow trigger and practice it regularly.
A flow trigger is an activity that quickly, reliably and consistently puts you into a flow-state. You know you’re in flow when 1) time warps or drops away completely, 2) you’re not thinking about what you’re doing, you’re just doing it. 3) Your internal self-banter and even your self-image evaporate. 4) You are in a state of deep presence. 5) You are discovering novel things without looking and you are improving in palpable ways without even trying.
Your Primary Flow Trigger (PFT) is an activity, usually separate from your work or career (but not always), that checks at least 3 of the 5 criteria above. It is a refuge and a place you can go to consistently for inspiration and a quick and powerful change of state.
Flow Tip 4 – Meta-Skills
Focus on these 4 meta-skills every day to up-level all your other strengths.
As the saying goes, “a rising tide lifts all boats.” A meta-skill is like a rising tide. It’s a skill or activity that by doing it will make you better at almost everything else you do.
In Steven Kotler’s recent lecture on the neuroscience of flow, he mentioned 4 meta-skills or activities that predictably improve mood which makes flow states more accessible.
I’ll dive deeper into these 4 meta-skills over the next few posts.
Flow Tip 5 – Gratitude Amplifies Flow
Flow Tip 5 – Practice Gratitude Daily using these two simple steps.
How do you regularly access deep states of gratitude? Please comment below.
The science on this is really clear. Gratitude is a meta-state that induces optimism and contentment, both of which are necessary to access deep flow states. Optimism and contentment create an ideal internal environment where flow can thrive. Here are two evidence-backed methods to do this.
1. Dynamic gratitude journaling. It’s not enough to write down or state what you are grateful for, it must be felt or at least attempted to be felt. Here’s the method I like to use for myself and my clients:
First, sit quietly and feel into your body. Note places of tension or tightness or uneasiness. Then ask yourself “what’s causing me to feel fear right now?” Alternatively you can ask “what’s my biggest current obstacle?” Write it down.
Then spend a moment feeling it in your body. Identify where you feel it the most and breathe slowly but deeply, not trying to get rid of the uncomfortable sensation but to become ok with it being there.
Next, write down 10 things you are grateful for. Take a moment to feel them in your body by focusing on your heart or belly as you review them. Continue breathing deeply and slowly.
Then, think of someone in your life who is going through a challenge. Write their name down and wish them to be safe, happy, healthy and free from unnecessary suffering. Feel that in your body too as you wish them well.
2. Periodic gratitude breaks – a few times per day stop what you’re doing, take a breath and look around. Then tap back into your morning gratitude practice by thinking and feeling something your are grateful for. Take that time to wish your person well again. I use an app called gratitude to remind me at 130pm and 930pm to do this, but a simple reminder on your calendar works also.
After a week of this practice you will notice a pretty amazing shift in your mood, outlook and ability to avoid internal and external conflicts.
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