We call BEING INSPIRED – being in the flow because that is the sensation conferred. In flow, every action, each decision, Leeds effortlessly, fluidly, seamlessly to the next. Its high-speed problem-solving: it’s being swept away by the river of ultimate performance. “Flow naturally catapulted you to a level you’re not naturally in,” explains Harvard medical school psychiatrist Ned Hallowell. “Flow naturally transforms a weakling into a muscleman, a sketch into an artist, and denser into a ballerina, a plodder into a sprinter, an ordinary person into someone extraordinary. Everything you do, you do better in flow, from baking 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.
Flow is an optimal state of consciousness, a peak state where we both feel our best and perform at our best. Is a transformational state available to everyone, everywhere, provided that certain initial conditions are met. Everyone from assembly line workers in Detroit to jazz musicians in Algeria to software designers in Mumbai rely on flow to drive performance and accelerate innovation. And it’s quite a driver. Researchers now believe flow sits at the heart almost every athletic championship, underpins major scientific breakthroughs, and accounts for the significant progress in the arts. World leaders have sung the praises of flow. Fortune 500 CEOs have built corporate philosophies around the state. From quality-of-life perspective, psychologists have found that the people who have the most flow in their lives are the happiest people on earth.
Put differently, a recent Gallup survey found that 71% of American workers were not engaged or actively disengaged from their jobs. Think about this for a moment: two out of three of us hate what we do with the majority of our time. This is a crisis of commerce, to say the least. Yet we already know where the solution lies. The other 29% of workers have jobs that generate flow. Flow directly correlates to happiness at work and happiness at work directly correlates to success. As CNN recently reported: “a decade of research in the business world proves happiness raises nearly every business and educational outcome: raises sales by 37%, productivity by 31%, and accuracy on tasks by 19%, as well as a myriad of health and quality of life improvements.”
Yet there is a rub. Flow might be the most desirable state on earth; it’s also the most elusive. While seekers have spent centuries trying, no one has found a reliable way to reproduce the experience, the loan with enough consistency to radically accelerate performance. But this is not the case with action and adventure sports athletes. Quite simply the zone is the only reason these athletes are surviving the big mountains, big waves and big rivers. When you’re pushing the limits of the ultimate human performance, the choice is stark: its flow or die.
Ironically this is very good news. Scientists have lately made enormous progress on flow. Advancements in brain imaging technologies like MRI and consumer qualified self devices like the Nike fuel band allows to apply serious metrics where there was merely subjective experience in the past. Until now, there’s been no way to tie all this disparate information together, but recent events in action and adventure sports solve this problem. Knowing that survival demands flow gives us hard data with which to work. We don’t have two wonder if our research subjects are really in the flow: if they live through the impossible, we can be certain. Moreover, my mapping this new science into these extreme activities, we can start to understand exactly how flow works its magic. Finally, if we can figure out exactly what these athletes are doing to reliably reproduce this state, then we can apply this knowledge across the additional domains of self and society.
Great Book on this if you are looking for a good read…