Are you chasing flow? When it feels easy to do something hard. When you are completely one with yourself and the task. These are the moments you feel truly alive.
Further along I’ll provide 5 steps I follow in chasing flow.
Is It Real?
There is a good amount of science coming recently looking at flow. There is now a good amount of evidence suggesting it is measurable with distinct physiology. High levels of neurochemicals related to pleasure, reward and the ability to perform superhuman feats all appear to released at the same time. These include, noradrenaline, dopamine, endorphin, serotonin, anandamide and oxytocin.
It’s not just the neurochemicals. There are measurable structural differences in the brain in those who train to develop long term skills. That is, some parts of the brain are larger and more developed. Check out the study Brain Structures Differ Between Musicians And Non-Musicians.
Does It Last?
Without the right situation externally and internally flow can be fleeting. When you get it right, it can last for hours.
In 2013 at the Surf Coast Century I ran my fastest 100km race in 11:46:07. The majority of this time I was in flow state. This race hurt, it certainly wasn’t easy. Yet it felt right to keep pushing. I raced above what I had physically trained to.
5 Steps To Chasing Flow:
- Find The Sweet Spot
- Do It With Clear Purpose
- Limit Distraction
- One Task At A Time
- Develop Mindfulness Skills
1. Find The Sweet Spot
Without challenge we have no flow.
The task we are to perform should be difficult. Near the edge of our abilities. The area in which we question if we are able to do it.
It helps to have developed your skills in the desired task. The higher your mastery of a task, the more likely you are able to achieve flow in it. If you can perform the majority of the task automatically due to hours of practice, it will be easier to reach your peak state.
In running when the fatigue and challenges of a race hit the edge of your abilities you need well practiced running form. Having the ability to rely on your rehearsed stride frees you up to focus on what is necessary. This brings you closer to achieving flow.
2. Do It With Clear Purpose
Know without doubt what success is. What are you aiming for?
All other steps are about process. To get the most out of the process you need to be clear on what you are aiming for. The work has to mean something to you. The goal can usually be stated in a simple sentence. However, you need to have an authentic connection to the goal.
In running ultra marathons I always have a time goal for the course. The goal is always at the edge of my abilities. I can state the goal as, “complete the race in under 12 hours.” This is clear and simple. The connection I feel is deep and genuine with pushing my body to it’s limits in running. This connection to the goal is so important I only focus on races that I feel it.
It always just sport. My work as a paramedic provides many opportunities. When attending someone in cardiac arrest the goals is simple, “save this person’s life.” It is easy to connect with this purpose.
3. Limit Distractions
Do what it takes to allow you to focus on what is important. Distraction is the killer of flow.
Create an environment that helps you focus.
Distractions can be your own thoughts. Having a negative mindset pulls you away from flow. Beware your self talk. Create your own internal environment to help you focus.
Distractions can be external. Your smartphone is the perfect example. Notifications popping up pull you away from your main task. Every time they do you take a step away from flow. Remove your phone if you need to.
For races I start with the external environment and move towards improving my internal environment.
My external environment is controlled by leaving early for a race. Allowing myself plenty of time not to feel rushed. Before my warm up I will listen to my “Race Ready” playlist. This eliminates distractions and makes it easier to clear my mind to create the internal environment I want.
I aim for a feeling of relaxed readiness for my internal environment. A non-judging alertness of my body and how it moves. Thoughts are minimal. Just a feeling of focus and movement as I make my way through my warm up and toe the start line.
4. One Task At A Time
There is no such thing as multi tasking. Only task switching.
The more you try to do, the less efficient you become at each task.
When racing do you race your best when you are thinking about work deadlines or chores not finished at home? Do you race better when your attention is on what you need to now to run?
Set up what can control in life to assist this. Get those chores done early. Complete those items that get in the way of running so they don’t interrupt you. Stop trying to do two or more things at the same time.
Practice staying on one task until it is complete. Then you can move to the next. Over time see if it improves your efficiency.
5. Develop Mindfulness Skills
There are so many different ways to develop mindfulness. There are different definitions. Here I will keep it simple. I treat mindfulness as the ability to be focussed on the now.
The skills required take time and practice. I try to develop them in this order:
- Single point focus (one thought or object) in a relaxed and quiet environment
- Ability to return quickly to focus when distracted
- Skill focus in a relaxed and quiet environment
- Single point focus under pressure or distraction
- Single skill focus under pressure or distraction
I use many different tools to develop these. They include meditation, run training itself, breath training, aspects of the Wim Hof Method, Insight Timer application and guided mediations (see Further Reading below for links). Personally I find taking a concentrated focus of breath training and meditation over a week or two helps me incorporate these skills within the physical training of running.
If you are interested in expanding your knowledge on chasing flow I recommend the following: