How to achieve performances in the ‘flow’ state more reliably
Our minds and bodies are complex systems that intertwine on a physical and chemical level. In the ever-evolving research of flow, we are starting to understand the neurochemistry that our brain produces when in the flow state. Let’s discuss a couple of simple strategies to help athletes get in and stay in flow.
But first, what is this so-called flow state, and what does it have to do with boats? (not much, unless you’re a sailor)
As mentioned in our last article, the flow state, also known as “the zone”, is the mental state in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed into a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity (Hossain, Xiaoyan & Farjana, 2019).
Just think about the best performance you’ve ever had, a time where you had what felt like an out-of-body experience. Can you remember what it was like? Most of us can’t because when you’re in flow, you lose your sense of self and sense of time. But, you can bet that ‘flow triggers’ were involved and you were probably in a feeling of ecstasis, or at the very least, you probably remember that it was fun!
When we are in the flow state, our brain produces the neurochemicals of norepinephrine, dopamine, anandamide, serotonin, and endorphins. When these chemicals react, we are prone to better intellectual thought processes and performances. We experience better lateral thinking, cognitive pattern linking, and heightened awareness, which contribute to physical performances otherwise not possible without the presence of these neurochemicals.
Now, we won’t ‘dive’ too deep into the complex neuroscience of flow. We’ll leave that up to the scientists. But let’s talk about some steps for getting in and staying in the flow zone.
Steering your ship through the ebbs and flows
During any performance, we experience a variety of emotions and are vulnerable to internal distractions. Physical and mental states like rushing, frustration, and fatigue can ultimately take us out of flow. These states can be the result of an opposing player pressuring you to rush your shot, someone getting ‘in your head’ causing frustration, or the body and mind slowing down due to high-level energy exertion. In these moments the self-trigger technique is your ‘rudder’ to help you steer your mind and control the moment.
To self-trigger, means to recognize when you are in one or more of those states (rushing, frustration, or fatigue). Then once you trigger on the state, you can slow down, calm down, or get some rest. But let’s be real, in sports, you can rarely slow down, calm down, or get some rest. So, then you need to use the trigger to remind yourself to keep your eyes and mind on the most important task. Self-triggering helps you check back into the moment, managing the internal distractions, and how you react to external distractions, to help you stay in the flow state.
In some cases, self-triggering can help you use the states to your advantage to achieve better performances. For instance, you can pressure the opposition, putting them in a rushing state or causing them to fatigue faster. Self-triggering can also help you manage frustration and channel the energy boost that comes with it to get the most out of the flow neurochemicals.
Keep your boat ‘a-flow-t’
So, start by recognizing rushing, frustration, and fatigue while playing your sport. If you find yourself in one or more of those states, self-trigger to remind yourself to keep your eyes and mind on task. It may be just the thing you need to keep your boat “a-flow-t,” because when you control your mind, you control the moment. And when you control the moment, you can control flow. You can make your performances the best they can be.
Author: Cameron Smith, Co-founder of Headstartpro
Interested in learning more about managing distractions, self-triggering and staying in the flow state?
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Hossain, M. S., Xiaoyan , Z., & Farjana , R. (2019). Examining the impact of QR codes on purchase intention and customer satisfaction on the basis of perceived flow. Sage Journals.