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What is the Flow? Tennis players and athletes at every level call it "being in the zone." And they describe it as a supreme mental state of effortless decision-making and intense creativity in their sport. People say that you lose your sense of self and time, and that you enlarge your sense of awareness and perception.
Indeed, this state of ultimate performance is experienced not only by athletes but by musicians, engineers, artists, authors, and people from every walk of life in their endeavors.
So how can we achieve it? And do we first have to attain high skill levels before reaching it?
Professor Richard Huskey has carefully studied and meticulously researched the Flow for over 10 years and how it affects the human brain. And he suggests that the Flow is not reserved for only elite performers with high skills, but that all of us -- even everyday people -- can better know and experience it, and thus benefit from it.
So how can we all better know and experience the Flow?
1. Find an performance activity or skill you are naturally or instinctively good at. The Flow refers to an active effort aimed at control of results, not a passive state of just "taking in" an experience. Tennis, pickleball, chess, painting, baking, music and so on are among countless examples of active efforts with a goal. Recall moments when you were in effortless control of superior results, and how you felt.
2. Know that the Flow is its own reward. People experiencing it describe extreme joy and boundless fun simply because they are doing it. There is no ulterior or higher motive such as making money or just finishing a task. Thus, focus on a performance activity that you truly enjoy for its own sake.
3. Understand that the Flow narrows your focus exponentially on the task at hand. There is no thought of external things such as past events or long-term goals. Think of when you were doing something that you mentally "got lost in."
4. Recognize that the Flow only happens when there is both skill at what you are doing and high challenge to your skill. Recall a time when you were doing something that you are very good at, and then pushed to the limits (and beyond) of your skill. Most performers say that there is no sense of time and that things seem effortless. One example might be a record-setting marathon runner who didn't stop until the finish line, and then only realized how exhausted she was and how much time went by.
5. Once you determine your "high-skill" performance activity that you can use as a conduit, make a conscious decision to cultivate the Flow through it. Push yourself to the next level. Test your limits. If you're a chess player, seek out a superior opponent and challenge yourself. If you play piano, seek out and try new, more difficult songs and pieces.
So what benefits do experiencing the Flow offer us?
For Professor Huskey, the benefits of the Flow are rich and varied - we elevate our performance abilities, we boost our good mood, we increase our resilience and adaptive skills, we improve our productivity, and we reduce life stress and anxiety. In short, we become happier.
*For further reading and analysis, see Professor Huskey's "Boost Your Brain with the Flow State."