What can we learn from a 17 year-old snowboarder about flow states?

Red Gerard 3Some of our best work can get done in a flow state. We tap into our gifts in a flow state.  Self judgement diminishes in a flow state. You can win gold medals in a flow state. Red Gerard showed us on Saturday February 10, 2018 how to shift his brain in order to perform his best.

In interviews after winning, he reported that he “just wanted to land a run” for the Olympic games, having botched the first two runs and ranking 11th, in last place. I encourage you to watch him on this NBC Olympics video which is a fleeting 50 second run, but inspired me to deepen my understanding of flow states: https://www.nbcolympics.com/news/snowboarder-red-gerard-wins-first-us-gold-medal-2018-winter-olympics

As you watch, pay attention to what looks like a bit of nervousness at the beginning, some grounding hugs for his competitors,  and then a release of some energy with an audible but angsty “aaarh,” as he begins his descent into the course.  What could be his internal state as he began his final attempt at a medal? And how did he shift out of his nervousness and into landing an amazing run?

Watch him hit the first rail, then pop over the hitching post, another rail and then a tap to his board nose. He takes the first 540 degree rotation, and then a shift happens on his way to the backside 1260 trick. See if you notice a visible relaxation, a sinking into his body and his board as he feels the ground and assesses his speed. I notice it right at 43 seconds into his run (or 1.04 minutes in the video) as he builds up momentum towards the jump that had been his problem spot on previous runs.

Can you sense it? The flow state is assumed to occur when one is implementing skill equal to the difficulty of the task at hand. Confidence and pleasure in the task are at an all-time high. Sounds really great, eh?  When is the last time you did this? What would your work, your art, your life be like if you could permit yourself to enter a flow state? It’s not just for 17 year olds snowboarders. Everyone can, if they set themselves up to have flow state and it probably will make something in your life better.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi who coined the term, flow state, conducted research that tells us what happens when we go into a flow state. The pre-frontal cortex, which is responsible for all of our rational thinking, is down-regulated in a process called “transient hypofrontality.“

Guess what that means? Judgement, comparison, expectations, attention to time and working memory are suspended. Hallelujah! Such activities of the mind are very useful for everyday living, learning, being in relationships and figuring life out, but they are the heavy bouncers at the door of fun, creativity and joy and that coveted being in the moment feeling.

Csikszentmihalyi believes we can all be happier people if we spend more time in this type of flow state where self judgement and evaluation of what is going wrong is absent.  I whole-heartedly agree! How about you?

Red Gerard 4So, you wonder, how do you get flow? Great Question!

My suggestions:

1. Meditate daily to learn about focusing on one sensory experience–your breath, for instance, is classic. This will increase your brain’s ability to access greater neuronal connections and contribute in the long run to deeper experiences.

2. Find opportunities to practice focusing on the present moment and letting go of all the distractions of your busy life, basically–limit multi-tasking.

3. Minimize what competes for your time–for instance if you have too much to do, you’ll be preoccupied often. This may mean simplifying your life on various levels, both deep and superficial.

4. Clear time for your flow activity and give yourself permission to get lost in the experience.

5. Be discerning about what activity has flow-potential state. Can you do it often enough to build skill and confidence yet is it challenging enough to keep you engaged? A beginning activity may not feel like flow until you have developed some mastery. Think of learning to play a new instrument. You’ll likely not feel flow until you have developed some skill, muscles, callouses, and other critical elements. On the other end of the spectrum, what are you doing where you are very confident and want to push yourself? That’s where you’ll feel flow if you push yourself just enough to keep up with your building confidence.

6. Let go of expectation and judgement about your experience or performance. Tune into the physical sensations and qualities of what you are doing by connecting to your senses of sight, skin, muscles, hearing. This is where the satisfaction frequently is expressed as you feel the euphoria of mastery and feel higher states of satisfaction.

Suggested reading:

Mike Oppland, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: All About Flow & Positive Psychology at https://positivepsychologyprogram.com/mihaly-csikszentmihalyi-father-of-flow/ Accessed February 11, 2018

Christine Brodmerkel explores mindsets with her clients and helps them consciously adopt a preferred mindset to increase creativity, problem solving, intimacy, and fun. You can find her though her website www.coachedbychristine.com

Author: Christine Brodmerkel

Transformational Life and Leadership Coach www.coachedbychristine.com

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