Flow state. This is that mysterious mental zone where time and the outside world disappear. Harnessing it is key to peak performance. Frankly, cultivating the limits of your intelligence, creativity, education, or talents is based largely on your ability to maintain flow state under stress.
Those who cannot, suffer “stage fright,” “writer’s block,” “flop sweat,” and other names for the same phenomenon. It is the inability to access the deepest wells of confidence and performance in the actual arena.
Unlock this inner vault. But first, look at the phenomenon of flow state itself. And separate it from any specific usage or application.
Everyone experiences this phenomenon. The last moments before we fall asleep or the first after awakening (also known as the “hypnogogic state”) have this quality. Ever gotten on the freeway, lost yourself in thought, snapped out of it when your exit appeared? That’s flow state. Gone running, dancing, or walking and found time dissolving, so that an hour felt like mere minutes? One exceptionally powerful moment would be the last few seconds leading up to an orgasm. This is when it feels like barriers between you and your lover are melting away.
These moments share something in common: there is dissolution of the subject- object relationship. The painter melts into the canvas. The writer disappears into the book, the reader into the magazine, the lover into the beloved, the martial artist into the flow of throw and punch. We stop being “self-aware”. We begin to sense a connection between all the disparate parts of the activity. It’s as if we’re stepping back for a wider view while sinking inwards to the place of almost impossible intimacy.
Flow state is a path to genius. One might take the position that maintaining this state under stress is the single greatest key of all high- performing human beings in any arena of life. What is talent, separate from the focus required to manifest it?
Various disciplines can actually address flow state: meditation, yoga, Tai Chi, prayer, etc. Several tools can also help you familiarize yourself with it: sixty beats per minute Largo rhythm string music (Vivaldi is great!), hot baths, incense, massage, etc. Try distance running or rhythmic walking, dancing, gardening or cooking (for some), playing music, painting, and numerous other activities touch flow state. Just look for the moments when time vanishes.
One core technique is used worldwide to achieve this state: breathing control. It helps because breathing is the only physiological process that is both voluntary and autonomic. Thus being the key to the unconscious mind. Learn to breath slowly and deeply especially under stress. This will de- inhibit the flow state response. It will allow you to access deeper wisdom and creativity. It’s especially helpful when you’re trying to beat a deadline or the baby is crying in the next room.
Here are a few tips on how to take advantage of this fact:
Learn to breathe deeply to access flow state.
Breathe deeply in your belly. Lay on your back, and put a book on your tummy. As you inhale, it should rise. Exhale, and it should fall. Try and move your chest as little as possible.
Concentrate on your breathing.
Five times a day, at every hour divisible by three (9, 12, 3, 6, and 9), focus on your breathing for sixty seconds. Do this while driving, while in a meeting, standing in elevators, or walking down the street.
Breathe deeply under stress.
Place or catch yourself under moderate stress and do this deep breathing. The best times would be in the middle of an exercise class, while public speaking, in the middle of an argument, while caught in bad traffic, or while experiencing an anxiety attack. Learn to breath calmly and deeply in such situations. Re- pattern your nervous system’s threat response. It will enable you to calm yourself to enter true flow state.
There are a lot of ways to achieve this state but breathing modification has worked for thousands of years for millions of people. Try it—it will work for you as well.