Recharge your Performance with the Power of Flow
Can you recall a time you were completely absorbed in your performance?
It could be something you experienced quite recently, or perhaps you can remember a significant moment from your childhood… Was it the first time you nailed a pirouette? Or that feeling of moving fluidly to music?
You hear the music but you’re not aware that you’re hearing it, because it’s part of it allOlympic Figure Skater (source unknown)
Chances are, those experiences lead you to seek the life of a performer because they gave you a sense of freedom, peace, contentment and joy.
You can thank Mihaly Czistentmihaly for giving this experience a name, in his decades of research into happiness and creativity, Mihaly discovered the phenomenon of flow. This state of timelessness is discussed in Mihaly’s book: Flow – The Psychology of Optimal Experience.
On the other hand, you may recall times when you’ve been ‘in the zone’ and suddenly felt that connection drop out, like Wi-Fi in your brain, where you start feeling self-conscious; worrying what others think of you, or thinking too much rather than trusting your body.
Of course, it is natural to have doubts and it’s really important to reflect, review and take things into consideration, but you may feel like this break in concentration is flattening your performance battery.
This is where understanding the concept of flow can help.
Flow is a state of motivation that stems from doing something because you love it. In fact, being in a state of flow helps to switch off the part of your brain responsible for your inner critic.
Think of flow like a rainbow, scientifically speaking. Along with the combination of light and condensation in the atmosphere, it is the angle we view it from which allows a rainbow to be seen by the human eye. Similarly, flow can be achieved with focus and the right balance of skill and challenge.
That’s the good news, by focussing your attention, flow becomes more than just a coincidental, spontaneous experience, it’s a place you can get to in your mind and in your performance.
It’s not a place you can get to by a boat or a train…Dorothy (The Wizard of Oz)
But that place “over the rainbow”, may not be as far out of reach as you first thought!
That’s right, this is the part in The Wizard of Oz, where Dorothy opens the door and everything is in colour!
Even better, aiming for flow helps to streamline your energy and maximise enjoyment, improvement and satisfaction.
Something many performers could really use to maintain their wellbeing with such a demanding lifestyle.
The psychology of this optimum state of mind stems from motivation.
Like the Train of Thought on the movie Inside Out, our brain is always moving. But without a map, the track can get pretty bumpy. Thoughts need direction, in order to gain momentum, you need a motive (reason), as well as action. In terms of developing a state of flow, the most effective kind of motivation is internal.
The simple act of channelling our thoughts into positive action can result in motivation.Do you ever get that feeling when something sparks up your enthusiasm?
Here’s 6 elements to help you harness the power of flow:
1. Find a challenge
Whether it’s a piece of choreography you want to master or something you’ve been wanting to try, like a new recipe. Find a focus that interests you and is enough to challenge you, or even increase your skills, this will help you develop in your practice of flow.
2. Develop your skills in order to be able to meet the challenge
If you want to meet the challenge, first you’ll need the necessary skills. But don’t panic if you don’t feel ready, because learning is a process. If you’re not getting it right consistently yet, keep trying! This step is essential to achieving flow. Be willing to reflect constructively on where and how you can improve.
3. Set clear goals
Start small, once your skills are in balance with the challenge you’ve set yourself, you’ll want to take steps to make it happen. Where do you need to focus your efforts?
4. Focus completely on the task at hand
Each step is going to require your full attention. Imagine you’re trying to write an assignment and keep checking your smart phone; each time you stop to check your phone, you require more effort to get your concentration back on the task. Flow activates certain areas of your brain, which allow all parts of your mind to work in harmony. So, it’s time to eliminate distractions!
5. Make sure you’ve set aside sufficient time
Try to be realistic with your expectations on timing. Sometimes things can take a little longer, especially when you’re fully immersed in what you’re doing. That wonderful state of flow can give you a rush of timelessness, and before you know it, hours have passed.
6. Monitor your emotional state.
If you’re having trouble maintaining your flow state, try to be mindful of your feelings and find a way to work with them. Do you feel anxious? How are your energy levels? Check in with how you’re going, it may be time for a break or perhaps you need to do some problem solving. Take some time out to find out what your body is asking of you.
A beautiful visualisation to help you tap into a state of flow is to start by closing your eyes:
Centre your breath with one big inhale, followed by a strong cleansing exhale. Now, imagine the warm sun on your skin, and allow the orange tones it creates beneath your eyelids to wash over you.
Think of a bird about to take flight over the peaceful ocean, its white wings expand as it finds the wind between its feathers, elegantly beating its wings in an effort to gain momentum, then gliding through the blue skies as though nothing else matters…
It is how we choose what we do, and how we approach it, that will determine whether the sum of our days adds up to a formless blur, or to something resembling a work of art.Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
To learn more about how to get into a FLOW state so you can move more swiftly toward your full potential, sign up for Mindset School.