The Flow State….. A Key to Peak Performance

(written by Ramesh Kuppuswamy, Alumnus from EEP 2008)

Nothing could have been better than watching the finals of the World Cup-2018 football match. Glued to the television connecting to every moment seeing the ball moving from one foot to another. Just do not want to lose sight of it. It was a match between France and Croatia. A tired underdog versus an energy-filled favorite. In the end, it was two teams with seemingly no fear of losing and with everything to gain at the Luzhniki in Moscow. Three goals in the first half alone. And, six by the time it was over. Experiencing the adrenaline rush through the power packed play with more goals scored in any World cup match in recent times. It is just a recapitulation of many such matches of different games one has witnessed in the past or waiting to see in the future.

A state of hyper-focus connected to the event that even one miss to hear the people talking sitting next to him. Watching an exhilarating game on television is not a ‘flow‘ state, but the team playing the match, it is. Neither any skill required nor there is a challenge in watching on television. It is just a state of being in apathy, trying to kill time or an induced ecstasy. But, the players explode their skills to win against the challenge they are facing. Absolutely, being in the ‘flow’ or ‘transcendence’ state.

The state of ‘flow‘ can be achieved in many ways during our day to day activities. The ‘flow‘ last longer when the state of mind is creatively doing something. Any activity that challenges your skill will set you into “flow‘. Even, during our course of work, there are exciting discussions which result in creative outcomes keeps us fully concentrated on it or involvement in complex software development or even cooking a good meal at home for the guests more than expected. You’re driven into a state of mind where time and space gets distorted losing your identity of existence in doing that activity. Such a state is said to be in ‘flow‘.

Money is required to meet the needs and maybe more to meet most of the desires, which is never-ending. At some level of reaching a high income, the ability to buy anything one wants becomes easier. But, that does not make one be the happiest. Then, what makes a person happy?

After the World War-II, many were broken losing their homes and loved ones. The acceptance came sooner or later to be happier in most people. They diverted their focus onto the things that could help learn new skills to explore new possibilities. Balancing their skills with the challenges made them happier. Not only it earned their living but also instilled hope to face the future. People shifted from one place to another, it may be for a living or to live. New places and new challenges, facing it made them happy.

Great painters, philosophers, scientists, sportsmen, etc., are the results of their inner calling in search of happiness. A new found happiness in whatever they did took them to the state of ‘flow‘ to reach greater heights of recognition or par excellence. Peak performance is achieved, when the focus on the activity is not deterred by any distractions and that activity is creative.

What is a ‘flow‘ state? It is what one feels when he is fully alive, involved with what he does, and in harmony with the environment around him. It is something that happens most easily when one sings, dances, do sports -but it can happen when one is at work, read a good book or have a good conversation or being with the family or in meditation. This happens when the attention is focused on a limited stimuli field. There is full concentration, complete involvement and immediate feedback on whatever one does in that state.

In positive psychology, a flow state, also known colloquially as being in the zone, is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does, and a resulting loss in one’s sense of space and time. A concept known for thousands of years predominately advocated in Buddhism.

In any given moment, there is a great deal of information made available to each individual. Psychologists have found that one’s mind can attend to only a certain amount of information at a time. The number is about “110 bits of information per second“. That may seem like a lot of information, but simple daily tasks take quite a lot of information. Just decoding speech takes about 60 bits of information per second. That is why when having a conversation one cannot focus as much attention on other things.

For the most part, people are able to decide what they want to focus their attention on. Except for basic bodily feelings like hunger and pain, which are innate. However, when one is in the ‘flow‘ state, they are completely engrossed with the one task at hand and, without making the conscious decision to do so, lose awareness of all other things: time, people, distractions, and even basic bodily needs. This occurs because all of the attention of the person in the ‘flow‘ state is on the task at hand; there is no more attention to be allocated. 

That becomes an interesting challenge whether one can inculcate means to be in a ‘flow‘ state as much as possible. This state must have been experienced sometime or other during schooling or in the workplace or playing a game. Not by being connected to the television or the mobile. Overcoming a habit requires ten times more effort than inculcating one. Children get glued to Video games without realizing that there is homework in hand. Immersed in it without knowing what is going around.

After a long night sleep, there is a sudden vacuum to face the day. Like most drug addicts, there is a rush for artificially stimulating dopamine, a motivation hormone, by watching mobile or television to know the latest around. That extends to the dining table eating without realizing what the mother or spouse had cooked for their breakfast. Though there are very many healthy ways to generate that, through morning walks or runs or cycling, etc. But, one tends to choose what is in a comfort zone.  


So, How Was Your Day?

The alarm clock rings or not, the morning chorus around wakes us up with the pleasant smile reminding the day has begun. Immediate rush for completing many activities before leaving for work. Every minute matters to have things going. A continuous reminder from someone from time to time telling us what the time is now. A sudden silence in the house after a certain time, leaving it empty locked or leaving behind the house-maker. A usual chorus in any middle-class family. If this categorization means caste-ism, then I will change to as it is a usual chorus in most houses.

From one entity to another. Only, the environment and people changes. The rush of things connecting to time goes on in the workplace too. The events become uncontrollable as our effort estimate for each of the activity sometimes goes wrong, when a smiling friend invites you for a coffee or a planned meeting goes beyond the schedule. Added to that, some critical work occurs to re-prioritize. This is the usual thing which we encounter daily. At the end of the office hours, one is exhausted to wish, he had a few more hands or like an octopus with multiple tentacles to do multitasking to complete all tasks.

Moving out of the comfort zone has something better stored for us to excel. Here, I am referring comfort zone as home. But, some may differ considering office as their comfort zone preferring to spend as much time as possible. They are exclusive and out of context. Probably, the mantra on work-life balance has not sunk in right in their mind.

As we step out of our house, we are remotely controlled by the external forces with various calls or the planned things for that day. Sometimes, one becomes like a rice cooker finding a way to let it go to release the pressure. Passing it on to anyone deemed right to share. A simple smile just stays at the lips without actually meaning it. That is sometimes not possible, in the house depending on your status there.

Striving to excel in whatever we do, is an inborn quality of the human being. That gets triggered with competitions around from colleagues or peers. Inching every time to do better than before or better than the others. That puts into a sense of being monitored under a surveillance camera always. Pushing oneself to keep the best foot forward all the time. But, some loose interest with consistent failure, not meeting their own or others expectations. Then, they leave it to the destiny to decide their fate. The concept of destiny is not very well understood by many including me. I am using it, as I found this word commonly used in the society for the people living under the shade of this umbrella.

At the end of the day, the rush to reach home is imminent for a well-deserved rest. But, a list pops up in mind for getting something for home. Same goes to the homemakers to complete their evening work. Some get to rest on reaching home and some get into household work that needs to be completed for the day. Invariably, a time where the children are back from the school and people who had left home for work. 

After a tiring day, there is no much energy left to exchange greetings with the family members, what it was in the morning on reaching office. Saying hello to everyone passing by, which reduces as the day passes by. This situation is the same, for all at home in there in own perspective. End of the day, longing to retire to bed.

If every one of us was asked, what is one thing that you would expect someone to ask on reaching home? Most of us would say, “I wish somebody asked me, so how was your day?” Also, it goes without saying that the same would be the expectation from people who have been waiting for you. Be kind.

 “One who knows how to show and to accept kindness will be a friend better than any possession.” -Sophocles