Words of Wellness

March 31, 2011 | The Rev. Dr. Scott Stoner

"Go With The Flow"

     I was watching one of the NCAA college basketball tournament games last weekend and the announcer referred to a player who was on a hot shooting streak as being “in the zone.” This meant that his shooting seemed effortless and that just about any shot he took went in. His streak lasted for nearly a full half of the game and it was fascinating to see how his effortless, unselfconscious playing seemed to spread to the other four players on his team as well. This resulted in this underdog team scoring a big upset win over a number one seed.

     Being “in the zone” has also been described as experiencing “flow.” Flow is the effortless experience people feel when they are fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus so that their thoughts and emotions are fulling channeled and aligned with the task at hand. I believe that one of the greatest draws in watching sports is that spectators are hoping to see an athlete, whether it be a tennis player, a golfer, a pitcher or a basketball player perform in a state of flow. There are few things more inspiring than witnessing someone in a state for flow.

     The only thing better than watching someone in a state of flow is to experience that state ourselves. Flow is not just for athletes. It is an experience that we can have in our relationships, our work, and our daily lives. There is a certain mystical, spiritual quality to flow because it is not just something that a person can just make happen any time he or she chooses. The term flow is used because there is a sense that a person experiencing flow is part of a force or energy larger than themselves, as if they are being carried by the flow of a river or a current of air. They feel like they are in the flow of something beyond themselves.

     Flow is in large part an unexpected gift because it is impossible to simply create flow whenever we feel like it. It is possible though to maximize our chances of experiencing flow by focussing on the following traits or habits:

  • Living/being completely in the present moment (not rehashing the past or worrying about the future). 
  • Low self-centeredness--living from a place of “soul” rather than ego. 
  • Doing what we are doing for intrinsic reasons.
  • Detaching from the outcome of what we are doing.
  • Not forcing or trying to control an outcome. 
  • Not taking ourselves too seriously--lack of self-consciousness. 
  •  Possessing a sense of humor. Living from the “inside out,” rather than the “outside in.” 
  • Silencing our inner judge, our inner critic. 
      The opposite of flow is distraction and constriction, which is why we use the term “choke” when an athlete or team tightens up and performs poorly in a key situation. It is impossible to experience flow when we are distracted or when other things in our lives are out of balance. I believe this is why Tiger Woods is struggling these days. Nothing has changed for him physically, but everything has changed for him mentally and emotionally. In basketball, as in life, if we find ourselves distracted and pressing or choking, it is a good time to call a time-out and regroup. Resolving distractions, and then re-centering ourselves and focussing all of our attention and energy in the “now” will maximize our chances of experience of getting back in the flow.
     Review the traits listed above and try putting them into practice in some concrete situations in your life. Instead of being distracted, working on being fully present in a conversation with a friend or loved one and see if you experience a different kind of flow in the conversation. Try doing a task at work or home in a fully focussed, mindful way and see if task feels different to you. Try a spiritual practice of prayer, meditation, walking, deep breathing or journaling and see if you can get a glimpse of flow.

     In the end, flow is a gift. We cannot make it happen. We can, however, practice certain habits that put us in a mindset where we are more open to receive the gift of flow. For you and me the result may not be sinking more three point shots, but it may result in our experiencing increased joy and meaning in our lives and in our relationships.

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