Let it Come. Let it Go. Let it Flow.
I have enjoyed watching many of the NCAA college basketball tournament games (both men's and women's) this past week, and on several occasions, I heard the announcer refer to a player who was on a hot shooting streak as being "in the zone." This meant that their shooting seemed effortless, and that just about any shot they took ended up, one way or another, going in the basket. During these moments their play seemed effortless, and their energy seemed like it was contagious as it spread to the other four players on their team as well.
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 to watching sports, and any live performance for that matter is that spectators are hoping to see an athlete, a musician, or an actor or actress perform in a state of flow. There are few things more inspiring than witnessing someone in such a state.
The only thing better than watching someone in a state of flow is to experience that state ourselves. Flow is not just for athletes and other performers; it is an experience that we too can have in our relationships, our work, and our daily lives. There is a certain mystical, spiritual quality to flow because it is not something that a person can make happen. 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 create flow whenever we feel like it. It is possible though to maximize our chances of experiencing it by focussing on the following traits or habits.
Living or being entirely in the present moment, not rehashing the past, or worrying about the future.
Living from a place of "soul" rather than ego.
Detaching from the outcome of what we are doing.
Not forcing or trying to control an outcome.
Fostering a lack of self-consciousness, and not taking ourselves too seriously.
Maintaining a sense of humor.
Living from the "inside out," rather than the "outside in"-focusing on intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation.
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, performer, 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. In basketball, as in life, if we find ourselves distracted 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 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, work 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 an entirely focussed mindful way, and see if the 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 this gift. 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 our relationships.
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