By Quietening the Mind, We Can Find the 'Flow' of Peak Performance
Recently, I had the enjoyable experience of speaking with CNN reporter, Alexandra Pattillo, about flow. The resulting story can be found here: The Flow of Peak Performance.
I like the way the story highlights both the amazing accomplishments of athletes performing at their peak when in flow, and the accessibility of flow state to anyone willing to open themselves to challenge, and to adopt a present-moment focus.
As Pattillo writes, by quieting the mind, turning off the inner critic, practicing mindfulness, and shifting focus to the activities at hand, it is possible for anyone to experience flow.
As I said in the interview with Pattillo, “Flow helps us to live a more enjoyable life, even if the circumstances of our life are difficult, because we’re open to challenge, open to extending ourselves.”
Flow can occur in any activity. It is not just the domain of the elite athlete during an outstanding performance – although flow is a critical ingredient to the pushing of the boundaries that we witness in sport at the highest levels.
In her story, Pattillo describes an innovative research study on creativity and flow in the domain of music. Dr Charles Limb, a surgeon at John Hopkins University in the US, experiences flow both during surgery and while playing music. To investigate creativity in the brain, Limb studied the activity in the brain of jazz musicians and freestyle rappers. Having the musicians improvise while inside a MRI machine, Limb was able to examine the parts of the brain lighting up during playing. Limb found a key area of the brain that shut down during improvisation was connected with self-inhibition and conscious self-monitoring. Thus, the idea of letting go to find flow was supported through the fMRIs with these two diverse groups of musicians. The ability to study brain activity through creative use of technology like Limb utilised with musicians and fMRI is providing a neurological description of letting go.
This idea of letting go to find flow is something accessible to all performers, in any domain of activity. Flow exists between a fine line of highly skilled, well-practised activity, and opening oneself to new challenges. Once the preparation has been done, it is time to quieten the mind and allow flow to emerge from a place of trust and present-moment focus.