How to be in the Zone / flow in our daily lives

How to be in the Zone / flow in our daily lives

My son said to me yesterday, “I have a question for you”.  Normally when he says this I sigh and say ok let’s have it, because he will usually ask me questions like “which superhero do you think would win out of the hulk and Dr strange”, but this time was different.  He is an avid basketball player and fan, knowing I competed for some years internationally as a martial artist and that I am psychologist he asked me what my interpretation of the “zone” is? After some thought I told him that I have experienced the zone (often referred to as the ‘flow’) many times and my experience was that I became hyper aware and completely calm at the same time. My body became my mind, and my mind was connected to everything that was important and needed in that moment. I expanded myself outside my physical self,  I had the ability to know without thinking or doubting myself.  Needless to say this is the pinacol of mind in competition and athletes who can find the zone more than others will be successful.

Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi defines “being in the zone” as “flow” — a state of heightened focus and blissful immersion, he describes the experience like this:

“There’s this focus that, once it becomes intense, leads to a sense of ecstasy, a sense of clarity: you know exactly what you want to do from one moment to the other… Sense of time disappears. You forget yourself. You feel part of something larger.”

As with all the questions from my son it stuck in my mind, (ho, and by the way I do think Dr Strange would win)! So I started to think how do we get into our flow / zone in our day to day lives which is something I talk a lot about to my therapy clients.  I believe we first need to become self-aware of our emotions and thought patterns by developing tools to help us do this.  This is often called Metacognition or the ability to watch your thoughts and emotions.”  There are different levels of metacognition, on a basic level, metacognition happens anytime you assess the methods and strategies involved in your thinking processes.  On a deeper level, you can achieve meta-awareness (aka mindfulness), which is a true detachment from the mind. And science is increasingly showing that meta-awareness not only leads to more successful learning but that it also increases our feeling of well-being and contentment in our lives.

So what tools can we use to develop this flow in life? Well I have already refed to ‘mindfulness’. This is not just the practice of mindful meditation which trains us to be aware of our mind and reflexive thinking but helps refocus on what is important.  We also need to live mindfully being aware (metacognition) of when we have aloud our emotions or negative thinking patterns to be in control.  We need to check in with ourselves throughout the day to reset emotions and thought pattens that are self-destructive and move to more constructive state of being.  For example, I use my watch to prompt me, there is an app on my watch which prompts me to breath 5 times throughout the day, I use this prompt for me to check in with my thoughts and emotions to see if I am in a positive place or not, if not then I use my tool kit to change to a positive self.  My tools include:

  • Mindfulness meditation
  • Exercise
  • Music (I have many play lists to suit what I need)
  • Hummer (listen to comedians I like)
  • Hugging my young twins (it freaks the older ones out if I do it to them)
  • Walk in nature
  • Self-hypnosis

We all need our own tool kit, what’s yours?

Another awareness tool I talk to my clients about which takes us back to sports / sports psychology. This is called the ‘4 F’s.  What is the 4 F’s well it’s a way of dealing with reflexive emotions and thoughts.  So in sports for example if you mess up / make a mistake i.e. double fault in tennis, miss a kick in rugby, miss a penalty a normal reaction is to get upset or angry, emotional are reflexive we can’t help the emotion when it happens but if we don’t deal with it or transform it we will transmit it to other or internally at ourselves which blocks our performance, In life the same happens when we get upset or angry at the person who cut us up on the road or was rude, an argument with your partner. So we need to deal with it the 4 F’s are:

1st F, F*ck it!   Let the emotion flow out naturally do not bottle it up or repress it, you don’t want to have to ‘F*ck it’s’ all day and take it out on others.  In sports you don’t want it to affect the rest of your performance.

2nd, Fix it, Take time to understand why you are felling how you are what, if anything, went wrong, , and determine how you will stop / avoid it happening next time. If there is no reason for the negative emotion or thought patten move straight to the ‘3rd F’

3rd F, Forget it, if you have understood how to fix it then use your tool kit to change to way you feel or interrupt the negative thought patten.

4th F, Forward motion, do something positive do not sit around looking to see it come back if you look for it you will reconnect to it. For me this one is when I think of that hug I get from my young twins intermediately connects me to gratitude and love, work every time.

“Do not pray for tasks equal to your abilities, but pray for abilities equal to your tasks. Then the performance of your tasks will be no miracle, but you will be the miracle.”….Thomas Merton

David Lloyd Director of Counselling

Lloyds Counselling Services