“When you get in that zone… Everything slows down. You just have supreme confidence. When that happens, you really do not try to focus on what’s going on [around you], because you could lose it in a second. . . . You have to really try to stay in the present, not let anything break that rhythm. . . . You get in the zone and just try to stay here. You don’t think about your surroundings, or what’s going on with the crowd or the team. You’re kind of locked in.”
~ Kobe Bryant (5-time world champion basketball player and Olympic gold medallist), on his 81-point game in 2006
Watching Olympic cyclist Laura Trott blaze through no less than four gold medals and the incredible, poise, focus and execution of Kochei Uchimura’s gyrating gymnastics, I’ve been thinking a lot about the psychology of ‘flow’. Flow, according to Hungarian Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, is a mental state of, exceptional, yet effortless present moment concentration and enjoyment, also known as ‘being in the zone’. What’s interesting about this state of flow is that it appears to be found across a whole range of disciplines from sports to the arts, through to religious or meditative practices and is inherently linked with a sense of intense enjoyment. Whilst few of us are able to perform to levels comparable to Olympic athletes however, flow theory suggests we just need three conditions to experience this state including:
- To be immersed in an activity with clear goals and sense of progress.
- For there to be clear and immediate feedback for us to adjust the performance and maintain the state of flow
- To have confidence in one’s ability so there is a sense of balance between the perceived challenges of the activity and one’s perceived skills.
From this perspective, by continuing to practice an activity – sports, painting, dancing, singing, writing, yoga or meditating, to name just a few – over time we can build a sense of focus, progression and confidence that may have the capacity to help us achieve a sense of flow with its associated experience of intense enjoyment and satisfaction.