One of the most interesting aspects of being in a state of peak performance is its seemingly detached tunnel like sensation one feels. The more you are in that state, the more you want to continue to be in that state.
The concentration and focus begin to get exponentially better with each passing moment.
It’s a perfect attunement to one’s highest potential and a complete lack of judgment as the body executes what the mind sees with an incomprehensible ease.
When this ‘ease’ is missing, it’s almost as if it’s missing in everything we do.
It’s missing in every task, every project and every activity we perform throughout the day.
When you’re in a flow in your life, it’s almost as if you carry the flow from one task to another seamlessly.
If you think of it, it’s really not rocket science!
You spend some time doing anything for a while and pretty soon you aren’t using your conscious ‘mind’ anymore but channeling a subconscious force that is hitting the target consistently.
Next time you get to the task of washing the utensils after a big family gathering or when you have some friends over for dinner, I want you to focus on the task itself.
Here’s what happens:
The first few dishes, glasses and spoons are arranged in a somewhat preparatory manner until you are able to sync up exactly where the soap and scrubber need to be. Then as you begin getting your hands wet you slowly begin to grip the dishes better, the sponge or scrubber is a lot more fluffier with residual soap and the water flow from the tap is ‘just fine’; not so slow that you have to flip the dishes many times to clean off the soap, not so heavy that you end up splashing over yourself.
About five minutes into the task you even begin to enjoy the process and even though you are looking forward to completing the task, the task itself is no longer a ‘hassle’ or source of ‘discomfort’ for you.
You know exactly what you need to do and you’re doing it without thinking too much. In fact, the dishes are practically cleaning themselves. All that you are doing is making sure just enough soap is put on and the water pressure is just about right to rinse it off.
You might even find yourself humming a song or engaging in conversation with your partner at the other end drying the utensils as soon as they are rinsed and ready.
To analyze a tad, what exactly is happening here?
Well you are unwittingly right in the middle of a ‘flow state’.
At that moment one could hand you three more loads of utensils to clean and with enough hot water and soap, all other conditions being just right such as comfortable slippers and a waterproof apron and gloves, you wouldn’t really be distracted either.
The prize of the task is in the task itself.
It’s almost a meditative experience!
Now, a slight detour:
Have you heard of the Sikh ‘Gurudwaras’?
Around the world, there are thousands of these places of worship and community building of the Sikh religion. They are open to everyone and provide hot food and temporary shelter for people from all walks of life
If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you are encouraged to visit a local ‘Gurudwara’.
Over there you will find, at least every Sunday, Sikh men, women and children from all age groups and social standings, coming together to offer ‘seva’ or ‘service’ to the ‘Gurudwara’.
What’s it all about?
Well the Sikh ‘Gurudwaras’ are essentially places of prayer. However, since service is such a huge part of the Sikh religion, a ‘Gurudwara’ invites everybody with open arms as long as you follow the rules of the temple (such as covering your head, washing up before you enter and staying disciplined and respectful) to be a part of that service.
It’s how they manage this task on such a massive level that is of great amazement.
You see, most of the regulars at a ‘gurudwara’ are also direct contributors to the services of the ‘gurudwara’ by way of volunteering.
You are directed to participate in volunteering irrespective of who you are and where you come from. That is one of the traditional values of the religion and more so, the ‘culture’.
But guess what that really does?
It ensures people are able to leave their worries behind and become more ‘grounded’ in the performance of acts of service that truly and directly have an impact on society!
Engaging regularly in mundane volunteering activities is a naturally calming exercise.
Anybody can offer service and anybody can receive the services on offer, albeit with gratitude.
From helping in the kitchen to cleaning utensils and mopping the floors, to dusting, cleaning and racking up the shoes of all visitors (shoes need to deposited outside before entering), every ‘Gurudwara’ has tons of opportunities for engaging in activities that are self rewarding.
Isn’t that genius?
In fact for most people from Punjab, irrespective of their religious affiliations, offering service at a ‘Gurudwara’ is actually a regular part of life.
Furthermore, in varying degrees, this is probably an intrinsic element of most Eastern cultures.
For example, corresponding to Buddhist monasteries is a popular Zen saying: “Chop the wood. Fetch the water”
The idea is that to be able to achieve higher states of consciousness through mediation, one must first dedicate themselves to the act of ‘committing to the moment’. How do you do that?
By focusing on the task at hand and deriving the satisfaction from engaging in the task itself.
The wise ones were privy to the secret apparently that when you are too focused on performing tasks as a way of ‘getting things out of the way’ you have a tendency to ‘miss out’ on a lot.
Your intellect tries to interrupt the flow of activity continuously, with needless inputs on how to improve ‘efficiency’ and increase ‘efficacy’.
This creates a tussle between the intellectual side and the subconscious mind.
This is what interferes quite often in an individual being able to hit the metaphorical ‘spot’.
This is as much for a sportsperson as it is for a writer or public speaker, entrepreneur, businessman, journalist, teacher or illustrator.
Irrespective of what you do, if you’ve been out of sorts for a while and haven’t been able to tap back into the ‘flow’: where actions yield the intended results seamlessly and everything seems like a breeze, it’s because you are probably ‘too full of yourself’.
What does that mean?
In his book “The Inner Game of Tennis”, Tim Gallwey offers interesting insights about the two ‘voices’ that exist in the mind of every sportsperson.
For players who are struggling with their game, the ‘logical voice’ of the intellect continuously interferes with the subconscious workings of the body to try and achieve required goals.
Everyone who has been ‘out of form’ for a while, will be able to relate with what I am talking about here.
There’s the ‘instinctive self’ seeking to achieve targets in an unplanned yet ‘instinctive’ manner and then there’s the ‘logical self’.
“You’re hitting the ball too hard!” or “You’re waking up so late how do you expect to get anything done today?” or “There’s no way you will be able to pull of that color combination on this design!”
If you allow it to, the voice of the ‘logical’ side of your mind can become increasingly fussy about the details of the ‘how’ and slowly take over more critical and reprimanding tones.
It’s the lack of confidence of the instinctive self that opens it up to the nitpicking, over-analysis and criticism of the so called ‘logical’ side.
Make no mistake about it. The chances of you approaching life in an illogical fashion and succeeding are awfully slim.
However when you’re trying to tap into a higher frequency of creativity, called the zone of ‘peak experience’ as first coined by Albert Maslow, the trick is to get your mind out of the way and allow your instinctive abilities to kick in and perform.
The idea is to understand that with enough practice and experience, you already have a good ‘logical’ understanding of what needs to be done.
If you’re a writer you already know how to write and have probably spent years writing and studying how to become a better writer. If you’re a sportsperson you already know how to play your game and you’ve clocked countless hours and practice sessions to hone your craft. Same thing if you’re an artist, designer or public speaker, architect, engineer or musician.
The focus is to tap into the zone of ‘peak experience’ or the ‘flow state’ to be able to create your magic seamlessly and enjoy the experience. You want to stay in that state once you get there and prolong it to extract maximum impact from it.
Any fine tuning if necessary can be done after that session of activity ends; when you have accumulated confidence and sufficient data of your performance to analyze and perfect.
It’s for this purpose that professional archers quite often practice the ‘sudden release’ via employing a mechanical release or ‘release aid’.
Why is that?
Well archery is a sport that demands insane levels of concentration and focus.
Everything from a crosswind to the angle of your chest when you’re mid breath can affect the quality of your shot.
However too much focus and concentration can get in the way of the body performing the simple tasks it needs to perform to accomplish the activity!
At some point you will have to release the arrow or you will be just standing there forever. It’s pretty likely that there will never be that perfect moment to release the arrow; probably all ‘perfect’ moments will at best be close but not exactly perfect.
Another example here from the Zen methodology describes the perfect archer as an individual who releases that arrow the moment his focus on the target is fixed.
Ideally speaking, great Zen masters believe that any time lag in between the two actions serves only to distract and/or discourage.
The mind and the body need to become instinctively better at focusing on the target and working in unison to hit it rather than the mind constantly chattering on “getting your elbow in line” and “holding your breath”!
As Tim says in his book:
“Whenever I see a player criticizing his shot or trying to control too much of his style of play, I ask him to observe who is talking to whom? When you observe the conversation going on you notice that it’s the ‘conscious’ mind trying to interfere in the workings of the subconscious instinctual self which is by the way, doing what it needs to do i.e. striving to accomplish the goal you’ve set for it.”
I hope you enjoyed the second part of the series. Subscribe to the blog to follow the rest of the series and stay abreast of all the content I and my team post here.
Until next time!
Cover photo credits: Famous foot archer Cristina Garcia, Bernhard Shambeck photography.