Achieving The Rise Of Flow: An Interview With Steven Kotler

wo years before he stood on the Sochi Olympics podium with a gold medal around his neck, alpine skier Ted Ligety took a trip to Alaska.  There was no qualifying race or Team USA training session, but rather a heli-skiing trek in the Chugach Mountains with a film crew from Warren Miller Entertainment.  

The risk level was high, even for one of the best skiers in the world.  But that's what keeps the best on the knife's edge balance of skill and fear.  To survive requires being in the state of Flow.

"The Flow State is a place where the impossible becomes possible, where time slows down and a perfect moment becomes attainable," Director Max Bervy said    . "This film reveals what it is like to be completely immersed in the present ... completely immersed in the snow, in the mountains, and in the enjoyment of winter."

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Athletes In The Zone Feel The Flow

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Tiger was in the zone.  On Saturday, in the third round of this year's U.S. Open, Woods made eight birdies, including five on the final nine holes, to come roaring back into contention.  "All the Opens I've won [three], I've had one stretch of nine holes," Woods said. "It doesn't have to be on a back nine or front, just a nine-hole stretch where you put it together." He knows that to win, he needs to find that "flow".

After a great performance, many athletes have described a feeling of being “in the zone.” In this state, they feel invincible, as if the game slowed down, the crowd noise fell silent and they achieved an incredible focus on their mission. What is this Superman-like state and how can players enter it when they most need it?

Like the feeling of being moved down a river by the current, this positive groove has been described as a "flow." In fact, Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi, psychology professor at Claremont Graduate University in California, coined the term in his 1990 book, “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience” (Harper Row, 1990).

From his years of research, Csíkszentmihályi developed an entire theory around the concept and applied it not only to sports, but also to work life, education, music and spirituality.

Csíkszentmihályi identified nine components of the state of flow. The more of these you can achieve, the stronger your feeling of total control will be.

1. Challenge-skills balance is achieved when you have confidence that your skills can meet the challenge in front of you.

2. Action-awareness merging is the state of being completely absorbed in an activity, with tunnel vision that shuts out everything else.

3. Clear goals come into focus when you know exactly what is required of you and what you want to accomplish.

4. Unambiguous feedback is constant, real-time feedback that allows you to adjust your tactics. For example, fans and coaches will let you know how you're doing.

5. Concentration on the task at hand, with laser-beam focus, is essential.

6. Sense of control is heightened when you feel that your actions can affect the outcome of the game.

7. Loss of self-consciousness occurs when you are not constantly self-aware of your success.

8. Transformation of time takes place when you lose track of time due to your total focus on the moment.

9. Autotelic experience is achieved when you feel internally driven to succeed even without outside rewards. You do something because you love to do it.

Flow doesn't only happen to athletes. In any activity, when you're completely focused, incredibly productive and have lost track of time, you may be in the flow. You may not be trying to win the U.S. Open, but you can still say you are "in the zone."

See also: Tiger's Brain Is Bigger Than Ours and Tiger, LeBron, Beckham - Neuromarketing In Action