[This article was first published online on March 08, 2007 – on spontaneousdevelopment.com (now defunct) and Ezinearticles.com]
This Is NOT An Expert Paper On Getting Into “Flow”.
It is not a technical article on the psychology of sports and how the brain functions when a person is engaged in competition. I am not a zone coach or psychologist, neither do I pretend to have conducted any experiments or studies on people who have exhibited the traits of persons who could be said to have been in “flow” at any point in time.
What I aim to do in this article is to share my considerable experience in delivering exceptional performances in virtually every area of endeavour I have chosen to apply diligent and committed effort. Most of my achievements have been made possible by my self-taught ability to almost willfully get myself into “Flow”(an unconscious state of mind that facilitates seemingly effortless achievement of optimal learning and/or performance) whenever I felt the need to do so, in order to achieve a set goal(s).
Because I have experienced what it feels like to get into “Flow” or “The Zone” on many occasions(and I provide graphic details of some of those instances in this article), I am able to share THAT experience with the reader, and explain how s/he can achieve the same result, frequently and repeatedly, if s/he so desires.
As I have stated earlier, I make no claims to being an authority on getting into “Flow” or “The Zone”. However going by my personal experiences(which I need NO PhD degree qualifications to write or speak about), I strongly believe different individuals will find need to develop different levels of proficiency in their ability to get into AND STAY – for as long as may be necessary/desired – in “The Zone”. Improvement in mastery of this skill will depend on how well each person applies him/herself.
The challenge is therefore for you to use the ideas offered in this write up to build up YOUR OWN ability to get into – and stay in – “The Zone” in a way that enables you meet YOUR needs to achieve.
What Exactly Does It Mean To Get Into “Flow” Or “The Zone”?(My Handball Semi-Final Match Case Study)
Before I make references to what others have said, I will describe this experience in my own words by narrating what happened to me during the 1992 finals of the University Of Ibadan’s Inter-Halls Handball Competition. That year, I was captain of both the university team and the Independence Hall team. The latter had qualified – for the first time in their history – for the semi-finals of the inter-halls competition, and we were up against Nnamdi Azikiwe Hall, our arch rivals.
The match commenced around 1.00pm when the sun was overhead and the heat was scorching. It was a very intense and closely fought battle. As one side scored a goal the other side replied almost immediately on the next attack. At half time my team led, by a single point. Although I had scored a number of goals en route to the finals, that first half had not witnessed a single goal by me.
However, because we had anticipated that some of our key players would be marked out by the opposition, our team had worked out an alternative plan that made it possible to create scoring chances for other players. This worked well, and we stayed ahead – but only just!
At a point, all I could think of was the single point lead on the score board and the voice in my head screaming that we needed to score another goal to avoid a tie. Each time I turned to receive or make a pass, I found I did not really see faces clearly. I saw the jersey colors and numbers, but the detailed features of each person seemed to be something of a blur…faded. Yet I could still tell my team mates from the opposition at any point in time.
Suddenly, for no obvious reason, the guy marking me out let me get COMPLETELY past him(for the first time since the match began) as a pass came to me from the left. In that split second, as I caught the ball, I saw a little space between the left foot of the goal keeper and the bottom left of the goal post. On reflex, I threw a hip shot with my right hand, and watched almost as if on TV, the ball fly into into the keeper’s far left corner of the goal post. All this while I had stopped hearing most of the noise from the spectators who had completely surrounded the handball court and were cheering wildly.
Then I felt someone grab me, screaming delightedly, while another team mate patted me on the back. I looked to the sidelines and saw the University team coach – Mr. Nwosu – raise his hands in the air shouting ‘Iyo”(a slang in my language Yoruba, meaning “Super!” even though – ironically – he was Ibo). That was when it clicked – at least enough for me to manage to raise my right hand in the air and jog back to the nine metre line of my team’s half. I realised I had scored a good goal, but I could not explain how – it had been done on instinct, and I could not even recall “thinking about doing” or “planning” it.
Not long after, the referee blew the final whistle, and we won. That year, someone using the pen name “Dancing Pen” wrote an article on me (which I still have a copy of in my files) which was pasted on the notice board in the hall titled “Tayo Solagbade – Steroid Man”*, in which the writer described the goal I scored as (to use his exact words): “the Fastest, Most Spectacular and Shocking Goal”. He also quoted the University coach as having said “Indy (i.e. Independence Hall), played the match of their lives, and Tayo was at his best”.
*(“Steroid Man” was a nickname given to me by colleagues in the University team, because I never seemed to get tired in a match, even when we were losing badly).
How Does This Relate To Getting Into Flow/The Zone?
Well the truth is every time I got on to the handball court, I made a point of forgetting EVERYTHING else. For those who took note, minutes to the start of the match, I would become a bit pensive, and withdrawn. During this period, I tended to re-run in my mind specific moves I had practiced during the training sessions leading up to the match, which I hoped to use. Even as I exchanged greetings with other players, I would keep my mind firmly fixed on this mental pre-match “ritual”.
Evidence that my achievements were recognised would come at the end of my final year in the University when I received merit awards from the university Sports Council and the Independence hall – in addition to graduating top of my class in my department. Not many active sports persons in the institution got to have the best of both worlds the way I did – and THAT was what caught the attention of the institution’s sports administrators. Looking back I realise that my “intense focus” enabled me get into “flow”(though I did not know the word/concept then) quite frequently while pursuing both my academic and sporting interests on campus, so that I achieve the “balanced” success I eventually recorded.
Peak Performing As An Entrepreneur
Today, I build spreadsheet software and websites(among others) for a living – activities which require PC/Internet access AND electricity. Unfortunately, in order to make tangible profits, I have to DAILY explore ways to COST-EFFECTIVELY progress paying clients’ projects IN SPITE OF extremely erratic power supply from my country’s power generation company. Sometimes I do not have light for more than four(4) hours in a day – and even that iS often a case of ON…then OFF…then ON again, and not a continuous stretch.(FACT)
Despite these challenges, my client profiles have risen, and my fees quadrupled since the start of the new year! This has happened because I successfully transferred my ability to “peak-perform” by getting into flow, from my past life in school, sports, and paid employment into my present life as an entrepreneur. It did not happen overnight(took quite some practice/persistence because I had to LEARN all over again till I began to master my NEW vocation), but then nothing that has sustainable value ever does.
Getting Into “Flow/The Zone” Is NOT About Being(Or Becoming) Absent Minded!
In the process of pushing myself to achieve peak performance, I sometimes found myself being accused – especially by those I lived with(my wife being number one) of being absent minded – or even uncaring. Over time they however came to discover that it was not deliberate.
Being in “flow” is about getting into a state of mind that enhances your ability to perform at your best…your peak. Not everyone knows – or cares to call it – “flow” or “The Zone”. But many who have seen someone under its influence (or experienced it) often mention the same “signs” when describing it. I once read that William H. Carrier(inventor of the Air Conditioner) was said to have been “absent minded” to the point that he once boarded a train and completely forgot his destination, while thinking about a solution to a problem! THAT is the “intensity” of focus or concentration on a SPECIFIC activity that can get ANYONE into “flow”. No wonder James Cook referred to Carrier as belonging to the elite group of “Super Entrepreneurs”.
Thomas Edison was also reputed to have been rather “forgetful”. What I think many “critics” of these people failed to note however is the fact that these men – and others like them – were seldom, if at all EVER forgetful about their favoured vocations or interests! I am not aware for instance that Edison at any point in his life was unable to answer questions posed to him regarding his work because he “forgot”. Instead it was the daily routine stuff that had little to do with the work he had a passion for, that he “chose to forget”.
Many achievement-oriented people who feel the need to be at their productive best even do something that I like to call “Deliberate Forgetting“. In fact I recall reading about a teenage girl who became an excellent violinist saying that she achieved her proficiency through what she called ‘Planned Neglect”. She explained this term by saying that each day she would put off cleaning her room (or other chores) UNTIL she had put in what she considered ENOUGH practice into playing the violin.
Before adopting this approach she had been unable to find enough time/energy to practice, and as a result was not making the progress she wanted. This happened because she often started each day doing her various chores, using up a lot of energy/time. By the time she eventually began practice there would not be much time left – and she would tire easily from all the previous exertion. So she decided some things had to enjoy less of her attention in order for her to FOCUS on those things or THAT ONE thing she most desired to do – and do WELL.
Getting Into “Flow” During Intellectual Activity Results In “Mental Ecstasy”
When you get into flow while doing something intellectual(e.g. writing), from my experience what you feel is what I believe can be called “Mental Ecstasy”. You would feel “great pleasure” every time you are able to achieve that state of mind – even though the activity you are engaged in might require great effort or skill that would task other persons to the limits of their abilities! And that’s why it can get a bit addictive, leading to a person acting seemingly “uncaring” or “distant”.
To a considerable extent, getting into and STAYING in “Flow” requires that your mental attitude be almost the exact opposite of that required to be a caring, thoughtful and responsive partner to a mate or parent to a child etc. In my opinion however if a person can take the pains to learn how to control the process of deliberately going in and out of flow, s/he would live a more successful life.
You need to be able to strike a balance – delicate it might be, between being in flow and being human. Else what could happen is you end your sojourn on earth as having been one of the most exceptional performers in your chosen vocation in the history of mankind, but with the reputation of having been incapable of keeping a relationship or family together.
Daniel Goleman in his book on “Emotional Intelligence” explained that improving your ability to enter into flow is to become more emotionally intelligent. According to him getting into flow is the ultimate means of making use of one’s emotions in the pursuit of performance and learning. To put it simply, a person who KNOWS how to get him or herself into “Flow” or “The Zone” deliberately and repeatedly as the need arises demonstrates a high level of Emotional Intelligence. This is because being able to do so requires a level of self-mastery that is seldom achievable without the ability to harness one’s emotions effectively.
As is common knowledge today, your Emotional Intelligence and NOT your academic intelligence is MORE likely to determine your success in school and especially your adult life. Therefore to increase your chances of succeeding in life, you will want to learn how to get into “flow” more frequently, so as to boost your Emotional Intelligence.
Steps You Can Follow To Get Yourself Into Flow/The Zone Deliberately & More Frequently
1. Carefully think about and set SPECIFIC goals you want to achieve(in SPECIFIC areas of your vocation or interest) by getting into “Flow”.
2. Identify the TASKS you will need to execute or implement in order to achieve those goals.
3. Develop your proficiency in the task(s) you wish to achieve peak performance in to the point that you can do it(or them) with practiced ease. Some people would say “with your eyes closed”. I have watched labelling machine operators on a manned 45,000 bottles per hour bottling line feed labels into it almost without error continuously for over six(6) consecutive hours on a night shift. It takes plenty of PRACTICE to get to that level of competence.
And it is only after you have attained such a level of proficiency that you can reasonably expect to be able to deliberately/competently get in and out of “Flow”, while engaged in your preferred activity.
4. Actively work to find and/or create the kind of environment(physical and psychological) that you KNOW will enhance your ability to get into and STAY in The Zone. For instance, you will need to master the art of focussing intensely or concentrating HARD on your subject of interest such that you “force” yourself into “The Zone”. I often use this approach (especially) when I need to give a speech.
5*. Avoid the things/habits that keep you from getting into The Zone(e.g. undisciplined expenditure of sexual energy; worrying etc) and do more of those which boost your ability to “Zone Out”(e.g. staying fit through regular physical exercise, meditation etc).*
6. Engage as much as possible ONLY in tasks or vocations that you naturally ENJOY doing – else getting into flow and/or staying there will be VERY difficult. Your performance as a result will be erratic.
Knowing How To Get Into The Zone Will Help You Deliver Desired Results Under Pressure
As you may be aware, some people thrive under, and respond positively TO pressure – often delivering their BEST performances when exposed to it. I happen to be one of such people. It is my considered opinion, based on my personal experiences and successes in school, sports, paid and now self-employment, that if you truly want to be a peak performer, you MUST master how to deliver optimal performances in your preferred vocation or activity EVEN when(especially when!) you are under pressure.
Fail to do this and your transformation will be INCOMPLETE. You would be like a potential Michael Jordan who fails to achieve his/her full potential on the court during game time. What’s that you ask? I mean everyone loved Jordan because he was a player who delivered when it mattered most(a “big match” player) – in the important games and at the MOST important time…scoring a match winning basket just a few seconds before the buzzer sounded. It takes an ability to DEAL with psychological pressure to do that. You CAN develop the ability to do it. If you learn how to get into “flow”, as suggested here, you WILL end up with the ability to do it unconsciously – AGAIN and AGAIN!(The key word there being “UNCONSCIOUSLY“)
Final Words: A Person In Flow/The Zone Will Make Doing What S/he Does Look Easier Than It Really Is
And THAT is something YOU can use as a measure of how well you have learnt to get into and STAY in the zone while doing what you do i.e when people start expressing surprise or even amazement about how well you do what you do, with some asking you “what is your secret?”.
Another way to measure your progress, will be unsolicited testimonials people will give about your abilities. Below, I offer two examples of unsolicited written testimonials about me from former colleagues:
“Tayo, I honestly believe you are one of those who will succeed at anything he does… I don’t need to wish you good luck. You have the ability to make your own luck..“.
Read my article titled “Should You Quit Your Job Or Start Your Business Part-Time?” to read the full text of that handwritten message to me in December 2001 by the overall head(Operations Manager) of the brewery I worked in.
I once helped out a Utilities Manager colleague by automating his Engineering Services usage monitoring charts preparation using my skills in spreadsheet programming. This was done in respone to his request, after he saw what I had done in my spare time for my department. Well, here’s what he wrote (in part) to me via email from the new company – a multinational Oil Service company – he had resumed working for, some months after my departure:
Subject:WANT US TO MEET
Date:Wed, 26 Jun 2002 09:59:16 +0100
Hi Tayo,…my main reasons for my search for you are… to involve you in my new task of computerizing my departmental reports….I believe you have the competence to transform our reports having seen your Midas touches in Guinness. The report will be in Excel spreadsheet, segmented into sheets but to be viewed and accessed by macro buttons. The report should be able to auto print and shows graphs. Presently, we have two mains Computerized Maintenance Systems from which some data need to be downloaded. The report must be able to give quick predetermined checks for immediate management decisions. In pursuit of this goal, I want us to discuss and agree on the execution modalities and other things. I am proposing to be in Lagos this weekend and wish to see you…Shola”
What made him so sure that I could help him? The answer is obvious: I had shown that I could deliver the kind of results he wanted in the past and he had witnessed it.
Learn how to deliver peak performances routinely and repeatedly by getting into flow often, and you WILL earn similar testimonials from others around you.
1. Article: “Curse of the Succubus” by Andrew Corsello. A humour tinged but seriously educative article about a one time Tennis world No. 1 – Pete Sampras – who KNEW how to deliver peak performances by getting into and STAYING in The Zone. It was written in “GQ Magazine October 2002 – IN THE ZONE” and subtitled >>Why has Pete Sampras fallen so fast, so hard, so…willingly? Clearly the man who perfected the Zone has lost his formidable powers…2. Book: “Emotional Intelligence” by Dr. Daniel Goldman. In this excellent ground breaking book subtitled “Why It(i.e. “Emotional Intelligence”) can matter more than IQ”, Goleman explains, with useful anecdotes about(and testimonials from) real-life high performing individuals, backed by research findings, why the ability to get into flow in the pursuit of learning and performance is Emotional Intelligence at its best.
3. Resource: “The Internet” by Any Search Engine. I must NOT forget this one :-). Do a search on the net and you should discover additional/useful learning resources.
You’re reading Become A Habitual Peak Performer – Learn How To Get Into Flow Or – The Zone More Frequently by Tayo Solagbade, originally posted on his Daily Self-Development (SD) Nuggets™ blog. If you loved reading this post, be sure to follow Tayo on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.
On 4th May 2014, Tayo’s 9 year old domain (Spontaneousdevelopment dot com), was taken over by Aplus.net. Within a few days however, Tayo used his advanced self-taught web development skills to build (and move his website contents into) a SUPERIOR “reincarnation” at http://www.tayosolagbade.com.
Most URLs bearing the old domain name appearing in search engines should now work if “spontaneousdevelopment.com” is replaced with “tayosolagbade.com”. If you experience any difficulties finding a page or document, email Tayo at tksola dot com.
Click “Tayo, What Happened to SpontaneousDevelopmentDotCom?” to read a detailed narrative about how the above event occurred :-))
Here’s an article Tayo wrote, to inspire others to defy adversity, and bounce back to even greater reckoning at what they do EVERY time:
Succeed by Emerging from Adversity Like a Phoenix (TayoSolagbade.com launches extra Hosting plan with FREE Web Marketing!)
And he wrote the one below, to explain why losing a domain name, no matter how old NO LONGER determines your online success or otherwise: