In 1964, famed psychologist Abraham Maslow originally coined the term “peak experience” to describe these periods of heightened concentration and self-actualization.
A few decades later the University of Chicago psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi coined the term “flow” to describe this state of optimal performance and intense focus in the present moment. NBA basketball player and coach Bill Russell of the Celtics describes the zone as, “as if we were playing in slow motion. During those spells I could almost sense how the next play would develop and where the next shot would be taken.”
Peak performance , flow and playing in the zone all describe a state of mind with a heightened state of consciousness that enables athletes to play at their optimal level. Many elite athletes who have won national championships and Olympic medals attribute their enhanced performance under extreme pressure to being in a state of flow or playing in the zone.
Athletes can spend their entire careers trying to achieve a state of Flow. However flow can feel very illusive because it’s so difficult to access. As a result, there’s a lot of misinformation flouting around about it. Here’s 3 myths about the state of flow that you should know:
Myth # 1 : Flow only happens to Olympians or superstars. You don’t need to be an expert in your sport or craft to experience flow. The experience is universal across levels, ages, genders, and cultures.
Myth # 2: Flow is always a good thing. This is not always true. There are dangers to operating in a state of flow. First off, when you’re in a state of flow you can lose touch with the condition of your body. For example, for me, because I’m a writer, this happens when I get on a roll writing. I can write for hours and not realize that I’ve skipped lunch until I have a headache.
Another way flow is not always a good thing is that the feeling or high can become addicting. (Note that I do not use the term addiction lightly here. Addiction takes many forms and I want to honor and respect those of us who have experienced it.) The “runners high” you get from flow can become addicting in a real way that can have real significant consequences to your health. While it may be unlikely that you become addicted to volleyball, it is not uncommon to become addicted to the endorphins and feeling you get from working out so I feel like it’s important to name that so you’re all aware of it. I talk more about that in the Module 6 covering Self-Care. But despite the downsides to flow, it is generally something that you want to strive for. I just want to point out that flow is a very powerful force.
Myth # 3 : Flow only happens to individuals. Also false, the connection between your teammates matters and can make a big impact on your mental state. Often times when in a focused state of mind, flow can occur among teams, a contagious attitude of invincibility, sensing and feeling as one as if they share one heartbeat. In this state of collective flow, the potential of each individual is much higher because of what you can achieve together. That collective state of flow among your entire team is what we’re after!