What is flow state, and how do we know it's happening?

in meditation •  last year

As a professional hockey player, I experienced the occurrence of flow state many times. Flow occurs in a sport during moments when everything just clicks. It's a natural state of being where we experience superior physical and mental control, an intersection of peak performance and expertise, and it feels damn good. One way we can recognize flow is that it can feel as though we black out during our action which is eloquently explained by Bobby Ryan after his OT Goal in the 2017 NHL playoffs in the video below.

It feels as thought we black out, but this couldn't be further from what is occurring. In fact, these moments are pure, unimpeded consciousness free from self-conscious evaluation as action and awareness merge, and we become one with our environment. Flow is considered a significant occurrence in elite athletics as it leads to optimal subjective sporting experiences that facilitate intrinsic motivation and persistence (Jackson, 2000). It's the feeling we get when we're at our best. The nature of athletics provides the perfect platform to experience flow due to clear goals inherent to the present moment task followed by instant unambiguous feedback at to the completion of those goals (Csikszentmihalyi, 1975). Although athletics provides a perfect domain for the occurrence of flow, research has shown its universality. A person can enter flow throughout the spectrum of everyday life, learning, professional and creative activities, and it's discovered to occur in members of different cultural, social and age groups (Dormashev, 2010). Flow is a cross-cultural essential human experience that men and woman feel when they are at their best. It's a feeling people seek even when no external goals or rewards are motivating them (Csikszentmihalyi, M. and Asakawa, K., 2016).

But Flow is elusive, and the more we try to experience it or force it to happen the less likely it will happen. Fleeting thoughts, especially negative ones can take our focus and attention away from the task at hand which can affect the frequency we experience flow. Enter mindfulness. AIMing mindfulness acts as a pre-requisite to flow state and allows it to happen naturally on a more consistent basis. How? This is something I will cover in a future post. Enjoy and please ask any questions


Csikszentmihalyi, M. and Asakawa, K., 2016. Universal and cultural dimensions of optimal experiences. Japanese Psychological Research, 58(1), pp.4-13.

Csikszentmihalyi, M., 1975. Play and intrinsic rewards. Journal of humanistic psychology.

Dormashev, Y., 2010. 13 Flow Experience Explained on the Grounds of an Activity Approach to Attention. Effortless attention, p.287.

Jackson, S.A., 2000. Joy, fun, and flow state in sport. Emotions in sport, pp.135-155.

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