Flow – Part 3 (The Cycle)

Summary: “It is important to understand the four stages of the flow cycle.”

Flow is the term coined by Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describing a favorable state of consciousness where people feel their best and perform their best. You can improve your potential to shift into the flow state by understanding the four distinct stages of the flow cycle. Since some of the stages can be somewhat frustrating, understanding the reasons for, and the value of, these frustrations can help you persist long enough to shift into the flow state when you might not feel like hanging in there.

  1. Struggle: The flow cycle begins with struggle. As you load your brain with information related to your area of focus, you begin to approach the limits of what you can consciously process (your conscious bandwidth). You might feel you are getting “in over your head”, stressed, and frustrated. Hang in there with this stage as long as you can…and then consciously take action to shift to the next stage – Release.
  2. Release: Relax, take a shower, take a walk, watch a movie, or do anything that will “change the channel” on your focused concentration. Let the chemicals (neurotransmitters), your brain anatomy, and brain waves do their work and take you into the flow state (see Flow – Part 2).
  3. Flow: Enjoy the transient-hypofrontality-ride…being in the state of flow!
  4. Recovery: Since flow has taken you for quite a ride in terms of enhanced performance and due to the feel good chemicals, this stage can be frustrating – coming off the “high” so to speak. Understand that this is when a lot of the learning takes place (memory consolidation, or transferring your experience/knowledge into your long-term memory). This is also a necessary step in order to replenish the chemicals and get ready for the next flow cycle.

Awareness that stages one and four can be frustrating helps you persist and enjoy more time in, and more benefits of, the flow state. That’s why it’s important to understand and think of flow as a cycle and expect that it’s normal to experience highs and non-highs as you move through the cycle.

Here’s a short and interesting video that discusses the flow cycle.

Stages two (release) and three (flow) of the flow cycle are definitely ways to joyfully participate in life. So are stages one (struggle) and four (recovery) if you really think about the big picture related to flow.

Joyfully participate in life today…Chris

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