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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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February 10 2011

Total Immersion: How to Recognize and Tap Into the Power of Flow

By Mark Sisson
128 Comments

They’re moments when the rest of the world – even consciousness itself – recedes into an unperceived periphery. Seemingly outside the progression of time, detached from the bounds of physical need, you fade past existence into immersion. The self quietly falls away. You’re one with the mountain, the paint brush, the instrument, the pose, the stride, the notes, the words. If you could freeze time to capture this dasein experience, you’d witness freedom, lightness, unwitting joy.

Like Schrödinger’s cat or a faint star in the night sky, however, these moments resist direct observation. The minute we bring awareness to them, they’ve already passed. We catch them, instead, out of the corner of our eye – briefly, fleetingly, on the returning threshold of consciousness. Despite their transience, we discern their effects. We emerge changed – more content, composed.

These are flow moments of course – spells of time in which we become wholly absorbed in our endeavors. They’re sometimes called peak performances or “in the zone” moments in the athletic arena or, alternatively, samadhi in yoga and select Eastern religions. Flow happens when we let individual consciousness – or self-consciousness – slip away in a larger pursuit. We become our action, our intent, our doing. It’s a union of sorts, as the samadhi concept suggests.

We can experience it when skiing down a mountain, climbing the face of a rocky cliff, playing frisbee with the kids, rowing across a quiet lake, creating music or art, practicing yoga, or building a cabinet. We can encounter it either in an individual activity or as part of a collective group.

The father of flow research is Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a Hungarian professor and researcher. His research and analysis of flow experiences have been applied to everything from educational theory (PDF) to business management. Csikszentmihalyi’s basic premise is this: we most enjoy life when we’re presented with – or seek out – manageable but creative challenges that tap into our individual curiosities and interests – challenges that give us immediate feedback for our improvement and success. They’re enough to stimulate our biochemical triggers without setting off the whole fight or flight cascade. These constructive trials of choice and circumstance offer a stark contrast to the getting and spending, passive entertainment and personal pampering modern society often promotes as self-fulfillment. (It gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “just do it,” eh?) Csikszentmihalyi says it best: “When a person’s entire being is stretched in the full functioning of body and mind, whatever one does becomes worth doing for its own sake; living becomes its own justification. In the harmonious focusing of physical and psychic energy, life finally comes into its own. It is the full involvement of flow, rather than happiness, that makes for excellence in life.”

In short, a life marked by flow has the power of “good” stress, of healthy, nurturing challenge that feeds our sense of self-purpose as well as our self-affirmation.

In the hectic pace of modern life with its disjointed rhythms and constant interruption, our daily existence is too often defined by menial errands, tasks, and chores. It’s easy to become distanced from these flow states. In the process, I believe, we become distanced from ourselves, our experience of life in a bigger frame. When we allow ourselves to think about it, we can feel on the fringe, outside of life looking in, pining to return to the center. (Can we say life crisis?) Ennui, Csikszentmihalyi tells us, is the acute opposite of flow (a state few of us, I hope, experience). With ennui, we’re somehow left with little but the self – detached from the indivisible human context of purpose, action, community.

Although most of us probably wouldn’t put ourselves in that most discouraging category, we all can lose touch now and then with transcendence in our lives. We “forget” how to slip into these flow states. Some 20% of participants in one study reported flow experiences each day, but another 15% said they never felt them. Research suggests, however, that we can, indeed, train ourselves to get back in the groove. As Csikszentmihalyi explains, “One of the most important active ingredients here is the refinement of attention…. Training attention to come back over and over again to a complex task allows awareness to become increasingly absorbed in the task at hand.”

In one study, professional musicians who received yoga training for a summer reported less performance anxiety than control individuals. In a subsequent study, musicians who participated in an ongoing yoga program experienced less self-consciousness during performances and reported an easier time slipping into autotelic or “flow” states.

We all, I believe, have that craving for transcendence in our lives. There are days when we feel the weight of our self-consciousness as a burden. As I’ve mentioned before, we’re a curious, high maintenance, but fascinating lot of a species. A healthy life with all the wholesome trimmings – nourishing food, vigorous exercise, adequate sleep – only gets us so far. That’s why I harp on the concept of vitality as much as I do. It’s a different animal altogether, I think. There’s a major divide separating surviving versus thriving. Self-actualization, in all its myriad of forms, isn’t luxury. It’s downright obligatory. It’s instinctual. Whether we consciously prioritize it or not, we seek it out. It’s at the heart of our humanity, our evolutionary imperative. It behooved our ancestors, after all, to push themselves beyond mere subsistence living. Instinctive, adaptive curiosity was likely the mother of invention more than a preconceived notion of necessity was. How do we feed that instinct today? How do honor the need for concentration and competence? How do we lose ourselves to achieve that contentment and quiet center?

In the busyness of life, it can be hard to carve out time and focus, but perhaps our ability to experience flow depends less on separate efforts than on a mindset and organization we bring to many of those daily demands – work, hobbies, or fitness related endeavors. Flow isn’t about doing a particular thing as much as it is losing ourselves in it. The rhythm of snow shoveling (yes, even that with a little imagination), the creative inspiration of cooking, the abandon of a good hike or run, the precision or inventiveness of our work can all become fodder for flow. When we let go of the extraneous commentary in our heads, the resentment of the task at hand, the impatience with ourselves, we can bring a new engagement to the moment – and in the process perhaps be surprised.

Good readers, how do you feel flow in your life? What do you think about Csikszentmihalyi’s theory and the role of flow in a good Primal life? I’ll look forward to reading your thoughts.

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128 thoughts on “Total Immersion: How to Recognize and Tap Into the Power of Flow”

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  1. A nice ride on a mountain bike in semi-challenging terrain works for me

    1. I had the exact same thought a few sentences into the article. I’m in the same region, see you at Caesar’s Creek sometime…

  2. Ahh, I needed this this morning.

    Flow is so vitally important to being vital but so many of us experience ennui instead.

    Technology elicits ennui in me, getting back to nature has the opposite effect.

  3. Great post! I’ve tried to put a word on the experience… ‘Flow’ works. I always used ‘Primal’.

    For me, running trails with my ridgebacks through a densely wooded area always does the trick. The inability to see ahead, the quick response time needed, the instinctual focus, the adrenaline. Running with dogs that seem to be experiencing the same thing.

    Transcendental is right.

  4. Every time I ride my mountain bike I experience this.

    Wow I can’t wait until the snow melts…

  5. So awesome to see you write about this, Mark! I was a psychology major and worked for several years on research projects looking at the concept of flow and it’s involvement in academic motivation.

    It was a great experience for me and gave me a great lens through which to examine what I’m spending my time doing: am I finding flow?

    It’s one of the big reasons I love jiu jitsu – frequent opportunities for a match of challenge and skill, while demanding full attention. It’s the recipe for flow!

  6. This is an interesting perspective and discussion. When we sit in meditation at our cushion, we practice this very thing. Focusing on the in breath and then the out breath, we can begin to drop thoughts and simply experience. When our mind inevitably wanders, we eventually notice it. So we can then return to our breath, having noticed our mind at work.

    This is a powerful practice that can yield amazing results. If we’re diligent and fortunate, we may see results. Not in a matter of days or months, but maybe in years.

    The point is to practice. Regularly. Like we brush our teeth, our sitting becomes a part of our day, every day.

    1. “Pushing was absolutely incredible. It felt SO good. I loved the sensation of my daughter’s head popping out; and her body coming out was incredible. I made roaring sounds. KT later asked me if I was in a lot of pain and I said I felt no pain at all. I was reaching down into the depths of my being – I felt like I was reaching back through time eternal, into the Great Mother herself – and using my power to push her out. The sounds were sounds of power. And I felt awesomely empowered. It was I could say the best feeling I have ever had. Primal force of life coursing through me. Power of Woman, Power of Birth, Power of Carolyn! If I can do that, I can do anything I set my mind to” – one very cool quote from that website.

      1. I agree I felt that flow very primal feeling during my chid birthing experiences. Part of the reason for studying to be a Doula is to help more women find that moment during theirs. A true sense of your own strength that you can never lose.

        1. This is why we need a blog that has a focus on womens issues! I love hearing this stuff and want to learn more about primal living from a womans perspective. any suggestions?

  7. Thanks for this post, Mark. We really are lucky to be able to experience ‘flow’. Painting totally does it for me-I can set out to paint for a half hour, and I can hardly believe when ‘suddenly’ the clock lets me know that two hours have passed. I think it definitely helps our brain work stuff out for us without us paying much attention.

  8. When I read the title I was skeptical, but having finished reading it, there’s so much sense here.

    I think it goes hand-in-hand with our societal obsession with “multi-tasking.” It drives my wife nuts how I only do one thing at a time, but I am so much more calm and collected than she is. I can see these principles in the way that I work. I fully devote myself to whatever the task is at hand until it’s done, whether it’s cooking a steak or coding for work. I don’t let extraneous things intrude to cloud my thoughts. When it happens I get very mentally discombobulated and unbalanced, and I don’t like it.

    I can recognize these “flow” times in a lot of the stuff I do. If I’m not careful, it tips over the line to perfectionism and is not relaxing anymore. But who hasn’t had those times when you’re preparing a big meal and everything is just humming along perfectly? Or you’re doing a benchmark workout and blowing away your old time without even much effort? Love those “zone” moments!

  9. “?Evolution” implies that creation is not complete, hence the possibility of evolving. That is the basic Primal principle of life.
    We are all born with an urge to grow. Just like a seed, which has to travel long to become flowers – Life is a pilgrimage. The urge is beautiful. It is given by nature itself.
    ‘Flow’ happens when we accept our individuality and give up our personality – Personality is that which society manages to make us while individuality is that which society is afraid of.
    I use a small method for staying in the flow – it is more like a reminder, it just keeps the awareness in me that all the time, whatever I am doing, whatever is happening around me – it is not me.
    I just remind myself of the one who is inside the body. Walking, sitting, eating or doing anything, I just remember the one who is neither walking nor sitting nor eating.
    All doing is on the surface, and beyond all doing is the being. So just be aware of the non-doer in the doing, of the non-mover in the moving.
    It may sound illogical – but look closely, the entire existence will seem illogical. Just believe in this meaningless, beautiful chaos of existence, and be ready to go with it wherever it leads. It simply IS, flowering, blossoming, dancing.

  10. i have been living as simple as possible for 5-7 years..climbing..sprinting..goint outside..i never frustrate if i dont do well when i am doing a certain activity just being there makes me happy. we really dont need too much to be happy..cause we already have too much..thnks for the awsome post..i also recommend the book ” Rock Warrior’s Way’. on how to control your mind and be more in the present..whatever you are doing

  11. I always experience this feeling when I ride my road bike. I also experience this in my work, since my career is creative in nature (I work as a graphic designer/ web designer and web developer/ artist/ animator).

  12. When I practice yoga, during a jog/sprint, spending quality time with my good friends, in the kitchen working over a meal.

    This is a great article that exposes what really makes life worth it for each one of us. I needed a little reminder today, so thanks Mark!

  13. I’ve been feeling this flow in the last few weeks, somehow effortlessly moving along – I’ve spent much time reading and have found myself immersed and making connections, I’m doing crosswords more quickly, I’m in the flow … a good feeling … I started yoga four weeks ago.

    I blogged about this a little while back called The Art of Stillness – you can find it in anything you do, ironing, washing up, sorting laundry … the best thing I’ve done in 2011 is left the radio off, completely, and not followed any news programmes.

    I’m in the flow far more often than not these days, I go to bed satisfied with the day and wake eager to face the next, for me now existence, being in the moment, is enough, there doesn’t need to be an end point.

    None of this would have happened before losing the bipolar and that is down to eating and living Primally so thank you Mark.

  14. C.S. Lewis said essentially the same thing in his book, “Surprised By Joy”.

    1. Great post, Mark. Yes, as a Christian, I recognize these moments as the Holy Spirit at work in my life, and I try to be alert for them. Often they are long moments, sometimes a sustained experience such as that perfect dinner with friends. Sometimes they are not outwardly happy moments, but very stressful situations. For example, I helped rescue a dog yesterday, on the way to a business meeting, under trying circumstances. I fully experienced this situation as “flow” or -in my own terminology- walking with the Holy Spirit.

      My advice: get some! Be alert and seek these moments.

  15. Read “The Power of Now”.

    Flow is presence while in engaged. I thinkit is important to be present at all times, even while still.

    Great fro a Primal mind

  16. I’ve gotten this from tai chi and also walking/running along the trails in a nearby park.

  17. There have been times when I’m playing my guitar and I close my eyes and become so immersed in the song that by the time I’m finished I still have my eyes closed and don’t know what to expect when I open them because I’ve become such a part of the song that I’ve left my bodily awareness.

    1. i sooo know what you are talking about…I one time recored a cover of a song to put on youtube; after looking over the recorded video of me playing it, i noticed my eyes were still closed even after i stopped singing 🙂

  18. excellent! I often experience this while practicing yoga, meditating, sewing, cooking, cleaning… and yes, even shoveling snow! Its such a freeing feeling. I’m so happy to read this, and even more pleased to see you touching on yoga philosophy a bit too Mark! Great article, one of the best yet in my opinion!

  19. I enjoy activities where I have to be focused in the moment, like snowboarding, playing soccer, bouldering, in very rare cases I am able to “flow” while doing the dishes, it is when I do not see them as something evil, but just do them and scub and clean and dry until they are done.
    I think there are many different ways to get to the flow, my goal is to find something to enjoy that every day.
    For me it is possible when my skill level matches up evenly with the challenge at hand, not too easy but not unmanagable that I can give everything I have and enjoy it while it lasts and not focusing on a certain outcome.
    Thanks for that post!

  20. I went for my first trail run last weekend and experienced this ‘flow’….I just didn’t know the name for it. It felt good to be outside, running over the rough terrain and, since I’m still a little overweight (lost 60 lbs last year!), the run was a bit of a challenge. I’ve booked two more trail runs and look forward to the flow!!

  21. I know long distance running isn’t totally advocated as a primal activity, but the flow of long, slow runs is quite magical… at least it was before I got injured.

  22. I experience Flow in two ways, when I’m writing on an urge and my mind and typing are one. And when I practice Systema: The Russian Martial Art. Type that into YouTube and watch them work, or Vladimir Vasiliev. It is built on the principle of natural movement, calm breathing, and when its full speed they move like dancers. Moving gracefully away from a attack and counter-attacking based on where their arms or legs are. Their health system calls for fasting(sound familiar) and cold water dousing. You can learn more about it at http://russianmartialart.com it’s amazing. I never noticed how tense and stressed I was. First I went Primal with excellent results, now combined with kettlebells, and now Systema. Loving it.

  23. Spending time with my 3yr old. I actually learn a lot about living in the moment with her. She’s my little Buddha. A good workout on my spin bike; it’s easy for me to get lost in the moment. Sometimes I get so involved in the workout I lose track of time.

  24. Ha! I have the book Flow sitting on my desk to read right after I am done with Primal Leadership (learning to lead with emotional intelligence). Csikszentmihalyi’s research is great in my view. We all need to experience flow more often instead of hectic life. I bet Grok had more of these flow moments than us today since there was less distractions and more enjoyment of life

  25. Mointain bikers have a saying,if you anin’t flowin’, you’re blowin’.

  26. Great post! At age 49, this year, I began taking hang-gliding lessons. I am a “hang 1” pilot, working on my “hang 2” certification. Life is all about being present!

  27. I haven’t thought about this in some time. With constant distractions flow can be hard to find. The two times I really feel in the zone, are mountian biking at night, and playing music with a group. Both of these tasks require all of you attention, and put me ina flow state. I need more time for flow!

  28. Inchetucknee Spings, Lake City, FL.
    A spring fed river that is an attraction for people to ride tubes on, like a lazy river. Scenic, with fallen trees in the water. When I swim there I climb onto one of the fallen trunks and sit there, watching the gentle current under a clear, blue sky. Flow, just thinking about it, haha

  29. Mark,
    Funny you should write about this – I’m taking a class related to Movement and Mindfulness. Flow was one of the books we had to read and I LOVED IT! We’re doing yoga in the class as well, and it’s a great way to meditate and ground oneself in the body, as well as provide a flow experience. I find for myself that physical activity is one of the easiest ways to achieve the flow experience – it’s one of the reasons I’m so excited for my Pacific Crest Trail Thru-hike!

  30. I love this post! How cool to see a blog discussion about flow! The flow-state is why I love climbing so much. I’m learning to find it in other activities as well these days, but climbing seems to create it easily — at least for me.

    It’s such an amazing and sublime state. At he risk of sounding ridiculous, I really feel “at one” with everything when I’m in flow. Actually, I can’t even say that “I” feel that way — because in flow “I” disappears.

  31. Trail running while practicing tai chai does it for me, with sometimes some zen thrown in.

  32. I reached Samadhi trying to pronounce ‘Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’

  33. Hi Mark,
    I had to drop you a note to tell you how much I enjoyed this post. I’ve been reading quite a bit the last few years on this very subject. In my search for something more, I’ve learned I had “it” all along. Being present, being grateful, being mindful of even the most mundane, everyday, ordinary tasks, has allowed me to feel this flow, this energy of being grounded in the moment. I appreciate your wisdom!

  34. It is an amazing thing when you become one with what ever you are doing. I have had the experience several times in my life. There is nothing that explains it. But it is lost when I realize what is going on and try to grasp it, it then merely becomes smoke in my hands. It has happened to me while illustrating, running, CrossFitting, during western martial arts drills, and just being in nature.

  35. Two daft quotes:

    ‘Awareness, awareness, awareness’
    from a Buddhist master

    &

    ‘Relax and sink (let go)’
    from a tai chi master

  36. I definitely get it when I’m shooting the basketball around by myself. I’ll hit a bunch of jumpers in a row without realizing until all of a sudden…”damn, why can’t I do that every time?”

  37. I have started doing bikram yoga for the past few weeks and I feel like I’m more focused.

  38. Originality when writing creatively places me in the flow… I call it birthing… Something entirely it’s own results.

    When staying calm in acceptance of how life is unfolding, I remain in the flow…

    I call it peace… But more… Fulfillment

  39. reading this post I was trying to work out where my flow had gone, I used to find it in my race car, i could just zone out and be on a different level. but when you mentioned shoveling snow I realized that lately my flow has been happening in the activities of household chores, water blasting our drive way – which i did over the course of two days, was strangely cathartic and relaxing. the same sensation happened when I cleaned out several big cupboards in the house, and reorganized. but the most common one for me these days is still behind the wheel, I don’t notice people waving I am fully aware of traffic conditions just blissfully unaware of the other people around because I get such calm fulfillment driving my little beast that I waited a good many years to purchase, and I continue to thoroughly enjoy the ride! thanks for bringing this up Mark! Im off to get my flow on!

  40. Good god I wish I had more flow. Alas, however, I have a two-year-old interrupting whatever I’m doing and demanding my attention 24×7. Some days I feel that any flow I used to have in my life is gone forever. *sigh*

    1. This will pass…

      Maybe you could find some time for yourself during naptime.

    2. Will s/he sit in a jogger or stroller or backpack or bike buggy while you get some exercise? Some times of day can work better than others. Can you experiment?

  41. As manager of a horse ranch near Seattle…at the foot of the Cascade mountains…I feel this flow daily…riding…grooming the horses…looking at the mountains, the eagles overhead…or cleaning a stall…I am both humbled and awed every day…part of the flow.

  42. Mark, I don’t have much to add other than this was an absolute great post. I really enjoy your thoughts on subjects like this, and always look forward to reading them.

    I was cleaning my room the other night, and came across a book I bought a few years ago “The power of now”. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to read a book like that right now since reading a book like that demands a certain amount of mental energy that “easy” books don’t. I read the intro to get a taste, and he talked about letting go of the self.

    I am taking this post as a sign that I should definitely keeping reading in that book!

    Timely post man!

    -Ryan Denner

  43. Times I really connect, let go, and flow, and it’s easy:

    – Mountain biking
    – Road racing (cars)
    – Painting
    – Working on a design project w/ no distractions
    – Working in the yard

    Hardest time for me to ‘be here’ is when doing the mundane – dishes, shower, feeding the baby, cooking, etc. I’ve been practicing ‘being here and now’ when I take a shower, feeling the water on me, inch by inch as it cascades over me. It’s helping, as I find myself doing it more while doing other mundane chores.

    I think that mental training of this sort is one of the hardest things to accomplish, especially for someone like me who’s always been prone to ADD, and who’s train of thought can resemble an octopus at times. Changing my diet has helped greatly, but it’s hard to make progress while waking up 3x a night to feed my baby girl… lack of sleep sure is a doozy.

    Great post, though, thank you. 🙂

  44. I find flow in pretty much anything; it just depends on my mood. I’m not saying I feel this way all of the time, but if I’m in the right frame of mind, even taking the Subway can be self-actualizing. I agree with the post–if I feel disconnected, all I need to do is re-focus and pay attention to the right aspects of a scenario.

    I think Michael Franti’s song, Hello Bonjour, is all about flow …

    “So you dance to the rhythm
    bounce to the rhythm
    shake to the rhythm
    and you roll the rhythm
    sweat to the rhythm
    get wet to the rhythm
    make love to the rhythm
    clean up to the rhythm”

  45. … song continues:

    “when you movin’ you come alive
    and when you grooving in rhythm we survive”

  46. Ever since I read flow in 1998, I have tried actively to recognize when and how Flow happens for me. The best experiences I have had have been while engaged in drawing or painting, for though I also have the experience in meditation flow was the goal, while drawing/painting it was simply the result. I love recognizing times of flow in my life, even today while folding clothes using one arm (had shoulder surgery, and I’ve learned flow can happen just about anywhere doing anything. Though I heartily agree that hiking, biking, and such outdoor activities bring many other excellent physiological benefits along with the psychological flow.

  47. I have been struggling with finding flow in life recently, but wanted to share a story about my husband finding a perfect moment.

    A few years ago, after traveling to Colorado from Arizona via our motorcycles, on our way home we were caught in a major hail storm. He subsequently totaled his bike in the middle the San Juan mountains (read: nowhere near anything) and after hobbling his bike to a town 60 miles away we commuted two-up on my motorcycle. He sat on back, observing the coming afternoon summer storms just resting behind me. He still says to this day that was a perfect moment for him. He didn’t know where he’d sleep that night, weather we had a meal to look to or if we were going to even make it to the next town. He was just there, in the moment, one with himself and the world around him.

    The closest I think I’ve ever come to finding this flow—a true zen experience—in life is sitting in the Monterrey Bay Aquarium looking at their seaweed pool. It was amazing.

  48. Great post! Probably my favorite yet!
    I often get “in the zone,” and for years I thought it was a bad thing… It wasn’t until a few years ago that I realized it was a GOOD thing! (I used to just call it “being deep in thought,” but that wasn’t exacylt it.)

  49. This is the beauty of the Primal Lifestyle…it’s not just about the food! Thanks, Mark, for teaching and writing on all of it!

  50. Excellent. I wish I could get my parents and younger siblings to turn off their texting, TV, music and internet long enough for me to explain the value in focus and improvement of self. My sister will spend some time with me and she says it takes her several hours to get used to the quiet I “carry” with me. She thinks I’m mad, but really I’m just lost in thought, nature, etc. She ends up reveling in the moment once she adapts to it. But alas..she goes back home.

    Really enjoyed this article. My favorite sentence– ‘let go of the…resentment of the task at hand.’ So true! When you remove the resentment, you can see anything as an opportunity to grow, learn, use your muscles. Ahhh I feel enlightened.

  51. Great post Mark! I turned 54 this year and was aware of something missing in life that I used to feel. Twenty four years ago I gave up tournament chess because it did not fit under the umbrella of material sustainence, or persuit of luxury or the American dream. I started playing and studying chess again about a month ago and that emersion, that all out passion while engaged with the chess board has returned. The industrious side of my mind that has to see measurable compensation for all endevors is totally opposed to, in it’s opinion, this waste of
    Valuable time. Now I don’t listen and go with the flow. (a term I had never heard of till this blog)

    By the way Mark….I wonder if we are related?

  52. I almost feel like I’m missing out on something. I read all the posts and trying to rack my brain as to whether I have these moments or not.
    Maybe because I hate my job so badly right now I can’t get flow. I work, adn dread going to work even when I’m exercising. Maybe I’m in Ennui.

    Just when I thought I had the Primal thing down. I’m failing miserably at this part. BIG time.

    1. You can learn how to do this consciously. There is a guy in Sweden who have been working on this for several years. He has a simple model for training yourself to achieve this. It’s all about going with how the brain has evolved just as Primal Blueprint is about going with how the body has evolved.

      You can find tons of articles and a few videos about it at http://notnlp.com and it’s all “open source.”

      To hit the drill directly, just go to
      http://www.notnlp.com/?p=1078

      And it’s simple. Really really simple. Though it takes time to train the skill.

      There are of course much more potential with this than just having flow at will.

      Good luck with this. It will change the way you experience life forever 🙂

  53. windsurfing, cycling, coding (but thats hard to get to)
    definitely more with things that are fully physical

  54. … oh hang on, how could i forget FRONT CRAWL SWIMMING!
    I think this is a very ‘trance-like’ activity because of the way your breathing has to be in a precise pattern and also in rythmn with your body movement, more so that anything else i can think of (anyone?) and so i think it must be quite yogic.
    Also i think this state is relatively easily reached or similar to secondwind/endorphin rush situations

  55. Movie marathons works for me. Pick a good actor and stay up all night trying to get through as many as I can.

  56. Throwing pots at the local crafts center! Hopefully someday i can get my own wheel and kiln.

  57. I happen to have come across your website and article by mistake whilst researching on paleolithic lifestyles. Not only does it touch on a philosophy of life but i believe it the following to achieve it.

    1. Sense of freedom and I don’t mean living in a democracy or having a choice to buy your favourite drink. I mean that when you know that you don’t have any worries or concerns i.e. mortgages, paying for your children’s education, etc.

    2. You love what you do. Most of us are stuck in jobs that we don’t love and are in it because of the current economic climate. If we are in a job or lifestyle we love, everything else falls in place easily.

    3. You have no or next to none obligations and I don’t mean not looking after your kids or simply ditching your obligations. I mean the ability to look at a day say to yourself it’s beautiful and I’m going to take the day off for myself to either run, hike, etc.

    I believe and it is my opinion based on my experience that until these conditions are not met, it’s extremely hard to constantly be in the zone or to be in a state of dasien.

  58. I have “flow” loaded in my reader but never really made myself read the whole of it. Partially due to the fact that I read “Slowing Down to the Speed of Life” from Richard Carlson dealing with the same topic which I enjoyed much more.

  59. I experience “flow” typically when running, but also when swimming… it’s elusive and that’s what makes it so special.

    I think it is all about being present in the moment. I read an article in another blog that quoted a zen proverb:
    “Before enlightenment; chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment; chop wood, carry water.”

    Whether you are enlightened or not, you still need to chop wood and carry water, so be present in the moment of everything you do and perhaps “enlightenment” will find you.

    1. Spot on Joe!

      Or like Anthony De Mello said it:

      ‘Before enlightenment, I was depressed. After enlightenment, I was still depressed!’

      Well put – enlightenment isn’t a depression cure! Rather, enlightenment is perpetual flow, where depression may occur, but is incidental or irrelevant because it is not identified with…

  60. an awesome book is “drawing on the right side of the brain” It says if you don’t give your left brain anything to do it sort of turns off and your right brain takes over = flow. It also is excellent for learning how to draw 🙂

  61. Fantastic post Mark.

    Flow to me is trying my best in as many things as possible during the day. When I try my best, I always seem to find time just disappearing.

  62. My flow is always when I’m diving and the deeper dives, especially decompression diving is when I find it most. I also know when I am out of the flow, which is typically winter and I’m not able to get away for a dive. Even though I find it when I’m hiking or biking, I just don’t seem to find it like I do on a dive.

  63. I find flow regularly in worship. Eyes closed, hands raised, everything seems to get quieter and slower. On stage I’ll open my eyes and realize I’m no longer facing the audience 🙂

  64. Long, slow cross country skate ski, snowshoe, trail run-pretty much anything outside in the mountains gets the flow going!

  65. I love the flow and it’s something I try to cultivate on a daily basis. In other words, I try at least once a day to immerse myself fully in a task and pay attention to my breath and how my body feels while I’m doing that task – whether it’s doing the dishes, showering, walking, playing soccer, lifting heavy things, or teaching. I think flow, just like meditation, just takes practice, practice, practice and a lot of self forgiveness.

    Also, there’s a great book by Sir Ken Robinson called “The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything.” In the book he talks about how finding the thing (or things) that, as you put it, “tap into our individual curiosities and interests” connects us to our true selves and leads to a more fulfilled and content life. He approaches the idea of “flow,” or “the element,” from an educational standpoint; that schools and education should help individuals develop and discover their element and then when people find their element they are more likely to learn reading, writing, math and critical thinking skills within that context.

  66. I used to have flow as a kid, specifically when I was reading. I could get so immersed in a story that the world around me faded, even I faded, and the words in front of me turned into entire worlds. It was really awe-inspiring. But eventually I actually trained myself out of my flow because it annoyed people around me so much. Other kids would tease me and say things in front of me, because I was oblivious to them and my parents were annoyed that they couldn’t reach me (it would require yelling or physically touching me to get my attention as opposed to just calling my name). So I trained myself to react to my name (yep, exactly like a dog) and after that, I can’t go as deep with a book anymore. The flow is gone.

    There’s a lot of things in my life that are awesome and a lot of things that bring me peace and serenity, but I would love to have that kind of deep immersion or flow back in my life.

  67. One task that ensures flow for me is mucking the horse stalls. The smell of the dirt and manure, sound of the rake, flies, birds, some time frog and heavy sighs of the horses. I just disappear (some times for over an hour). When I come into the house (have to take the books off first) I’m almost sad the moment is over

  68. I meant Boots. But a good history book sometimes gets me to the same spot.

  69. This is about silencing the “ego” part of our brain. You can say its a survival mechanism that is constantly scanning, analyzing, judging, labeling etc. This was necessary for our survival. But this also has a lot of negative to it today. It makes us judge and put labels on others, it makes us worry about whats gonna happen in the future and what happened yesterday. Constantly working on overdrive so that we can be the “best”.

    Extreme situations like sky diving or that you are falling off your bike at speed. Will force the ego to shut down, since you have to stay totally focused in the moment to survive. Then you are in the zone and experiencing flow 🙂

  70. Great post Mark – I absolutely love ‘flowing’.
    Swimming is one of the things I do that allows me to achieve flow very easily. There something about water that just totally focuses my senses and allows me to be fully present in the moment.
    I’ve recently gotten back into swimming laps (which to many may seem boring/tedious) but to me it’s beyond revitalizing.
    Again, great post and a healthy reminder of achieving overall wellness (both mentally and physically).

  71. Lately I’ve been trying to get back into meditation which basically does the same thing. Swimming has the same effect if I go long enough. Something about the sensory deprivation, maybe.

  72. I just looked at the photo that accompanies this post.

    As a mother of two preteen boys, I hope it’s been Photoshopped…

  73. Ah…. I practice Oriental Medicine and Hypnotherapy for my living…. After 30 years, it is still a passion… I play electric bass semi-professionally… I have a 10 year marriage that is “ALIVE”, dynamic and vehicle for growth… I sit zazen, qi gong and self hypnosis to grow myself and develop unconditional positive regard for self AND I have found Primal Blueprint and all of YOU wonderful beings HERE!!!! YeAH, I am in the flow!!! Blessings to you all!!!

  74. I agree with most commenters here. This was a fantastic post. I could instantly connect with your description.
    I don’t mean to go all self-helper on you, but you totally diagnosed what I have been missing in my career and life generally. Even though I have a decent job (though not very exciting) and I have been eating paleo and exercising, as an atheist I’ve had pangs of the dreaded “existential crisis.”
    I have yearned to feel belonging and immersion into a task or community. I guess I remember it from few years ago when I used to play team sports a lot.

    Thank you. I will be pursuing flow to get out of my existential ennui and excessive reading of blogs.

    1. hey – youre not alone – i am in similar situation, even down to excessive blog reading 🙂 I am going to create more opportunities for flow too.

  75. I’m surprised no one has mentioned (ok STE did kind of mention it) but SURFING! Riding a wave that has come hundreds if not thousands of miles just to crash in the perfect spot for you to join it just for a moement. The entire process of catching and riding a wave is entirely flow (the ebb comes after). Check out the book “Surf is Where You Find It.”

  76. My best art creations are the result of being in the flow.

    While photographing in nature or urban environments I’ve had the best time while in the flow. However, sadly, I realized this was not good for my safety.

  77. Total Immersion is also a style of doing freestyle swimming. It allows you to go longer distances and use less energy. It is very similar to judo and other martial arts in that mastering form makes the stroke seem effortless and takes less strength.

  78. I saw the cool post about squeezing out the baby…anyone mention the conception portion of the event?…that and golf.

  79. Total immersion takes place for me anytime time I’m in the ocean. Be it surfing swimming or riding my handplane, I feel the most at peace during these activities.

  80. Y Ward I have read and try to follow the ideas of the Total Immersion swimming too! (I first i thought this meant that your body is to be totally submerged when swimmng, as opposed to a philosophy !) Especially helpful I found swimming with bunched fists that teaches you to really twist the body with each stroke.

    AquaReef, i too have surfed but for me it did not come close to the windsurf. Too start-stoppy.
    Imagine wsurf is like catching a single wave that lasts indefinitely.

  81. Great Post Mark.

    One question, any techniques on getting back into the flow. I have always remembered some situations where time seemed to slow down from when I was a kid playing soccer. Till today, i describe that state to my friends and they think I exaggerate.

    I still remember a goal I scored in a school match, where everything was in slow motion. I was running with the ball, and without even turning my head I knew where my friend was running and that there was a defender running up at an angle behind me. I remember kicking the ball and seeing it go slowly, very very slowly as the goalie dived in slow motion and I saw the ball curl extremely slowly around his outstretched fingers and into the goal….it was literally like the slow motion sequences from the movies…and after scroing the goal suddenly everything speeded up as my friends ran up to congratulate me….. It was not just a state of complete though passive immersion as other readers have narrated but a feeling of being superhuman and being faster than time. I wasnt tuned out but perhaps incredibly tuned in. It also seemed like an out- of body experience as in I never turned my head but in my mind I could almost make out the layout of the field, of where my team members were and where the defenders were…..and this without consciously seeing….

    I have often wondered at this state and wonder how we can recreate it and apply it to our work.

    1. I know exactly what you are talking about. Yes, you can learn to do this consciously. I wrote some about it above. I don’t understand this completely but it involves the vestibulary system and how we keep track of objects in space and our balance.

      Rather than explaining the way I personally understand this I’ll point you in the direction of Robert Johanssons blog. He is a Swedish guy who have been working several years on a model you can use to train yourself to do this at will. There are a few videos and tons of articles about it.

      It’s called RBIm and is simple and awesome. Found at http://notnlp.com

      I had to read a lot of articles before I started to understand this even a little but you don’t need to understand it to do it as long as you can follow the instructions.

      It’s worth every second of practice.

  82. I agree with this on many levels. My work can be seen as mundane and repetitive. At times it became so automatic I could not recall if I had missed a step.
    I started practicing being conscious, being aware of what I am doing and putting my whole effort into the task at hand- the result can be powerful. Too often we go on auto-pilot and miss out on the living we are actually experiencing.
    I love how my primal life seems to be marrying my spiritual life.

  83. ..sorry i have to give my 5 penneth .Having spent 2.5 years in Buddhist (Thera and Zen ) and Benedictine monasteries what is said above is in part dangerous as all get-out to say..esp bit about not so much as doing anything particular as opposed to losing ourselves within it.
    Read about extremely violent people…often when interviewed they talk of those moments when they were slashing someones face or committing some other act of atrocity.
    Extreme examples but please if you say such things, please reflect upon what you say for a moment afore posting.

    1. Well sure, but the same could be said about meditation… not all dissociative states are similar. Arguably, the flow state is one of interconnectedness, not pure detachment…

      1. Flow isn’t about detachment at all. Rather you are associated with the context which is why it can feels like you cease to exist since you don’t relate yourself to the context, you are it. Young children do this all the time before they’ve developed their brain to compare contexts and become aware of the self they are relating context to. This happens around age four I believe. Then most people seem to forget how to do this when they grow up.

        It’s a function from our brain evolution and nothing mystic or such. You can train yourself to access this at will just like you can train about any skill you already have. It will take time as with everything. Worth every second though.

        This is my understanding from articles I’ve read combined with half a year of practicing RBIm.

  84. Absolutely fabulous write-up. I have long had these “moments”, but never had any idea that they could be attained through any means of my own. Definitely going to look into this a lot deeper. Interestingly enough, I find that while I’m “in” flow, I have a lot of energy; however, once I’m “out” I feel exhausted.

  85. These are the moments that I really cherish but never really know how to find them again. I am going to have to bust into that creativity zone more often when trying to do things. Cool article as usual Mark

  86. Very good post MARK!

    Flow is well beyond any LIFE STYLE !!!
    its dealing with PRIMAL AWARENESS in
    a NON DUAL WAY – this is very valuable
    insight.
    However:
    the learned person KNOWS
    the wise person PRACTICES

    You can NOT know FLOW intellectually
    there is the ” rub”
    but you can BE IT thru attention relaxed
    yet focused !

    NAMASTE

  87. I mostly get flow experiences when I’m playing (computer) games. It’s so addictive though that it just causes more problems than benefits.

  88. If you have not done so, beg borrow or steal a copy of Jane McGonicals book “Reality is Broken”.

    I am obsessed by this book just now and its on the same topic.

    Jane has the ability to take the last 10 years of my life and summarize them in a paragraph in a series of Eureka moments.

    At worst, have a look at her presentation on ted.com

  89. Ecstasy lies in the simplicity of making ourselves happy and healthy on a daily basis- something which intrinsically stems form our ability to tap into primal and primordial routine behavior. I was elated to read this post- one which only strengthens the quotient for success to all primal existence. Bringing the body, mind, and spirit into a state of primal equilibrium cannot be achieved from dieting alone; the breadth and depth of this article is a must read for all.

  90. I remember my professor in my Sports Philosophy class talking about flow or being in the zone. When Micheal Jordan went off for 35 points in one quarter or Kobe Bryant had 81 in a game this is flow. I myself do not experience flow very often. I think when I do though I am doing something I truly enjoy. Playing beach volleyball I can get in a zone where everything seems to slow down and seem easy. This only last for a little while though then I have to focus hard to make things happen. I have experienced this on the basketball court as well. Again everything slows down and you see everything very clearly. I would love to be in the zone or flow more often. I know day to day life really affects this with all the stress that around. Learning to cope and manage that stress I know is very important. Great post! I really enjoyed reading it.

  91. Anyone interested in delving further into the ideas of presence and intuition as pertains to flow and attainment of the phenomenon called the “Zone” ought to check out the book “The Art of Learning” by Josh Waitzkin. Very insightful, one of my favorites (and no, I don’t know Josh or receive kickbacks 😉 ).

  92. The EGO is about about getting recognition for being
    consciously competent –

    However , FLOW is about being “unconsciously competent ” !

    you are focused and relaxed – you embrace both narrow focus
    and wide focus at the same time – you are fully in the present
    MOMENT ( no where else ) – what a novel idea !

  93. Is Transcendental Meditation counter productive for achieving Flow state since it activates the Default Mode Network and increases alpha brain waves, whereas flow state is more correlated with lower activities in the Default mode network region in the brain and also brain wave states such as theta and gamma, which is related to meditation forms such as mindfulness?

    Appreciate any insight on this!
    Wish you all the best where ever you might be!
    KR
    RD