Flow is a state of focused absorption where you experience an effortless access to your deeper potentials. It is the momentary dissolution of the presumed barriers to your total self. What does that mean?
Your mind operates at its best. Your sense of self disappears. Your level of focus and mental clarity are at their peak. Time slows down, while at the same time speeding up. You intuitively control your energy levels and emotional tone. You register no effort and merge with reality, as your experience and performance, by all standards, elevates in multiples.
Flow, as a term, speaks of various experiences that have been documented in the eastern spiritualities, sports, and music, to name a few. Yet what they all have in common is a vastly elevated level of human functioning, and of higher coherence with oneself at large. A state of being where the obstacles in the way of ourselves dissolve, a state of utter and immediate personal alignment. Resonance.
The changes you experience when you are in a state of flow, however, are not an artificial event mediated by some mystical force. In fact, the opposite is the case. The flow state reverses the default tendencies that prevent us from accessing this natural state.
As the fixed idea we hold of ourselves and our abilities, the prejudices and assumptions by which we structure our thoughts, our awareness, our reality and the level of direct control we exercise over ourselves alters, flow has no other option than to occur. This accounts for the spontaneous and immediate internal shifts and the intuitive control over our wider capacities that the state enables.
What Flow Is Like
When looked at it in more detail, flow is not just a state of feeling and being, but also a different and elevated level of functioning. It is not enough to simply feel as if we are in flow, we should also be able to function and perform better when we are. If our minds feel clearer, we shouldn’t put too much hope into it unless we also exhibit functional differences that attest to that. That is, functional difference we are ordinarily precluded from.
Unsurprisingly, the experiential components of flow, do relate to facets of our functioning. While the changes in experience and functioning can be correlated with physical changes on the neurological and biochemical level, they are largely useless for the purposes of greater personal power.
What matters is not what flow looks like when observed through various types of brainscanners, but what we are actually doing as we enter it. It doesn’t matter what neurochemicals are released when we are happy, what matters is what we can do with full self-determination to be happy.
The components of flow are the reversal of its absence. A flexibility of self, a freedom and mastery of mind and awareness, and an immediacy and control of action. By looking at flow as a natural state rather than a special state, we also find that we are actively blocking ourselves from this experience by placing restrictions upon the three following areas.
Athletes in flow report to perceiving the universe, that is their reality, as perfectly unified and integrated with themselves. They experience a detachment from their environment that gives them a sense of independence of control that is expressed by having complete access to their powers and skills.
Interestingly, as their sense of self becomes boundless, so does their access to themselves. When we create an idea of who we are, it also implies what of ourselves we are not. Once we believe this idea to be real, it becomes unconscious and the effective basis of our identity.
The mindsets that emerge in its response then define the level of access we have to our abilities and our untapped potential. These beliefs act as a filter, not only of perception and personal functioning, imposing internal barriers between ourself and ourself at large.
However, when this idea is loosened or abandoned, the restrictions fall off and access to our powers to control our thoughts, actions and experience become immediate.
Most accounts of flow states speak of a lack of fear of failure, no thinking about the performance on a task, and a flexibility of perception. This translates to a higher control of their minds, resulting in a calm inner state with no future and past projections of scenarios, and a higher degree of concentration on the present moment and its details on an intuitive rather than logical level.
This is interesting because verbal and conceptual processing requires more time than intuitive processing, as our pure experience has to be translated into a form we can consciously process. If we train ourselves to perceive with more streamlined mental devices, we are not trapped in the processing delay.
This has, of course, large implications when we consider one of the most precious components of the flow state, the fusion of thought and action. That’s when we overcome the chasm, the friction, the resistance between the intentions we set and the immediacy with which we express them. The opposite of the complex that is self-doubt, hesitation, procrastination and unconscious self-interference.
When we learn to intend without logical categories, we overcome the processing delay. If we have to translate our direct sensations into words and pictures before we can evaluate them consciously, they will also require the same processing back down before they can take concrete effect in our bodies. The processing delay goes both ways, and appears to be one of the key barriers to experiencing flow.
When we learn to intend as fast as we can express, by cutting out the ‘cognitive middlemen’, we can see what is meant when those in flow report of their body performing automatically without ‘conscious’ control. It is not that the control is not conscious, but that it is, for most people’s level of consciousness, inaccessible.
So long as we register verbal and visual events consciously, we will have no way of knowing of the events that directly move our bodies and minds into action. Our intentions and expressions become one and the same in those moments, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t gain conscious projection over these impulses and motions we stimulate in that presumed gap.
This is what it means to be in complete control of oneself that leads to the effortless performance spoken of in flow state. But a lack of effort doesn’t mean a lack of intensity, as it is the ability to exert oneself without unnecessary tension that allows for this.
We are as tense as the threats and obstacles we anticipate, but because our minds are free from excessive future projections when we are in flow, the effort that is registered mentally and physically has no cause to persist. Naturally, these qualities lead to the spontaneously level of self-control we experience in flow.
We also witness a seemingly unending source of energy, a level of emotional self-regulation where no emotions appear present and reactiveness is at a minimum if present at all. These are natural outcomes of having spontaneous and direct control over the underlying processes that generate these changes.
They are, after all, nothing but internal configurations of our present moment self. The moods and emotions we experience and the energy we decide to release are results of our own internal impulses. Tuning our awareness to notice them allows us to, at the same time, influence them.
As we examine the components of the flow experience, we can summarize flow as a state of mind and experience where the boundaries within dissolve. These are the boundaries of self, the boundaries of our awareness and the flexibility by which we can alter its structure in response to our needs, and the streamlined immediacy by which can transform our intentions into actions and access our wider abilities.
The Vast Advantage
Not any approach or collection of strategies that sets as its goal an alteration of human functioning is the same. Whether the goal is a heightened state of functioning or emotional freedom, the principles by which they hope to achieve it vary greatly.
Some approaches only attend to external factors, showing us how to alter our environment. Others, like psychotherapeutic methods, are post hoc, allowing us to only deal with a situation once it has long passed. Many more are only symbolic, that is language based, hoping to create different thoughts with words that may or may not lead to a concrete change. And while some approaches, by changing our external behaviors hope to cause internal shifts, only a few, however, give us the power to shift ourselves into higher order with full autonomy in the present moment.
The key differences between Vast and other approaches is generative self-determination. That is the focus on active control of internal factors to generate an internal change with as much independence as possible, using the most direct path. Especially when looking at the flow triggers outlined by various specialists, as you will see later, we find an almost exclusive dependence on external factors with passive control.
As we enter any state of mind, we can either look at recreating the external conditions that allowed for the state or the internal ones that directly cause it. While outside conditions can facilitate a state of happiness, for instance, they only do so by stimulating the internal changes that lead to it.
External factors are a few steps removed from the actual change. They are unreliable in their effects, as the internal change is always our own doing, even if unconscious. Generative self-determination is our degree of direct awareness and immediate control over these internal changes.
Generative and Regressive Strategies
To really understand how we can cultivate more self-control to master our higher states of functioning, we need to look at the distinction of generative and regressive strategies.
Generative strategies focus on mastering the internal factors and direct causes of a particular goal by giving us active control over it. By developing our inherent skills to reach that goal, be it transcendence, increased creativity, a positive mood lift or flow, they develop our self-determination to manifest the change independent of externalities.
Because generative strategies change our way of functioning as such, they allow us to, once internalized, bring the change about effortlessly and in the concrete movement of life. When a strategy is independent of externalities and gives us active control over the direct causes of an internal change while building our inherent skills to do so, it is generative.
Regressive strategies focus on manipulating external factors and indirect causes by giving us passive control over the outcome. Because the changes are not self-generated, we don’t build the skill to create them, making us dependent on the narrow set of conditions it prescribes, effectively regressing our concrete abilities to manifest it outside of them.
Most regressive approaches assume that we, as humans, can’t change the way we function, thus forgoing on optimizing ourselves by either optimizing our surroundings or avoiding them entirely. When a strategy is dependent on externalities to mediate an internal change, without building inherent skills by giving us only indirect influence over it, it is regressive.
This, however, does not mean that regressive strategies are without use or merit. They are, in most cases, a necessary starting point to familiarize ourselves with a state like flow. In most but not all cases, however, they are better than nothing. But why would we want to develop a dependence on coffee if we have ways to generate energy directly without the liabilities of a regressive strategy?
Primacy of Self-Generation
Ultimately, every state of consciousness we experience, so long as it is not drug induced, is a state we directly generate ourselves. The closer our influence and control is to the internal prime causes, the more generative and robust the strategy.
Discovering the prime causes, of course, is not an easy task. But discovering them is essential to truly tap into our hidden yet present potential. It’s by mastering the prime causes that flow becomes a state we can experience even under impossible conditions, giving us unprecedented access to our fundamental capacities to do, think, feel, and act.
But as long as we remain ignorant of the concrete underlying changes that shift us from one state of experience to another, our means of self-control will remain regressive. In spite of the difficulty to objectively measure confidence or joy, they are clearly a different internal configuration of our existential elements.
Their subjective truth is only an objective one by our subjective experience of them. That is why the attempts to develop more leverage and control over our consciousness in mainstream psychology and neuroscience have been so weak. Unless we understand how we generate the internal changes we seek from our subjective perspective, we can’t develop the holy grail that is their mastery.
The Mainstream Flow Triggers
While a lot of research has been done on flow states, the majority is focused on measuring the state, rather than on how to summon it. The triggers discovered, so far, heavily emphasize, if not exclusively, external factors with passive control. And in some of the cases a concrete strategy is entirely lacking.
According to the Csikszentmihalyi, the father of flow, setting clear goals in a task with an ideal challenge to skill ratio that provides immediate feedback, are the key ingredients to the experience. More flow triggers have been named by other researchers but the flaws are the same.
The requirement for immediate feedback in a task with an ideal challenge to skill ratio is an external factor with only passive control. Having those three factors present, doesn’t ensure the state of flow by a long shot. And it’s of course possible to reach it without them. Additional flow triggers of high consequences in a rich environment, again, put the locus of control outside ourselves as a passive observer of our state of being.
Two more flow triggers that are worth of mention are deep embodiment and focused attention. While they are certainly necessary components, a direct way to achieve the latter is lacking. It is not a trigger, as such, but an experiential component of the state, just as much as a car seat doesn't cause a car but is a part of one. Deep embodiment, however, can be achieved easily with physical movement and certain types meditation.
While the mainstream flow triggers may improve the odds of experiencing flow, here and there, they don’t offer us active control over the internal factors that make the state. They foster a dependence on our context without giving us any concrete leverage or technique to reach the state of flow outright: a regressive strategy.
A Different Perspective
When I first came across the concept of Flow, I recognized it as a variant of what I call resonance. Resonance is a state of effortless personal alignment, where mind, body, intention and action are frictionless. It is, to simplify, what happens when we wholly inhabit ourselves with access to our deeper and wider abilities.
This is in opposition to what I term dissonance, being any state where we are contracted, restricted, and in the way of ourselves. All of the markers of flow are not only present in resonance, but inhibited in dissonance.
While flow can be described as being one with a task, resonance exceeds that by being one with oneself and reality. Because I had already developed methods to cultivate resonance, it was not too difficult to adapt them to enter flow.
As the experiential and functional components of the flow state are directly related to our direct control and flexibility in our sense of self, our awareness and our actions, I call the approach Liquid.
Divided into three components that are internal factors over which we can exercise active control, Liquid is a generative approach. This means that with it, we can access flow states with context independence and total self-determination.
When Liquid Self, Liquid Awareness, and Liquid Action, are present, so is the state of flow. It describes a flexible sense of self , an expressive and boundless state of awareness, and a galvanized readiness for action.
The advantage of Liquid as a model is that it allows us to focus our efforts on its three streamlined areas to produce and sustain flow states. Any approach or set of methods that influences the three components by increasing personal control and choice over them, is Liquid. Resonance Meditation, for instance, liquifies all three components.
Mastering the Liquid approach, however, begins with noticing the default tendencies that block us from being in flow. Most of these are things we do actively, especially in relation to our sense of self. Liquid Self and Liquid Awareness go hand in hand, just as Liquid Awareness and Liquid Action do.
The second phase consists of learning how to suppress the default tendencies and influence them at will. Many of which are primarily inhibitors of Liquid Awareness. The two phases of the three Liquid components can be cultivated with the use of exercises designed to intuitively influence their direct causes, the internal factors with active control with generative self-determination.