One of the biggest breakthroughs in the world of flow is the discovery of the ‘flow cycle’. Scientists found that there’s a four part cycle that everyone who experiences flow goes through. You have to move through all these stages to get into flow. To replicate the state, understanding this is crucial. In this chapter I explain the stages one by one, and provide practical examples. Remember, you need to go through all of the stages to get into the flow. There is no cheating! Here is another post about making a personal flow strategy.
The struggle phase
This is when you push yourself to the edge of your abilities. You’re loading your brain with information. It’s generally experienced as unpleasant. Steven Kotler describes it as a loading phase, because you overload your brain with information.
A baseball player might practice swinging a bat, over and over again. A writer might plan a new book and do the necessary homework.
Tips: You need a challenge and a general idea of where you are headed. To learn a new skill, or to expand your understanding of a certain subject. Envision your goal and find the steps to take in order to achieve that goal. Make sure it’s not too far out of your reach, but far enough so it’s a healthy struggle. Use the information provided in the chapter called ‘flow triggers’ to get the set and setting right. Get rid of all the distractions, so it’s easier to focus. Remember, flow follows focus!
It’s important to recognize when to stop and move to the next stage! You can struggle too much and this can be too stressful to transition into the next stage.
This means to move your attention elsewhere; to take your mind away from what you were struggling with. Move your attention to something that has nothing to do with your flow goal.
Simple physical activities are great ways to get into release. Examples are to go for a walk, swim, do push-ups, stretches and so forth.
Tip: Play with the duration of the stages. Maybe with a certain activity you’ll find that you can move from one stage to the next a lot faster. There is no general rule for how long it should take to get from one stage to the next.
Fly! I mean, Flow!
So, you’ve made it all the way up to the most exiting stage of all, the actual flow state. After having put your attention elsewhere, now it’s time to continue from where you left of in the struggle stage, and dive into the flow!