From Above




“Flow is a state of mind in which a person becomes fully immersed in an activity. Positive psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi describes flow as a state of complete immersion in an activity. Being immersed can be defined as a state of focus in which a person is completely absorbed and engrossed in their work.”

This is as opposed to being “in the zone”, a state you can easily see in tennis or golf. In the zone is when your confidence is surging, momentum is with you and you feel like you can do no wrong.

That’s all well and good for pro sportsmen, but for us mere mortals, it’s almost as hard as “being in flow”.

Cal Newport has made a name for himself by reframing this as “Deep Work.” It’s where you turn off the phone and the internet, put on your focus tunes, hole yourself up in a private corner and get SHIT DONE without distraction.

Easy to talk about. Hard to implement.

Toddlers, Other People’s Priorities, Last-minute Crises, and just a plain LACK OF TIME are all ways that inhibit a state of flow.

I wrote about Expectations a while back. Maybe because we just got back from the Otter Trail, maybe because I feel like all of life should just be like that…but I just can’t let that image of the Bloukrans river with the ankle-deep innocuous low level crossing out of my mind. Maybe because that damn river has been such a pain in my ass on previous trips, maybe because it felt…well, too easy. But it made me think.

My friend Marc Malan will kill me for this, but let me tell you the story of my sub 3 Argus again. The Cape Town Cycle tour used to be called (and still is by many) the Cape Argus. The 109km beast of a cycle around the Cape Peninsula is arguably one of the world’s most beautiful races, and every year 20,000+ riders give it a go.

It took me 7 attempts to hit the holy grail, which was a sub 3 hour cycle time. Prior to 2008, I had winged it. But in 2007/2008, I decided to hit this thing. There are a few key things that you need to do to reach the goal:

  1. Have a good bike. Went out and got one.

  2. Be at fighting weight. Knocked off 5kgs and I was steaming up the hills.

  3. Do the training. Used an Excel sheet to keep myself accountable to 2000kms of distance before the race.

  4. Start early. The faster the group, the better your odds of hitting the number. So I did a couple of qualifying races to up my seeding. It worked.

  5. Get lucky. If the wind blows, you’re screwed. The day of the race was perfect conditions.

I have this clear recollection of being in a big bunch going at 50km’s plus cruising into Hout Bay, and being very very comfortable. I was chatting away to the guy next to me, and looking at our splits we were agreed that we were en route for the target time. I surprised myself at how good I felt. But here it is folks:

  1. I had thoroughly prepared.

  2. I was surrounded by strong riders.

That’s it. That simple. When it got to race day, it was actually easy. And yes, we got lucky with the weather.

When we did the Bloukrans crossing this year, we got lucky with an 11 am spring low tide. The group was all relatively fit and prepared. Easy times.

Everything was IN FLOW, just like that low tide river, because we had created the winning conditions for it. To have 5 am focus time before everyone wakes up, one probably needs to cultivate a habit of no TV or Scotch after 8 pm and turn off the light by 9. To get in flow in the office some kind of structural discipline is needed. Turn off the phone, put the earphones on, schedule the time in your diary, or maybe go offsite to a place where you can get there.

The science dictates that all the little distractions add up, and result in us getting less done. Focused effort is the way to go, but for most of us, the two hours of “Flow state” requires a bigger discipline of creating that space…and that’s where the real work is.

I have a home office, but I don’t really achieve flow there. So I pay for a desk at a co-working space, where I go for 3-4 hours most days. Because that’s where I can turn off all the little distractions, and get things done. Oh, and put on the Youtube nature piano tunes soundtrack.

What is your approach to achieving flow state?

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