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FrankDrakman t1_j7fus70 wrote

This is not my understanding of 'flow' at all. Flow occurs when, e.g., an athlete or a musician (the two most obvious examples) is performing at a top level, but is not explicitly trying to do things; they just let the music or game 'flow' out of them.

It is characterized by a lack of blood flow to the pre-frontal cortex (PFC), which is why it's also known as "transient hypofrontality". That lack of blood flow is indicative of the body shifting resources to other parts of the brain. In this case, by shutting down executive and higher order functions in the cortex, the body is able to do things it knows how to do without interference from the judging, over-thinking PFC.

Every golfer knows this problem. You stand over the ball, and there are a million thoughts in your head. "Don't shank it, don't slice it, keep your arm straight, keep your head down, make a full turn, don't come over the top, I wonder what's for dinner tonight, shift your weight, keep your heel down, don't hit it in the bunker,....". Then you proceed to top it into to the bunker.

But you have made this shot a hundred times before, so why are you worrying? You don't worry about picking up a fork from a table, or walking two steps to the front door - you trust your body to do that. But in some tasks, we don't have enough trust to 'let go'.

As OP notes, one can't reach flow unless you have already mastered the basics of a task. That's why piano students spend hours on scales, and golfers hours on the range. You need to build up the synapses and autonomous skills so that you don't need the higher order brain functions to complete the task.

Once you've reached some level of expertise, flow is possible. It is not easy to 'trigger' it, though, because it's not easy to consciously make your conscious brain (CB) take a break. CB is always there, judging each action, assessing the situation, making predictions, and deciding what to do next. However, CB is too slow to play a complicated arpeggio, react to a 100-mph baseball, or make a 20-ft jump shot. We depend on our autonomous systems to do those things for us.

Another issue with flow is it's unsettling to an extent. After, you feel that it wasn't 'you' that did it - it was some other guy in your body, as 'you' weren't present, in that the CB wasn't doing its usual job of collecting, collating, and judging every act you do. Pro athletes have described it as 'being in the zone' - you're completely aware (of the game), and completely unaware (of your ego) at the same time. When they are finished, they don't have much memory of how they played, only that they played really well.

My 30th birthday, I got hammered, and I was playing in a golf tournament the next day. I woke up in the morning, probably still half-drunk, and went out to play. I'm normally a very chatty golfer, but this day, I was very quiet. Instead of the usual thousands of thoughts in my head, there was only "hit it in the fairway" and "hit it on the green".

Which I did. I shot 76, four over par, about ten shots better than I normally do, and I won the tourney. I only remember three shots from the round: two holes had giant oak trees in the centre of the fairway, and you were supposed to play to one side of them. I just decided to aim for tree - "I'll never hit it" - and proceeded to hit both trees on one bounce. I had no shot, so had to chip out sideways, costing me a stroke on each hole. The very last hole, I guess I was beginning to 'wake up', because I hit it over the green, and had to make a nice chip shot to get it close. That shot won the tournament for me.

Afterwards, I barely remember anything except those three shots. Everything else is a bit of blank. Without the CB's constant presence, I was able to perform at my optimum skill level, but none of it registered either.


[deleted] t1_j7fx5cd wrote



Caring_Cactus t1_j7g3rhg wrote

I've heard that book is amazing, essentially the conscious mind (awareness) merges with our actions in a more subconscious manner. This can also relate to autotelic personality traits, a person's focus of attention is narrowed to where they have complete control over what is optimal in this experience of the moment (often what is being experienced within and right outside their body to focus on). In a way too this can relate to having healthy self-esteem imo.


tumor_buddy t1_j7gqcx6 wrote

How does it relate to self esteem?


Caring_Cactus t1_j7gumva wrote

Self-esteem relates to one's confidence to evaluate and manage their emotional experiences in relation to the self, self-worth is what keeps self-esteem stable. Having high secure self-esteem would mean a person has a more congruent self-concept in recognizing what is within and outside their control, and when they narrow their attention of focus to what is within the moment they can then enter these optimal mental flow states.


FrankDrakman t1_j7fxnsj wrote

Thanks for the tip about the book. I'll be sure to look that up!

As per your 3rd para, I agree that you need to be near that line to be eligible for flow. As you get better, the line just goes up. I'm sure Tiger Woods had his flow days; I'm equally sure they were a lot better than mine!


HoneydewInMyAss t1_j7g2qoj wrote

I feel like there's a lot of conversations around bending eastern philosophy to fix rigid western standards of productivity and expertise, when many of these concepts were built around people simply existing.

Idk, once you start talking about "multitasking" or "pro athletes and musicians" or "skills," I feel like you've kinda missed the mark of the entire concept.


MuteSecurityO t1_j7hdwxl wrote

I agree on this. Meditation of various sorts emphasize a passivity, a receptivity, and a feeling of non-effort.

Once you are trying to do something, play music or a sport etc., then you’re removing yourself from the meditative mindset.

The only thing I think that binds them together is the phenomenological experience of an absence of conscious thought.

But that which separates them is the focus on completing an activity - a futurally extended intentionality - which betrays the presence that’s imperative in meditation.


BrendonBootyUrie t1_j7i1b5r wrote

Well many of the meditation/ mindfulness practices taken from Taoism popularised by modern western psychology is conflate mindfulness and equanimity as the same thing and end goal, whereas from my understanding practicing mindfulness is in the goal to reach equanimity.


BrickWiggles t1_j7hm1ki wrote

But with several types of meditation, particularly those that are mindfulness based, there is the progression of intentionally bringing that mindfulness or stabilization to life or off the cushion. It’s not having no thought that is the goal on or off (in most practices I’m aware of) the cushion, it’s to be more aware of what is happening in consciousness during practice. That practice being meditation, skills, life.


thoughandtho t1_j7gl8gh wrote

I've entered flow (as you describe it) a handful of times when playing beat saber. I didn't know how to describe it, but it was incredible, as sometimes it is very, very fast-paced. And i remember thinking briefly to myself this is incredible, I'm not really even controlling my arms. I've found I can hit it after warming up for 30-40 minutes, but definitely not on demand. It's a pretty awesome feeling.


TopRamenBinLaden t1_j7h2tf5 wrote

Yea video games and music are two areas where I have personally experienced flow state. Rythym games are super good for that. I have been in a similar state playing Beat Saber and Guitar Hero as well. I also get into that state when I am improvising on guitar. It is always a fascinating state, where you feel like your body just knows better than you do.


BrendonBootyUrie t1_j7i0kf0 wrote

Yeah I've experienced that too with beat sabre, along with writing and gyming. To me the feeling feels like everything goes silent, there's no internal dialogue, with beat sabre it's almost like a weightlessness and my arms are just doing things while my eyes are watching what's going on almost in slow motion, with writing (technically typing) it feels a lot faster as all I notice is my fingers moving rapidly, the sentence doesn't register in my mind its almost as if my fingers have a mind of their own, gyming is similar to beat sabre, complete silence and absolute focus, no need to think about the movement, my breathing or what number rep I'm up to.


aBeardOfBees t1_j7jpqgc wrote

I haven't played for a long time but I used to experience flow with the game Dota 2. It is so difficult and all consuming that after a match which could have been anywhere from 30-60 minutes, I'd emerge and realise I'd had almost zero thoughts about anything other than the game in that whole time. It's so deeply relaxing and refreshing.


why_was_I_not_enough t1_j7kbe83 wrote

Man, this explains why I'm still so drawn to the game after 10 years of playing. That flow state is magical, for those 30-60 minutes everything makes sense, I feel like I belong.


aBeardOfBees t1_j7kv637 wrote

Yeah, there is a certain magical mix of qualities that an activity has to have to achieve flow. The examples always mention athletes and musicians as discussed above in this thread but video games have it too, but only in some situations. The game has to:

  • Be sufficiently difficult that it demands expertise and mastery to perform well

  • Be fast paced enough that it occupies your entire mind when playing (no room for your mind to wander)

  • Have a continual feedback loop of mastery and focus = reward, from moment to moment. So you are always occupied with doing well right now.

  • Be something you are an 'expert' at, in other words that you can perform the actual mechanics of the game (say, going from intending to cast a spell to casting that spell) without ANY conscious thought, leaving your mind to focus on the higher order mastery of decision making.

The only things that have ever given me this are Dota and Street Fighter!


proto3296 t1_j7gck5h wrote

No to sound dumb but this sounds like ultra instinct in Dragonball which is super dope


isleoffurbabies t1_j7gjxie wrote

I believe most anyone has the potential to experience being "in the zone" at some point in their life, and it's likely most have. It definitely requires a certain level of proficiency relative to a task, but the tell is a feeling of dissociation. I know dissociation has negative connotations, but that's how I describe it. I'd argue that the task doesn't necessarily have to be physical, even. I'm up there in age but can recall a few occurrences when I was much younger. I believe I've experienced flow while playing basketball - specifically, shooting baskets, shooting pool and even while taking an exam. I'm sure their are significant differences in how the brain enables one to run a table or ace a physics exam in short order, but the result in each case is both gratifying and bewildering. I could be wrong, but that's my take.


FrankDrakman t1_j7iaib1 wrote

> but the tell is a feeling of dissociation

Thanks, that's a good way of putting it.


Gooberpf t1_j7gla0j wrote

> However, CB is too slow to play a complicated arpeggio, react to a 100-mph baseball, or make a 20-ft jump shot.

I don't think this is related to flow; these are trained motor skills that the brain learns to "run" like a "process" where the many motor signals get bundled into a couple abstract concepts that you do, kinda like how practicing enough with a tool you can "just swing it" without consciously thinking about counterbalance to the weight or the extra effort in the wrist etc.

Flow specifically involves choices being made in response to external or internal stimuli, but with some form of altered consciousness. It's the altered consciousness that's essential here - a pianist can play a full piece of music without entering a flow state, even a piece that they know by heart.

Off-topic: what is this post doing in r/philosophy? It only briefly discusses just the idea of what flow is, which is more of a psychology topic, and has a super shallow analysis.


Count_Bloodcount_ t1_j7g93io wrote

Sounds a lot like Timothy Galway's seminal book The Inner Game of Tennis


Psychobert t1_j7gm8lr wrote

Was just thinking that. I actually bought “The Inner Game of Skiing” on my way to my first ever skiing holiday. Once I got the basics, the sense of flow as I linked turns was incredible. I’ve experienced the same paragliding and sailing, but never when in the office for some reason..


FrankDrakman t1_j7ialee wrote

I read his book "Inner Game of Golf" before I'd heard of flow. It's a good book.


brownshoez t1_j7g30r9 wrote

Enjoyed this explanation & have experienced this playing music without recognizing how repetitive action flows out later. Drills and scales can feel mind-numbing, but open up avenues when you need them.


Eruptflail t1_j7h2gny wrote

The other thing is that flow states are very hard to achieve in competition against others or very unpredictable things. If you're a top athlete competing against top athletes, you're going to have a very hard time entering flow states because they're challenging you constantly. Even then, entering a flow state then may cause you to commit major errors because you're not using metacognition. You're only reacting.


buffer_overflown t1_j7hjvb3 wrote

This is anecdotally false. I've hit flow on parkour (noncompetitive), fencing (competitive), and archery (both).

It's not at all about exclusively reacting and asserting that it is misses the point.

Backing up your first point, flow state in competition was most common when my competitor and I were performing at similar levels. Getting stomped, or stomping, did not induce flow.

It's easier in archery because you are not directly reacting to someone else, so even with a lineup of competitors you're still hyperfocusing on the act of the release.

And in all three, you better be paying attention and making decisions. Parkour was probably the best example as I -- or students, to broaden the sample size slightly -- needed to make risk assessments while in the moment.

But it is not at all purely reactionary.

Edit: In order to soften my disagreement slightly, my point is that analysis and flow are not mutually exclusive and being able to integrate decision-making into the mental state is crucial, because it creates an environment where you are able to react intuitively where options are culled to those with the greatest opportunity for success.


twotrees1 t1_j7hdoxs wrote

This is fascinating. I have ADHD, and soon after my diagnosis I became familiar with the literature involving the Default Mode Network, and its poor network segregation with other networks in ADHD. The dlPFC is one of the DMN structures. The on/off toggle is unpredictable and I don’t have as good conscience ability to control the switch as a neurotypical might.

When I was undiagnosed in college, I’d procrastinate obscenely for very advanced STEM courses, sit through exams and still somehow pass if not excel outright. I’d vaguely be aware that during cramming I was drilling certain skills over others, and tried to make it interesting. But on the day of the test, exam after exam, over again for years, I’d walk out not knowing if I passed, and not knowing how the fuck I even understood much of what I answered. If I did pass/excel I never felt like it was “me.” If anything it brought a lot of distress because I felt the exams were each a fluke, and that I didn’t actually acquire my degrees and didn’t deserve to have them. It’s not something I bragged about, it brought a lot of shame and distress.

But now I’m thinking about my functioning in a different lens especially how I can trust it more and see my improvement for what it is.


Whatsupmydude420 t1_j7h493d wrote

Very good explanation of flow and taking neuroscience into acount without making it to complex.

One thing I would like to add is that you can get to a state of flow through meditation as well.

By taking your time to let every intrusive thought go by till your reach the no thought realm. This no thought realm and only consciousness can be felt in the seconds even without that much training.

You basically try to observe the seconds that pase by between each thought. This feeling of not thinking you than try to extend.

Source: own experience and making sense by sam Harris


FrankDrakman t1_j7iacqj wrote

I used to do TM when I was a teenager. Unfortunately, years of bad choices have made it extremely difficult; I have so much stress I can't "go under". Gotta keep working on that..


kex t1_j7jai6b wrote

I never even learned the concept of mindfulness until I took a mid-life sabbatical and happened upon it after my curiosity reemerged about a month into the break

I was on autopilot for decades

Contemporary life is way too busy


ghostofpostapocalive t1_j7heund wrote

Assuming your interpretation is correct, I think this applies to anyone that performs well in sports, if you're a skier, surfer, skater, climber etc. You've definitely had moments where everything links up and you're just reacting. I do believe there are a lot of other things "Flow" can be applied to whether it's writing code giving a speech, or doing a job you are familiar with as examples.


FrankDrakman t1_j7ibjyi wrote

> if you're a skier, surfer, slater, climber etc. You've definitely had moments where everything links up

I've heard from downhill racers that when they have a run where everything links up and there's no hairy moments, they know they've finished twelfth. It's only when they're right on the edge of complete wipeout that they're in contention. Not 'flow' as I understand it.


ghostofpostapocalive t1_j7iehaz wrote

Yeah, I don't think so and I think your hungover golf game is probably a poor example. That seems more like dumb luck, rather than the culmination of your skills/practice coming together for you to perform without thinking and by pure reaction.


zhibr t1_j7jnll3 wrote

Can you provide me a source to the PFC-thing? What I've seen about flow is that it was a description of a phenomenon Csikszentmihalyi found in various interviews. Despite flow being used in social sciences, I never saw well-defined criteria or unambiguous measures for ascertaining whether flow is "actually" happening.