What do the double front somersault, Switch 720 and freestyle backflip have in common?

If you’re like me, any of these stunts would earn you a one-way ticket to six months in a full body cast, compliments of “questionable extreme sports decisions”.

Instead, you watch in amazement as skilled platform divers, skiers and motocross champs perform incredible athletic feats of balance and precision.

As Steven Kotler investigates in his book, “The Rise of the Superhuman,” most people viewed these feats as unattainable.

Impossible. Unachievable. Each trick was its own mythical Four-minute Mile.

Yet, in just a few years, athletes had triumphed over each seemingly insurmountable feat:

1904 – George Sheldon completes a double front somersault at the Olympic games in St. Louis, Missouri. 100 years later, the new “impossible dive” is the reverse four-and-a-half…

1999 – JF Cusson performs a Switch 720 at the first X Games “Big Air” skiing competition. 10 years later, TJ Schiller achieved a Double Cork 1620…

2002 – Travis Pastrana and Mike Metzger both complete a mid air back flip at the 2002 X Games Motocross. Four years later, Pastrana completed the world’s first double back flip on a motorcycle…

How do we go from a mid air backflip (on a motorcycle!) to a double back flip (again, on a freaking motorcycle)? How do these athletes achieve such dizzying displays of performance?

The journey begins with one word: Flow

Like Playing Jazz…

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, best known for advancing the theory of flow, describes it as:

“…being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”

Since most of us aren’t extreme athletes, is it possible to harness flow in our daily lives? If so, how do we attain this level of super performance?

For starters, consider your work and make note of any activities where you feel any of Csikszentmihalyi’s ten elements of flow:

1) Clear goals*
2) Concentration
3) A Loss of the Feeling of Self-consciousness
4) Distorted Sense of Time
5) Direct and Immediate Feedback*
6) Balance between Ability Level and Challenge*
7) Control
8) Intrinsically Rewarding
9) Lack of Awareness
10) Absorption

*Of the ten elements, clear goals, immediate feedback and ability/challenge ratio are considered “conditions for flow.” However, the flow state is a continuum and requires action, so not all elements must be present at the same time.

As Kotler describes, your self-awareness and action merge which prompts the heightened creative, problem-solving state of flow.


Full Immersion, Total Focus, Time is Altered

To help pinpoint a moment when you may have entered a flow state, consider some of your leisure activities.

Maybe you love to write, create music or run marathons. Maybe you enjoy pouring over corporate earnings reports to assess your stock portfolio. Perhaps you can roll up your sleeves and code Python or Java for hours.

Have you ever lost track of time during these activities?

A distorted sense of time during an activity is one of the easiest ways to recognize a potential personal flow state.


A Practical First Step: Discover Your Talents

While we may not always be able to fully articulate our natural talents, we’ve all excelled at certain projects, activities or events at some point.

If we take the time to better understand and focus our talents, we create more opportunities to reach hyper-productive flow states.


Because if we’re using our natural talents, we’re also likely experiencing some of Csikszentmihaly’s key flow elements listed above.

Consider what you feel when you’re engaging your natural talents in an activity. You’re most likely highly absorbed, in total control and fully concentrating. Note that these are also three of the ten elements of flow.

To discover and understand your unique, innate talents check out the Gallup StrengthsFinder 2.0 assessment.

Flow + Talent = Your Personal Breath-taking, Record-breaking Stunts

Now that you’re familiar with the characteristics of flow, be mindful of its power to help you achieve your best work.

While we can’t all be daredevil skiers or sky-bound motocross champs, we can become more of who we already are.

Find and create ways to combine your natural talents with flow states in your own work. If you can do this, you’ll come closer to achieving peak performance in whatever discipline you choose.

Hey, maybe one day you’ll become the record holder of the “Three-minute Mile”…

If you gained some new perspective today, please drop us a line at hello@strengthslauncher.com or sign up for future updates at our StrengthsLauncher blog.

We specialize in helping individuals, teams and organizations maximize their unique talents and would love to hear your story!