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Flow states and flow triggers

Last night, Lynne told a sto­ry about a friend who, upon see­ing movie star James Fran­co in the New York sub­way, expe­ri­enced a feel­ing of ecsta­t­ic clar­i­ty, of time slow­ing down. I don't recall if Csik­szent­mi­ha­lyi cov­ers celebri­ty sight­ings in Flow, but this sounds like a state of flow to me. Wikipedia sums up the flow con­cept as "a men­tal state of oper­a­tion in which the per­son is ful­ly immersed in what he or she is doing by a feel­ing of ener­gized focus, full involve­ment, and suc­cess in the process of the activ­i­ty."Bill DeR­ouchey recent­ly men­tioned the ingre­di­ents that, for him, trig­ger a state of flow: "Bri­an Eno [ed: I'm guess­ing his music here, rather than, say, see­ing him on the sub­way], Koy­aanisqat­si sound­track, iso­la­tion, old rocksteady/ska and (yes) the LOTR tril­o­gy." There was an ensu­ing #flow­state dis­cus­sion on Twitter.David Halberstam's book about the late 70's Port­land Trail­blaz­ers, The Breaks of the Game, con­tains a nice descrip­tion of for­mer Blaz­er Bill Walton's pre-game rit­u­al:

[Wal­ton] loved the day of a game, par­tic­u­lar­ly an impor­tant game. It was a time which belonged com­plete­ly to him, a time pure in its pur­pose. On the day itself, he did not ana­lyze the game, he had done that the night before, thought about the team and the play­er he was going against in the most clin­i­cal way pos­si­ble. The night before was the ana­lyt­i­cal time. The day of the game was dif­fer­ent, it was an emo­tion­al time. He always took a nap on the day of a game, wak­ing up two and a half hours before the game … This was the time in which he felt the rhythm and tem­po of the game, almost like feel­ing a dance of his own. He played his own music, from the Grate­ful Dead … and the music helped, it flowed through him and he thought about the tem­po he want­ed to set and how he could move. He would sit in his home or his hotel room in those hours and actu­al­ly see the game and feel the move­ment of it. Some­times he did it with such accu­ra­cy that a few hours lat­er when he was on the court and the same play­ers made the same moves, it was easy for him because he had already seen it all, had made that move or blocked that shot. He loved that time, he had it all to him­self, he was absorbed in his feel for bas­ket­ball.

An ingre­di­ent to Walton's secret sauce: The Grate­ful Dead. In the same jam fam­i­ly, I would say, as Bill's Phillip Glass go-to, Koyaanisqatsi.All of which of course made me think of my own flow­state trig­gers. The more I think about it, though, my most reli­able trig­ger is run­ning, but a glass of water and the Base­ball Ency­clo­pe­dia also can do the trick. Music is not as essen­tial to me; some­times silence is bet­ter, some­times I need some Ani­mal Col­lec­tive. For Rev­erend Green is pret­ty reli­able.

4 replies on “Flow states and flow triggers”

that is not the sto­ry I told. In the sto­ry I told, my friend was not in a state of flow. She felt like she was on drugs, per­haps with height­ened sen­so­ry aware­ness but not in a state of clar­i­ty. More like sen­so­ry over­load lead­ing to inabil­i­ty to think or func­tion.

I think I am this friend y'all, so let me set the record straight…
I did see James Fran­co on the sub­way, and I did tell Lynne, and I didn't real­ize she was tak­ing my sto­ries and spread­ing them around where they could get onto the inter­net and all… but I am kind of into it, actu­al­ly.

Okay, so yeah, I saw him, up by Colum­bia, and yes, I am a big fan, so I was psy­ched. I was real­ly psy­ched to see him, and up so close and per­son­al. He was about 3 feet away, talk­ing to anoth­er young man. The main fea­ture of the expe­ri­ence was his smile, which is notable for how much it takes over his face and caus­es extreme eye-crin­kles on his eyes. He's real­ly, real­ly crinkly!

But I don't think time slowed down much (maybe a LITTLE) and I don't think every­thing clar­i­fied for me or any­thing. I would say it put me in a real­ly good mood. Like all star-sight­ings, it was a bit of a thrill and put me in a elat­ed state for a few min­utes and an upbeat mood for the next… 24 hours I would esti­mate.

I was total­ly able to think and func­tion, thank you very much.

Hi, Blue, and okay, maybe it wasn't flow. Still, 24 hours of upbeat mood! Not too shab­by. Here's the thing: There have got to be objects in the world that, when observed, ini­ti­ate a state of flow, right? Look­ing at Monet's Waterlilies, or walk­ing into the Sis­tine Chapel and look­ing sky­ward? So I would argue that it is not impos­si­ble that a star-sight­ing, in the right envi­ron­ment, could get you there. Any­one? Any­one?