In the last post, I wrote about the difference between force and flow energies. In this post I want to discuss ways to find, practice, and increase flow energy. There are two main steps to knowing flow energy more intimately and to cultivating it more committedly: 1) learning flow and practicing it, and 2) mindfulness to the difference between force and flow.
1) Find an activity whose intention is flow energy: yoga, tai chi, mindful walking. An easy entry point is a practice called Yoga Nidra, a yogic practice designed for more restful sleep. In Yoga Nidra we cultivate an energy that is relaxed, but alert, and aware. In essence, we practice dropping deeper and deeper into flow and away from force. Once this practice has become a part of one’s repertoire, we then have a frame of reference for the difference between force and flow.
2) Do things with the intention to do them in flow energy: with this difference in mind, and with mindfulness to force energy, bring yourself back again and again to flow energy. Everything can be flow when practiced as a such. Don’t wash the dishes to get to the next chore. Wash the dishes, as Thich Nhat Hahn has taught us, to wash the dishes. You don’t need to be practicing or performing your sport to practice flow energy, but rather, you can practice it all the time. Turn force into the exception rather than the rule.
3) Make an inventory of things that bring you out of flow (traffic, math tests, interactions with a certain someone, fifth set tie breakers, sprints); where do you rush? Where do you try too hard? When doing them, notice the dislike, discomfort, disease, and try to drop judgment or discontent. Lean into it. Allow it rather than fighting it or pushing through. Try slowing down, evening out the energy, exploring the difficulty or dislike. Enter it.
4) Of course, none of these steps matter if you aren’t breathing diaphragmatically. Learn this and do it all the time. It is the queen of all regulation strategies, and the portal to almighty flow.
Mindfulness to Force Energy is actually an umbrella form of mindfulness that comprises many levels:
1) Mindfulness to force emotions: frustration, impatience, anger, and even frenetic forms of excitement can be windows into the fact that we are in force energy.
2) Mindfulness to force thoughts: angry thoughts, racing thoughts, resentful thoughts, disbelief, rabid competitiveness, enemizing refs, rivals, crowd, and even one’s own entourage are all indicators of force energy.
3) Mindfulness to physical sensations: tension in the shoulders, belly, face; furrowed brow, clenched jaw; heat in the face and forehead; feeling “keyed up,” energized but at several levels too high.
4) Mindlessness to time: time is moving too fast or too slowly. You are rushing where pausing is called for. You are multi-tasking where one-mindedness is called for.
If this all sounds like a big deal, it’s because it is. Not only is force energy associated with bad performance outcomes, but it is often a window into deeper truths about the self. Maybe I am in force energy because I don’t like this activity. Maybe force is masking a confidence gap. Maybe I am in force energy because these are someone else’s goals and values I am representing. I am involved in false-self activity. In force energy I can win, but it will come at a cost. In contrast, it’s very hard to fake flow. If I am doing something that I love, and that resonates with my true self, it is much easier to find flow. If it is flow-syntonic, it is probably self-syntonic. In flow, we perform better because we are articulating something real, true and urgent about ourselves. And these are things we just can’t force.