Pick a moment of time in your life when everything was clicking, when you were really in the zone. You lost track of time and lost yourself in the moment. You were manifesting your best self and whatever you were working on was really working. This state of optimal experience is called flow and while in flow we are releasing whatever good thing we have in us to create. What's at the door of your consciousness that wants out?
In my second year of university and my second year of ice climbing, I went out with a schoolmate to climb a frozen waterfall in the Grotto Canyon called "His" (not surprisingly next to "hers"). Both climbs are relatively short at 25 meters but His is notoriously difficult, dangerous and dubious.
On the walk in, up a frozen creek bed, the route came into view around the steep, polished walls of the canyon. As we got closer to the pillar, I saw an ice screw that a previous climber had left in part way up. As an impoverished student, I always appreciated finding new-looking climbing gear, but as I approached the base of the pitch I learned why the screw was left abandoned: there were streaks of blood soaked into the lacy icicles, brutal evidence of a serious leader fall.
I got to the top of the climb and asked my partner how long I had been climbing. "Two and a half hours." I had no idea and no perception of the passage of time. That short stretch of potential doom and death was the only thing on my mind. I felt gloriously refreshed.
I experience flow on road trips writing in the passenger seat, not noticing 5 hours going by. I feel it on stage speaking, singing in the car, mountain biking and in coaching sessions where one person says after several hours of intense conversation, "wow, where did the time go?"
(The video I've attached of Alex Honnold's free solo ascent of a Yosemite big wall is one of the most visceral illustrations of what it takes to get into flow and is well worth the 11:47 minutes.)
The psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihali*–coined the term "flow" to describe the state of optimal experience we are all familiar with. Athletes know it as the zone state and it's where we often perform at our best. There are many components to the experience and create of flow–and a whole book on it worth a read–but two practical ones stand out for me: skill level and challenge level.
Flow occurs when we choose a challenge just outside of our skill level.
Flow is the product of rising to the challenge. But since it takes some time to develop our skills, we often feel anxiety while we are developing this capacity. Then we tend to feel that electric feeling of excitement, of being really alive, until we get so good at overcoming the challenge and we start to feel boredom.
Boredom and anxiety are triggers for a lot of addictive and overreactive behaviour, but the solution is really simple: if you are bored, identify and engage the next level of challenge (not to little and not to big); if you are anxious get some training, mentoring, coaching or other form of support to develop your skills and capacity. And then don't forget that the cycle repeats itself.
The economic pay-offs of mastering the personal flow cycle are idea flow, deal flow and ultimately cashflow.
*phonetically his name is "me high cheek sent me high" (Can you imagine having to spell and pronounce that name your whole life? It took me years to learn both.)