How Pushing Your Body To The Limit Increases Your Flow, Creativity & Growth

01. September 2017

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How Pushing Your Body To The Limit Increases Your Flow, Creativity & Growth

What if – besides the endless benefits associated with training your physical fitness, you could experience states of unbounded creativity, passion and clarity that you’d be able to apply in your business and life?

That’s exactly what you can achieve by embracing intensity in the training room – and we’ll teach you how to combine the powerful principles of flow to allow you to reap benefits far and above how you look in the mirror.

As entrepreneurs, we’re always looking for ways to maximize leverage and our time with our productivity and businesses, yet we often forget to utilize these principles in the other areas of our lives that can have as much, if not more impact over the long-term.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, often coined the “grandfather” of flow state research, defines flow as a state that is linked to deep-rooted fulfillment:

“A state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience is so enjoyable that people will continue to do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it[1].”

Sounds cool – but how does that apply to us when we’ve got 30 minutes to get our workout in and we’ve got a ton on our mind?

Below, we’re going to identify the core components of achieving these flow states that you can take into your health and fitness journey – starting today.

No matter if you’re experienced or simply starting out, you can achieve this powerful state if you consistently apply the principles we’ve outlined.

Be So Intensely Focused And Present, Nothing Else Matters

Go to your local gym these days – and you’ve got trainers sending text messages, packs of women thumbing through Snapchat filters and TV’s blaring at every angle.

Presence, then – becomes the most important factor in getting you towards a flow like state.

Without presence, you’ll succumb to the instant stimulus and reward loop we’re all associated with that takes us farther away from our goals – not closer.

When you’re on the training floor, “be” there fully. In other words, don’t be thinking about your relationship, the tasks you must do or what your friend said at dinner three weeks ago.

The only moment that matters is right now – not the prior rep or the one that’s coming next.

Seek And Embrace The Challenge & Struggle

A key component of flow states is to stretch yourself to a place of challenge – and find a fine line where you’re growing, yet not jumping fully off the edge.

Think about the guy at your gym you’ve seen for years who does the same routine every single time and yet looks the same: nothing has changed.

The reason is simple:

They’ve adapted to the same stimulus over and over, and are no longer being challenged.

In the physical context, you’ll know you’re pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone enough when you’re wanting to quit, or pull back on your exertion level – that’s where you want to spend more of your time.

Seeking the challenge will begin to re-wire your brain and flex a neurological muscle that will not only help you in the gym – but during a client meeting later in the day or during a disagreement with your girlfriend or wife.

Step Into Your Breaking Point, Then Back Off

 Anyone can go to the gym and annihilate their body, leaving themselves sore and walking sideways for weeks.

However, when you’re truly in tune and have followed the prior steps in terms of presence, awareness and challenge – you notice when you’re stepping into your breaking point.

To achieve flow states, we must put ourselves in dangerous and risky circumstances, as Steven Kotler describes in his brilliant book, The Rise Of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance:

“Rather, it often involved painful, risky, difficult activities that stretched the person’s capacity and involved an element of novelty and discovery[2].” 

An important distinction is to remember risk is relative to your experience, background, time spent performing an activity and more.

To someone who is less experienced in fitness and training, risk may involve performing an outdoor hike – while for someone experienced that may be another typical session or even a recovery state.

Think of this concept not as an either/or but more like a dance – you step in and out of your breaking point and pull back at just the right time for some recovery, and then go right back into it.

Drown Out The Voices, And Go Within

 If you’ve done the above correctly, the combination of risk, challenge, presence and endorphins begin to flood your brain and the voices of doubt start to dissipate at a faster rate.

This is an abundant and powerful state where you begin to acknowledge everything as a possibility.

In this place, there is an inflection point where the challenge, risk and struggle start to become very fun.

Not just any type of fun – but a feeling of being truly alive, in the moment and seeing your reality in a new way.

Kotler describes this neurological cocktail that is common in these states:

“The brain produces a giant cascade of neurochemistry. You get norepinephrine, dopamine, anandamide, serotonin and endorphins. All five of these are performance enhancing neurochemicals.”

 You’ll notice you’ve achieved this state with the following feedback mechanisms:

  • Time seems to disappear. You’re no longer thinking about it, you’re simply in the moment.
  • You feel insatiably creative. Ideas and patterns of thinking that you normally don’t experience are flooding in.
  • The activity seems effortless. At the start, it was challenging – now it’s effortless in execution.

Once you’re in this place, you want to stay if possible, and you will – because the constructs of time have fallen by the wayside and you’re simply in the moment, embracing the intensity of the experience.

Energy In Motion, Using It Wisely

Because of the intense feelings in this state, it’s a must that while you are present in the moment, you’re also mentally recording the ideas, feelings and breakthroughs that are occurring.

The optimal way to make this happen is to set yourself up for success with a strategic plan following the activity or experience.

Depending on the person, this may look completely different, but here is what I’ve found works best:

  • Intentional breathing. Post-activity intentional breathing keeps you in this creative zone – use the SEAL Fit method of “box breathing[3].”
  • Journaling or recording. We often believe we’ll remember our insights later – but this is rarely the case. Journaling our ideas in the moment through writing, audio recording or another method is crucial to refer to.
  • Disconnect your senses. Closing your eyes, or changing your environment to a room with no lights can help you translate your insights into actionable steps for your day, week, month or year.

Moving Into The Rest Of Life

Although we’ve used flow in the context of physical training in this piece, it can transcend and be used in all areas of life.

The physical, per psychologist Abraham Maslow – is always the easiest entry point to access these states[4].

If the above sounds foreign to you – it’s okay. The great news about flow is the following:

The more often you experience these heightened states, the easier it is to get back into them.

Early on, you’ll likely experience challenges getting into the state, and that’s when the requirement of patience comes in.

The more you practice getting there, however – the easier it will get and you’ll get to a point where it can be as seamless as choosing to enter these states.

You’ll be able to use your physical fitness as a catalyst, but also enter these states when you’re at work, in a deep conversation or in an immersive learning experience.

The ROI Of Flow Is Endless

Most businesses thought and execution occurs in the part of our brains that is fueled by logical thinking and reason.

As you may have known, this is not a place where creativity thrives – and few breakthroughs occur.

The benefits of this state for business and life are endless – and include a deep-rooted feeling of connectedness, creativity, passion, energy, enthusiasm and love for one’s craft and mission in life.

Have You Experienced Flow?

 Now that you have the principles in place, reflect on your life to periods where you’ve experienced these states.

We’d love to hear from you – post to comments!

 References & Links

[1] Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (1990). Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York, NY: Harper and Row.

[2] Kotler, Steven: The Rise Of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance.

[3] Box Breathing and Meditation Technique w/ Mark Divine of SealFit – TechniqueWOD:

[4] Maslow, A. H. (1962). Towards a psychology of being. Princeton: D. Van Nostrand Company.


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