The story of flow.
Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, talk about a hard name to pronounce. The father of positive psychology, Dr. C. developed the concept of flow. Wikipedia defines flow as “the mental state of … energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity”. According to Csíkszentmihályi, flow represents perhaps the ultimate in harnessing the emotions in the service of performing and learning. You might think of it as being “in the zone”.
During my 17+ years of wrestling/bjj/no-gi/martial arts I’ve spent a lot of time learning and internalizing physiology, psychology and nutrition as it relates to sports. Lately, I’ve been bumping into the concept of flow everywhere I look.
I first read about something very similar in The Fighter’s Mind by Sam Sheridan (by the way, read this book! One of the best books I’ve ever read). Sam interviews some of the top fighters in the world and in the process uncovers that during competition and practice they all share a mental state that is well described by the concept of flow. He also correctly notes that it is almost impossible to reach this state, to reach mastery of your sport, without 10,000 hours of practice. I tend to agree.
But recently I stumbled onto an article in NewScientist: “Zap your brain into the zone: Fast track to pure focus“. Apparently the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has a program to accelerate learning. They hook electrodes to your head and zap your brain. This stimulates the same brain waves the scientists see in athletes when they are in the zone. Read the article to learn how exceptionally the author preformed during a sniper exercise when hooked into this brain zapping machine.
It’s a fascinating article, but unfortunately we can’t zap our brain during a BJJ practice (woah, post title repeat!). It wasn’t until an unpleasant loss at a recent no-gi tourny that the wheels started turning in a different direction.
My highschool coach once told me the old adage is wrong, “practice doesn’t make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect”. Don’t just drill your move, drill your move right. Only then are you internalizing the correct way to execute.
So how can I help myself get “in the zone” (help myself flow) during practice and competition?
I can’t use electricity, but maybe science can help me in another way. I started thinking about supplements … there’s supplements out there to give me more energy, to help me lift more weights, but what about the mental aspect?
In my next post, I’m gonna dig a little deeper into the research I did on various herbs and nutrients and how they interact with the brain to help you stay calm and focused during your practices and competitions.