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The Stages Of A Flow State

Updated: Feb 1

arms raised in a flow state

In addition to being a neurochemical super-cocktail, a Flow State can be broken down into three basic stages. Learning these stages is how I was able to make the connection and understand how I was using the combination of movement and breathing to trigger a peak performance state. 

The concept is pretty simple. There are three stages to a flow state, each one matching up with the Move-Breathe-Flow formula. The first stage is STRUGGLE or CHALLENGE. Think of it this way, if there’s no struggle or challenge, there’s no reason for Flow. In this case, our struggle is MOVEMENT. We want to challenge the body and mind to trigger the first stage of flow. 

There’s an important thing to remember here before we move on to the second stage. We mentioned that if the challenge is too easy there’s no reason for Flow, but we should also mention that if the challenge is too hard, that can also disrupt the potential for Flow. There’s a number connected to this idea, which is 4%. If you think of your physical threshold when it comes to training and effort, that limit where you feel like you can’t push much further, you want to go 4% past that limit. There’s no easy way to measure that 4%, but the main idea is to push yourself just past your limit. A good rule to follow is to go far enough to bend, but not so far that you break. 

bend like bamboo

The second stage of Flow is the RELEASE stage. This can refer to a physical, mental, or emotional release. Of course, each of these depends on the situation. With the Move-Breathe-Flow formula, we’ll focus on a physical release, which is produced by the post-movement BREATH session. Since movement produced the struggle, stage one, the breathing releases us from that physical struggle, therefore setting up the potential for Flow.

But a peak performance state can also be triggered by a mental release in the right situation. For example, if an athlete wants to get in the zone and perform at their best in a high-pressure situation, they need to release their mind from fear and doubt. They have to believe in their ability to perform, and that belief will provide the mental release they need. So in this case, the pressure of the moment provides the struggle, stage 1 of Flow, and the letting go of fear and doubt provides the belief they need to produce the release, stage 2 of Flow. 

The third stage of Flow is the PEAK PERFORMANCE state. If the struggle is great enough, but not too great, and the release is achieved, then the stage is set for a potential Flow State or peak performance state. The beauty of the Move-Breathe-Flow formula, compared to other struggle-release combinations, is that once you lock into the right combination for you, you can repeat that formula and almost guarantee to get the result you’re looking for. I say almost because Flow is a biological process and this formula is not a magic pill. Some experiences will be greater than others, and that’s ok.

What’s important to remember is the more often you repeat the formula, the stronger it gets and the easier it gets to achieve a state of peak performance. Do you have to be an athlete to use movement and breath to tap into Flow. All you need is a willingness to push your limits, challenge yourself, and create the physical release you need by learning how to focus your breathing.

Patrick Sebastien

Performance Coach

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