03/25/2016 01:06 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Flow State: How to Achieve Your Athletic Potential

By Nick Holt, CPT

What do Michael Jordan, Shaun White, Tony Hawk, and Alex Honnold have in common? Yes, they're all elite athletes in different sports, but how can their incredible athleticism be explained? Author Steve Kotler explores this topic in his book The Rise of Superman. He studied adventure athletes -- surfers, skateboarders, white water kayakers, snowboarders, mountain bikers, etc. -- to find out how they perform as well as they do. What he discovers is that their incredible abilities can be linked to the flow state.

What Is The Flow State?

Source: iStockPhoto

According to Kotler, "Flow is a hyper-focused state. We are so focused on the task at hand that everything else falls away. Action and awareness merge. Time flies. Self vanishes. Performance goes through the roof."

It is the ability to fluidly and frequently enter the flow state that gives elite athletes their edge.

The flow state isn't something exclusive to elite athletes either. If you enjoy playing a sport, have fitness goals, or want to get better at an activity like surfing, rock climbing, dancing, etc., then finding your flow can greatly benefit you.

How To Get Into Flow

There are 17 triggers that induce flow. Here are 3 of the most powerful:

1. High Consequence/Risk Taking

Consequence and risk are powerful stimuli. When your body senses risk, it takes one of two courses of action -- fight or flight. For risk to help you perform better, you have to perceive it as a challenge instead of as danger. You need to be comfortable with, or enjoy the challenge it presents. By using fear to your advantage, you can induce a flow state.

2. Deep, Intense, Singular Focus

In order to get into a flow state, you need long, uninterrupted periods of focus. Think about shooting an arrow at a target. If you want to hit the bulls-eye, you have to eliminate distraction and apply all of your focus to steadying your shot. It takes time to get into the flow state, but it can be ruined by distraction in a fraction of a second. Create a quiet, distraction-free environment to cultivate your flow.

3. Accurate Skill: Challenge Ratio

If you want to take your sport or activity to the next level, you'll need to apply just the right amount of challenge to push your performance. When the challenge is too great, you'll probably get frustrated and won't see much progress. But when it's too easy, you stagnate and never see improvement. You have to identify the sweet spot, which is just slightly above your current skill level. Finding that sweet spot is what gets and keeps your engagement, so you stay focused on the task at hand.

Getting into the flow state can increase your life-quality, make you more present, increase your creativity, improve your performance, and make you feel more alive. Quite simply, it can make you feel superhuman.

Ready to find your flow? The next time you're engaging in your favorite activity, or playing a sport, try to implement one of these triggers. Want to learn more? Check out this article that discusses more the benefits of flow, and shares two more ways to find your flow state.

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