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The Flow State And Achieving Optimal Performance

Imagine you’re learning to fly a plane. You’ve decided where you’re flying to, set up your flight plan and are in the air. 

Everything is going smoothly. You’re cruising around, totally lost in dreams of where you’re flying to next. In the back of your mind there is however the nagging worry at the cost of the flying lessons you’re taking and the hole they’re leaving in your wallet. 

Putting these worries and future decisions to be made out of your mind you decide it’s time to kick back and enjoy the view, so you flip the autopilot on.

In contrast to your dreaming of future events and worrying about potential problems, the autopilot has zero decision making ability at the creative level and zero ability to stress. It cannot decide where the plane’s going or why, how many passengers are onboard, what time it leaves, it cannot log a flight plan or ensure that all the visual pre flight checks have been done etc…

The Flow State

It’s the pilots job to ensure all this is done…

The autopilot makes decisions based on it pre programmed sub routines. It has no ability to think creatively, to worry about finances or have an existential crisis…it’s pure action.  This action is expressed through the plane. 

Thus the autopilots performance and the handling characteristics of the plane are irrevocably linked. 

That is to say, it cannot turn, climb or dive quicker than the airframe can handle. It can only go as fast as the engines will allow.

I know this is pretty obvious, but hold it in the back of your mind, it’ll be important later.

When you want to go flying, it’s YOUR pilot who gets you there. It gets you to the airstrip, checks the conditions are ok and does all the pre flight checks. 

Very often in an average flight it will be in control most of the time. But…

Let’s say weather conditions suddenly change and a massive storm blows up with zero visibility and 50 knot winds. An event WAY beyond your conscious ability or experience to handle. This normally results in panic and a whole host of problems, but…

At this point something incredible can happen…

Your autopilot can kick in automatically.

How well it handles the situation will depend on several factors. 

  • How well installed its pre programmed sub routines are.  (how deeply the skill is embedded)
  • How may subroutines it has and how flexible its subroutines are. (how much experience you have of the situation)
  • How well the actual hardware can cope with the demands of the current situation. (Your stress response, mindset and mental resilience)
  • The inbuilt performance limitations of the hardware (your body) it is driving. (How fit and strong you are, how fast your reflexes are, your ability to resist injury)

If the challenge/skill ratio is perfect and your hardware is capable of doing what is asked of it, you will experience a flow state experience. Where control is handed over to your autopilot and it deals effortlessly and brilliantly with the situation. 

If the challenge/skill ratio is too great or the hardware isn’t up to the task… 

Flow through the storm

You’ll likely crash and burn!!

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Going back to our story…

If in the middle of this storm, your pilot tried to wrestle back control from your autopilot…you’d once again find yourself in a situation which is way beyond your pilot’s skill level to control. With a similar unpleasant end to that seen if your autopilot isn’t up to the task. 

Pilot interference throws the autopilot right off.

Note how, at no point in any of the process, did the autopilot have a decision to make. 

It’s called in to action by subroutines we still don’t fully understand. But once it’s called upon it’s pure action. Action only concerned with this exact moment. 

It doesn’t care about the future or the past. About what you’re having for tea or if you’re generally happy with your existence…it doesn’t give a shit. 

It is ONLY concerned with right now, with this instant. 

And thank God it is, if it isn’t, you’re dead…

Being able to hardwire skills into your autopilot faster, having more subroutines and then upgrading your hardware so it can execute these subroutines better…

This is the secret to peak performance. 

The more times you can have these autopilot experiences the faster you’ll progress, the more you’ll enjoy the activity you’re doing (as it’s a highly addictive experience) the less likely you are to suffer from mental illness and the greater your general level of health. You’ll be happier and more satisfied with life!

Isn’t it time you upgraded your autopilot?


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