Finally reaching a state of flow where you respond automatically and correctly to your opponent is the the most amazing feeling in BJJ.
But what can you do to achieve that flow state more often?
In this episode of The Strenuous Life Podcast I describe what flow feels like, and some of the triggers and prerequisites for flow to occur. Hint: relaxation, competence, engaging with your environment, and having a single clear goal without distractions are all important.
Listen to the Episode Here…
If you want to listen then grab episode 197 on Flow using the podcast player that you already have on your phone!
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Here are the links to find the podcast on various players – today’s episode is number 197…
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Or you can just stream the audio here:
1) For more information on recognising and achieving the state of flow check out the book ‘Flow’ by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. It’s a classic!
2) To find out more about the Pressure Passing System instructional I just released with Fabio Gurgel go to Grapplearts.com/pressure
3) And, as always, a rating or a review for this podcast is super appreciated and super helpful!
The full transcription of the podcast is below:
STEPHAN: Today I want to talk to you about flow. Flow is a state of mind that is absolutely wonderful when you get into it. It’s the goal of martial arts training. If you can reach a state of flow, that’s amazing. Before we get started though, I want to talk to you about something else. I want to talk to you about the Pressure Passing System that I’m doing with Fabio Gurgel, it’s available right now at www.grapplearts.com/pressure. This is an approach to passing that doesn’t rely on speed, doesn’t rely on agility, doesn’t rely on athleticism. It relies on knowledge: positioning yourself in such way that you’re low, harder to sweep, harder to submit, harder to tangle up in those new-fangled guards. If you’re on your knees then it’s much much harder to get you in worm guard, it’s much harder to get you in De La Riva.
There are really only a few types of guards a guy can use if you’re on your knees – he can use spider guard, closed guard, basic feet-on-the-hips guard, half guard, butterfly guard, and now we’re beginning to run out of guardS that he can use. So there’s less for you to deal with and if you can figure out for each of those guards how to get into one of a few different passing positions, you can put a ton of weight onto your opponent, you can slow him down, you can burn out his legs and you can crush him. I’m really excited because I just got an endorsement of Fabio Gurgel’s Pressure Passing from Bruno Malfacine. Bruno is a ten times World Champion. That is insane, that is incredible. He’s also a six time PanAm Champion, a four time Brazillian National Champion, the guy’s a wizard. And here’s what he says – he’s a light guy – and here is him endorsing Fabio’s Pressure Passing. I am going to quote.
“As a rooster weight, I love to use my speed in guard passing. But often speed isn’t enough and therefore, sometimes a strategy change is necessary. That’s when I use all the guard passes, pressure positions and tricks from the top position that I learned over the years from Fabio Gurgel. I don’t consider myself a normal rooster weight, and this has a lot to do with my style of game. Of course I have the unique characteristics and skills that the lightweight division requires, however I have no doubt in my mind that what really makes me a different competitor is absorbing and adapting Fabio’s knowledge and teaching into my game. I find that many people are surprised by my top pressure game, but it all makes sense when they remember from whom I learned this from. I am 100% sure this instruction is going to take people’s guard passes to the next level and I’m not only talking about the big guys but also the small guys like me who will benefit a lot, just like I did.”
Thank you Bruno Malfacine. Thank you, you guys, for checking it out, www.grapplearts.com/pressure and now let’s get onto the podcast.
Have you ever had a day on the mats or any other sport for that matter where everything worked perfectly? Or even one match where everything went perfectly, or even a short segment of a match against a difficult person where it felt like you were on auto pilot, where you were just observing yourself doing all the right things and being a step ahead of the other guy. If you’ve had this experience you’ve likely been in a state of flow. Maybe for 10 seconds, maybe for 10 minutes, maybe for 10 hours. I was just listening to an interview with Colin O’Brady, a guy who just skied across Antarctica which took more than 50 days. And he said that those days and days and days of staring down at his compass, trudging into the white, put him into the deepest state of flow that he’d ever experienced.
Now, I’m not saying you’re going to get into that deep of state of flow – it would be wonderful if you could, but not everybody can achieve it. And you can’t achieve it on a predictable basis, maybe you’d have to go to Antarctica to achieve that deep a level of flow. But one of the characteristics of this, the times that I’ve experienced it, is that time changes. And it’s a contradiction because it both speeds up and slows down. I’ve had times in kickboxing and sparring where I’ve closed the distance, swept the guy’s foot out, hit him in midair and that 5 second segment slowed down, it was like watching the whole thing in slow motion. So in that case, time stretched. Time slowed down for me and I could just see every detail as it happened. Other times I’ve been sparring, I’ve been rolling and I look up and it’s like, 5 minutes have gone by? But no it’s been an entire hour. You’re just so engrossed in the activity that you lose track of time.
So time distortion is very common – things can slow down or things can speed up. You’re there, you’re doing it and what feels like ten minutes later is an hour or two hours later. That’s a really good sign that you’re in a state of flow. It’s also pleasurable. You feel really good when you’re in flow. Everything is clicking, everything is working. We all like feeling and performing at our best so it’s surprising that this is going to be a good feeling. Now when people talk about flow they always reference a book by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Now if you take a look at the name Csikszentmihalyi spelled out, it’s an insane jumble of letters, I always think of it as Chick-Sent-Me-Hi. A chick sent me a hi message on some dating sight, or a chick sent me a hi because she gave me too many drugs, I don’t know. Chick sent me a hi. And he wrote a book called Flow which was the seminal work in this area, this has inspired so many athletes and so many performance experts to talk about and have a vocabulary for discussing flow. And I’ve read it, years ago, I’ve read it several times as a matter of fact. And I’m just going to talk about things I remember from that book that are useful to get into Flow.
First of all there has to be a certain degree of relaxation. If you are stressed out of your mind, if you are totally tense, if you’re not relaxed it’s going to be very very difficult to get into flow. Even if your sport or activity does require a certain level of activation of stress, of physical exertion, if there can be a mental relaxation built into it, that can be very conducive for entering into the state of flow. Fortunately, this is based on knowing what you are doing. If you have no idea what you’re doing the odds of you entering into a flow state, of being relaxed enough to enter into a flow state, are almost zero. You have to know the parameters of the activity and be good enough AT that activity. So you can both be doing it and be relaxed, at some level, at the same time. That’s not going to guarantee that you get there but I can guarantee if you’re not relaxed, you are not going to get there.
It involves letting go of ego, ironically, in order to perform better. You have to stop caring about how you’re performing. Because if you’re totally freaked out and just deadly concerned about what everyone else is thinking when they’re looking at you, are they laughing at you, are they judging you? You are not going to be able to relax enough to get into that optimal state of performance. Another aspect of flow is that you’re not shut off from the world. You know, the times I’ve entered it sparring, kickboxing, Jiu-Jitsu, paddling – there is continuous feedback. When you are doing Jiu-Jitsu, your body is absorbing thousands of pieces of information every second. Is there more weight on your left knee or your right knee; is your left toe out of position or is your right toe out of position; is the guy’s hand moving up your lapel, or down the lapel; is he grabbing your wrist with three fingers or four fingers? All of this is information that is coming at you from every direction.
Similarly, when you’re paddling, when you’re in a set of rapids, there is a ton of information. You feel the wind on your face, do you listen to that or do you ignore it? You see waves all over the place, there is a ton of visual input, but because you have some experience paddling you know which ways to ignore. You know where you’re not going to end up so you don’t even need to worry about what’s over there. You’re looking at rocks, are those rocks relevant? Are you going to hit them, are you not going to hit them? If you hit them are you going to slide over them? Are you going to be able to tuck in behind them and do an eddy turn and hide? Is there a current, is that current relevant to what you’re doing? There is tons of information coming in, not all of it is relevant but you’re not off in your own little world. You are very much engaged with the world.
When you’re grappling you’re not ignoring your opponent, you’re very much engaged with him. If you’re kickboxing you’re not ignoring your opponent or you’re going to get punched in the nose – you’re very much engaged with him. So there is a feedback mechanism between you and the world going on and the better you are at processing that information I think the easier it is to get into that state of flow.
I think knowing what the goal is, is important for flow. If you’re just going to the office and you’ve got a list of 35 different things to do and you’re trying to do all of them at the same time then you’re not going to be in a state of flow. You’re going to be incurring transition costs as you transition from one task to the other and then you’re worrying about the other task and then your Instagram goes off as you’re checking your Facebook, from the corner of your eye you see more emails come in…If you’re being bombarded with different tasks at the same time, it’s going to be really difficult. If you’ve got any chance of obtaining that state of flow you need to be focused on that task.
I’ll use a different analogy here. With Grapplearts, I am often working on a video script or I’m often working on an article to publish on Grapplearts. I often actually have to leave my own house, I have to leave my own house and go to the library, go to the community centre – why? I have got an office. I’ve got tons of computers here. You know what else I have? I’ve got kids. I’ve got a needy cat. People come to the front door, people wanting stuff from me, “Hey I just wanted to ask you this, can we –“ No. I’m trying to create that mental white space. By creating that mental white space it means I can focus on one thing. I’m not focusing on 10 million different things. By having that white space I can focus on one goal. I don’t have 10 million other goals intruding upon my consciousness. 10 million of other people’s goals, their goal to get my attention to try to sell me a better internet connection, their goal to get my attention to ask if they can be driven to school early the next day, their goal to get my attention to refill the cat food bowl. That’s their goals. I’m trying to focus on one goal and this idea of mental white space is so important to me recently.
I think I was better at ignoring incoming demands for attention when I was younger, for some reason I’m not as good at it now. And the amazing thing is if I can create that white space for me, if I can turn off my phone, if I can go somewhere where I’m not going to be interrupted. Whether that’s my office, whether that’s the library, whether that’s the chair in the lobby of the community centre. I can get so much more work done. I can get done in an hour what would take me four fragmented hours, normally, to do. And it will be better quality. So it’s that idea of having a single goal and not being bombarded by other goals and other requests. You do need feedback from the outside world but it needs to be feedback related to that goal.
In the canoeing example, I’m going down the river. I need feedback from the river, I need feedback from the rocks, the water and the wind. I need to hear the noise of the rapids. You know what I don’t need? I don’t need somebody calling me on the phone. I don’t need somebody texting me and demanding a response right then. That’s not related to the goal. It’s that white space with that single clear goal that’s within it.
Similarly, in Jiu-Jitsu class, do Jiu-Jitsu, don’t run off and update your Instagram every 5 minutes. Do that at the beginning of class, do that at the end of class. Class is for class. It’s for focusing. And I actually think that’s one of the things that makes Jiu-Jitsu such an addictive behavior. Because when you are going and when you are rolling and when you are sparring, the only thing that you’re really worried about is the other guy. You’re not worried about whether the cat bowl is full of food. You’re not worried about how the Avengers are going to defeat Thanos in the Avengers End Game. You’re not worried about getting that report done at the office – you’re just worried about not getting choked. You’re worried about one thing. Your mind is on one thing. You’re not getting distracted. So it’s very common to get off the mat and go, you know what, I didn’t think about anything else other than choking people and not getting choked. Other than passing the guard and not having my guard passed, for the last hour. So yeah, my body is beaten up and tired and sore but my mind, it’s been like a vacation because I haven’t thought about all those other things.
So I think that that’s an amazing aspect of being in flow, to some greater or lesser degree. I hope you’ve experienced this in your own life. It’s really quit an amazing feeling and if you want to read the seminal book on it, go check out a book called Flow. It’s by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Really is an amazing book, it’s got tons of examples from different fields. But if you do Jiu-Jitsu many of these other examples will seem familiar to you, many of the triggers to enter flow will make sense, and I think it’s just a fascinating read because being in the moment really is a wonderful thing.