Flow is a psychological condition described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his book ‘Flow’, published by Harper, 1990. I use flow frequently when writing novels. I am writing this piece to share my enthusiasm for flow as a technique able to improve all kinds of time-limited performances, from playing a musical instrument to acting, dance and gymnastics. A fuller description of flow, used for long distance running, is in my novel Time is Gold, to be published in November 2020.
What is flow? It is not possible to know the feeling of skiing without doing it. It is the same with flow: when you do it you can recall being purposefully absorbed, for example when I write I exclude other thought and apply my skills automatically. If you have ever realised that time has passed timelessly and pleasantly, with a sense of optimal achievement from having used your time well, you were in flow.
Performers may experience flow subconsciously. I hazard that a prolific author like J K Rowland could flow naturally. Flow is a mental condition acquired voluntarily. It is a psychological and spiritual state. Various conditions have been found to nurture it, for example focussing the will on achievement of a definite goal, exclusion of other concerns and application of favourite skills with automaticity. When I am editing my writing, I can work very fast applying complex skills dexterously. Other conditions that promote flow are comfort and absence of distraction. Each writer has their own springboard into flow.
I have extended Mihaly’s flow with my own theory, which I call extreme-flow. Besides enabling optimal achievement, extreme-flow pushes brain activity to capacity limits and causes brain time to dilate. This enables earlier completion of tasks and delays physical aging. When flow is infrequent and brief, the effects would hardly be noticeable. Flow artistes, who cultivate and experience the condition regularly, may be able to stay in flow for hours, or even days, with beneficial performance effects, such as accomplishment of a work of art, with higher performance speed, while staying younger.
To set up extreme flow, a performer requires attention to detail, like a chess player, golfer or snooker player for a difficult play. Everything has to be considered all at once in time that is limited.
When the brain’s traffic of nervous impulses is nearing maximum capacity, flow is predicated to cause time dilation. To respond fast enough, time stretches with fewer, longer seconds. This is time dilation, first described by Albert Einstein in his Theory of Special Relativity, published in 1905. An object travelling very fast and observed from a slower time frame would have dilated time. Thus a writer could respond and finish a task earlier, in ‘extreme-flow’ than by simple reflex reaction. Time dilation has been observed scientifically. Like all psychological theories, extreme-flow cannot be observed, but there is circumstantial evidence.