by Michael Licenblat
When people produce their best results, they talk about being in a state known as 'the zone'.
Put simply, this is a highly productive state of mind and body where you are simultaneously intense and calm, able to focus on the specific whilst monitoring the big picture, all whilst appearing natural and effortless.
For many, however, this state happens by accident and hence they are unable to harness it when needed. Interestingly, the key is not about how to push yourself to achieve more, but rather how to remove the obstacles that stop you from staying in flow. Feeling stressed from a heavy workload, frustrated from an angry client, down from a fight with your spouse or uptight are all symptoms of being out of flow.
When I ran the Shiatsu Centre of Melbourne, I remember one particular client named 'Peter' who was a Kung Fu expert. At the end of each Shiatsu massage, Peter would teach me some Kung Fu (at the time I was studying Japanese karate). He would ask me to throw a punch, to which he would defend with a block and counter strike. Within seconds Peter would have me in a lock or hold where I was unable to defend myself. I was in awe of his skill but became frustrated because of how easily he could control my attacks.
Peter would say, "The problem with you karate folk is that you don't understand flow – you either attack or defend - you don't flow with your opponent."
Peter took a step back and explained, that "In an attack, don't pre-plan a technique or try to achieve an outcome like a lock, hold. Instead, just try to respond to what your opponent does. Allow your body to mould theirs – like water does to a stream."
"But my body just doesn't instinctively move like that", I would say. Peter paused for a moment and replied "Let go of your mind and just respond".
The best martial arts fighters don't think 'how should I defend that punch?' their body just responds. Years of training has created muscle memory so that their bodies just automatically respond to the attack in a way that looks natural and effortless. This is being In Flow.
When you are In Flow in your life, you speak with confidence, you are not bothered by arguments, you connect better with your clients and colleagues, your selling is smoother, your productivity is efficient, and you fall more deeply in love with your partner and kids. Life just works.
There is an old Chinese philosophy that states 'where energy flows, there is health, harmony and happiness – where energy is stagnant, there is disease, pain and suffering'. Many Traditional Chinese Health therapies are based on the premise that energy flows through your body, like water flows along a river. When that flow becomes blocked, we get sick, muscles become tight and emotions fly. As a Shiatsu practitioner, I used this principle of keeping energy flowing to help thousands of people repair their health, pain and energy.
So, how do you achieve flow?
Well, you don't. You don't achieve or make 'flow'. It already exists within you. You have to allow it. You have to remove the obstacles that stop you from being 'in flow'.
For example, worrying about making sales, carrying grudges against team members, family of customers, stewing over your loses, rejections and getting stuck in self pity – all these factors stagnate your energy flow and hinder your ability to be a great accountant, teacher, administrator, team member, leader, manager, spouse, parent, son, CEO, real estate agent, etc.
The three aspects to remove that stagnate flow are RULES, STORIES and OUTCOMES.
Remove the Rules:
You have unspoken 'rules' of how you expect people to behave, etiquette rules, manners, etc. For example 'be polite', 'ladies first', 'say bless you when I sneeze', 'acknowledge drivers who let you into traffic', 'people should respect me', 'people should show interest in me by asking how I am', etc. You believe these rules are right and become frustrated or upset with people who break your rules.
The more rigidity and expectation you place on how people have to respond, the more tension and disappointment you will experience. That tension stagnates your energy flow, because you end up fighting/resisting people that don't behave the way you want them to.
In the martial arts, people don't fight according to your rules. So if you want to survive you have to let go of the rules and go with the flow of what they throw at you. Get into flow by realising your rules and letting as many of them go as you can.
Remove the Stories:
Your story is your well rehearsed set of logical reasons, excuses or conditions that you use when you don't achieve what you want. For example "I don't have enough experience", "I don't have all the facts", "She walked out on me", "It's all too hard right now", "I don't like conflict", "I don't have enough time", "I am just not good enough"....and on they go!
Your story is like a prison. It keeps you stuck in your current reality of life and justifies why your life is where it is. Stories makes it acceptable to be stuck because are often very logical and believable. Stories justify our pain and legitimise our limiting beliefs and ineffective actions. In my case with Peter, I would say "But my body just doesn't instinctively move like that", which gives me permission to not grasp what Peter was trying to teach me.
Your stories create a pattern of tension in your body that stop you from evolving and adapting to new challenges. Get into flow by realising your stories and letting them go.
Remove the Outcomes:
You have expectations on how you want situations, events, projects and plan to turn out. It may be setting goals, writing business plans, setting up a daily 'to do' list, or just planning a car trip. You have outcomes that you want to achieve. That's fine.
When life, however, doesn't go according to your outcomes, you may try and force it to fit in with your plans - which create tension in your system. You will have customers who you were sure would do business with you whom suddenly don't, you will have days when all your agenda/plans are changed within the first 10 minutes of being at your desk, you will have children who take too long to get ready to fit in with your time agenda (I have three very 'time challenged', beautiful kids).
Learn to adapt your plans, your goals, and your objectives to accommodate for the obstacles and obstructions that will get in your way. In martial arts, you cannot enter a fight with a plan to do a block, kick, punch and then a take down, because you cannot predict how your opponent is going to respond to your first attack. Thus, you must be prepared to let go of your plan in order to control, and win, the fight.
Get into flow by letting go of the outcomes you lose control over and just apply yourself, to best of your ability, in the direction in which you want to move.
Develop your BounceBack skills by living into flow like the martial artist. Practice removing rules and expectations from others, let go of your excuses and logical reasons that hold you back, and be prepared to let go of your plans by adapting and responding to whatever life throws at you. Flow already exists within you – you just have to let it happen.
Michael Licenblat B.Sc.(Psych) is a Resilience Expert who helps people in business bounce back fast from pressure, stress and burnout in their work and life. He is a professional speaker, coach and author of three books. To download your free special report on the 'Seven ways to prevent yourself becoming Over-Worked, Stressed-Out, and Run-Down', visit:www.BounceBackFast.com.