Bags' Flavours of Flow - A guest blog post by Steve Bags.
By Tim Marston, 28 October 2011 –
Bags' Flavours of Flow
Flow is an extremely important concept in object manipulation and in life. In this article I'm going to describe how I see and understand flow based on my personal experiences, research and discussions with others. To make this easier to understand I've split flow into three different types or "flavours" which have different attributes.
This article specifically applies to the so-called "flow arts" such as poi, staff, hoop, contact and juggling but at the same time it could apply to almost any activity from reading a book to driving a car. It is important to note that I'm not conferring any spiritual or otherworldly properties to flow, I'm simply using it to refer to different states of the mind. The activity could be a positive one or an entirely negative one. Here I'm referring to "flow" as an internal state as opposed to an external one - by this I mean it is how someone feels rather than how they look.
There are a few properties that all three flavours of flow seem to share. Firstly when flowing you are not focussed on how to do specific tricks or how to move from one trick to another. Flow requires a certain level of skill and comfort with the prop so attention can be taken away from the actual mechanics of the skill itself. This can be as simple as just keeping a hoop spinning on the waist or it can be incredibly complicated depending on your level of skill. To clarify: you are focussed on WHAT you are doing but not on HOW you are doing it. Many people find that one of the most important elements of flow can be music. It can be a useful tool to help draw your attention away from the specific mechanics of what you are doing (although flow is possible without music.)
This takes us to what I refer to as the basic or vanilla flow. It is the experience of feeling that you are in control of what's going on but do not need to devote all your attention to how you are doing it. In this state I'm often more focussed on the music and enjoying dancing around. It's all about letting go and relaxing into it. I'm aware of myself and my prop and feel a sense of enjoyment based around my skill.
The next extreme I refer to as mint flow. It is where you continue to spin but become distracted by thoughts of other things. It is sometimes described as "zoning out" so your attention is completely removed from the activity you are engaged in but you keep doing it as if on autopilot. This state ends when you realise you are still spinning and is often accompanied by not knowing how long you've been "zoned out" for. It can be a very creative state of mind because, like daydreaming, it allows you to focus internally and access your sub-conscious mind. So although you aren't focussed on your actual spinning you could be daydreaming about new tricks you hadn't previously thought of. Personally I have some of my best ideas while in this state.
The final extreme I call chocolate flow. For most people this is the hardest type of flow to access and the most extreme. Unlike mint flow where your attention becomes distracted from the prop and your body ("zoned out"), in chocolate flow your mind is completely focussed on the prop and your body or to put it another way "zoned in". But as with vanilla flow it's not focussed on the mechanics of what you're doing. In fact, because your attention is so completely consumed with the task there no longer is any "you". All your attention is on the task and that leaves no space for thinking about your body, your surroundings or the passage of time. This flavour of flow is analogous to meditation where you can entirely lose track of the self. While you are actually in this state there is no space in your head for thoughts or emotion but after you come out of this state there is a definite pleasant feeling of happiness and well-being. This is the type of flow I experience least but it is in many ways the most rewarding.
Chocolate flow (zoned-in) has a lot in common with states discussed in Eastern philosophies such as Samadhi, Samyama and Mushin. Also psychologists such as Abraham Maslow (he calls it a type of "peak experience") and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi have done a lot of research into it. For instance Mihali reckons that people who regularly have access to it lead happier lives compared to those who do not. He suggests that statistically it's a far better indicator of happiness then things like material wealth where as long as you have enough money to live comfortably any more will not necessarily bring you any further happiness.
The flavours can all be experienced at various strengths, which is where they start to overlap. With vanilla flow as you get more into it you can progress into a more chocolatey flow state where you are less aware of your self and more focussed on your prop. Or from a vanilla state you can enter a more minty flow if you start thinking less about spinning and become more focussed on your thoughts. However, the full mint and chocolate states are very different and are a big step up. For example there is a definite difference between an intense chocolatey-vanilla flow and a full blown chocolate flow and you certainly notice when you hit the full state. To use the analogy of sex: waggling your bits about can be an awful lot of fun but you KNOW when you've had an orgasm.
It might help to describe these flavours of flow in a completely different activity such as book reading. When you are reading a book but are really having to concentrate on it and keep finding confusing words which make it difficult to understand then you aren't really flowing with it. If you are reading and really enjoying it, not thinking about the meanings of individual words but instead getting involved in the story then that is vanilla flow. If you start to "zone out"and think about other things then realise you're half-way down the page and have no idea what you've just read then that's mint flow (which could be negative if it distracts from a task or positive if used creatively). Finally if you get so absorbed in the book that you become the characters and are living the story and there is no longer any "you" or book just the experience and when you come out of this state you have no idea how much time has passed then then that is chocolate flow.
It is interesting that it seems to be possible to access chocolate flow by extremes of emotion or exertion. For example, if you're driving and you almost have an accident then sometimes you are instantly catapulted into a state of mind where time slows and you are fully focussed on what's happening without seeming to have any conscious control over it. Similarly there is a phenomenon known as "runner's high" which involves an extreme level of exertion (often after running twenty or thirty miles) where you completely lose yourself and feel outside of your own body. The "high" is then felt after the actual experience.
So to conclude I believe you can split flow into three different flavours that I'm referring to as vanilla, mint and chocolate. If people find this model useful then in future articles I'll discuss exercises for how I think you can access these different flow states. It is interesting to note that some people reckon when you get good enough at flow you can apply it to almost every aspect of life.
Interesting Links (mostly looking at "chocolate flow")
This is the wikipedia article on flow.
This is the wikipedia article on peak experience.
A great TED talk from Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi on flow.
Richard Hartnell's short video on "The Meaning of Flow".
Ronnie O'Sullivan doing the fastest 147 in history.
There you go guys, some more words of wisdom from the world famous guru that is Steve Bags.
You can check out his YouTube channel here, add him as a friend here, or read his slightly less serious post on how to become a guru here.
Steve Bags has just launched a great new website for hoopers you can check it out on this link
Online Hooping Classes
Your comments would be appreciated below...Especially if you totally disagree and want to have a heated debate about flow or ice cream or anything else for that matter.
There is also a “like” button below, please click on it as Bags has a very fragile ego and the number of “like's” this post has will affect his self esteem for many months to come.
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