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One of the greatest challenges to falling into flow are the continuous distractions which occupy our consciousness. Whether it is the uncertainty of sensory feedback or conflicting emotions, they take away from our ability to focus and perform on what we need to, especially when pressure enters the equation.
You know, like when you want to ask someone you like on a date and you’ve prepared what you’re going to say, when you’ll do it, and where. But when the moment comes your cheeks go flush, your palms sweat, you start to shake a bit and when you finally get those words out your mouth, your voice cracks.
Never happened to you? Me neither, but you know what I mean.
A similar experience often occurs to many during presentations or speeches in front of an audience no matter how much you prepared.
Despite incredulous planning for these “performances” it seems to all go out the window as soon as the pressure mounts. These life-changing events are hijacked by your fight or flight stress response even though you aren’t even in danger!
We like to call these responses an evolutionary hangover.
Our body is a product of hundreds of thousands of years of evolution. These responses were what helped our hunter-gatherer ancestors survive the wild threats they lived amongst. The limbic system in our brain is responsible for processing our emotions including the amygdala. A tiny, but powerful part of our brain which purpose is to detect threats and sound the alarm when it registers danger in your environment.
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Especially when getting food. Imagine you’re going to the supermarket to get some food and you encounter a pack of wolves. Without the amygdala to sound the alarm so your body’s sympathetic nervous system can kick in, you would be dead! Another example would be when you’re taking the bus to go home. The door opens and right in front of you, on the bus, is a wild tiger! Your amygdala sounds the alarm and your body is filled with energy and adrenaline, giving you the resources to run away.
Jokes aside, this is actually the level of threat hunter gatherers faced, and precisely what our amygdala evolved to protect us from. No longer so relevant in our modern society, the amygdala does not have such a sophisticated spectrum for reactivity. It sounds the same alarms whether you’re encountering a tiger or forgot your 4 o’clock meeting.
This is why awkward silences we have with others feel awkward, it is our amygdala's response to a threat to our comfort and competence. Our body physiologically responds to this threat like it's a minor emergency. You become tense and your brain starts to overthink at 100mph, “What are they thinking of me?” “Did I say something wrong?” “What do I say next?”.
While these reactions occur constantly in the background to varying intensities, realising that most of our responses are simple and unnecessary evolutionary hangovers is fascinating. The realisation that our emotions are not necessarily ourselves but just reactions to the environment due to our amygdala trying to protect us.
Not only is this realisation critical to finding Flow, but it is also incredibly liberating to your life. You can start to take control of your internal environment. Reign in your emotions and decide how you respond to your own stress responses. Understand that your emotions and physiological responses do not reflect the level of threat you are actually facing. Use this information to take the ropes on your next big performance.
Understanding and controlling your internal environment is critical in the Pathway to Flow. If you’d like to learn more about how it is relevant and how to take your performance from good to the best it could be. Take a look at our online courses and our one-to-one coaching services. The Flow Centre is the leading source of reliable, evidence-based information on Flow and our course material is updated regularly according to cutting-edge research.
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Think less, be more.