Some Food For Thought...
A critical factor which determines your ability to get into your Flow state is your attentional focus i.e. what is the focus of your attention when carrying out a task.
So what is the best way to get into your Flow state? It depends on the physical task you are trying to carry out. There are many life skills you learn to perform in a state of physical flow naturally from riding a bicycle, driving a car or making a sandwich. You don't have to 'work' at getting into the flow state. You perform these tasks FREE from conscious control of your actions, trusting your non-conscious mind (sometimes where your life is at risk!) to draw upon previously developed procedural memories.
Whilst driving the car, riding a bicycle or making a sandwich, your conscious mind can be occupied with many erroneous thoughts whilst your non-conscious mind manages your physical actions. A significant psychological challenge occurs when you engage in activities which require you demonstrate the mental skill of Single Pointed Concentration i.e. target oriented sporting activities like golf, shooting and archery. You can not focus your attention whilst erroneous thoughts run through your mind.
However, as soon as you involve the conscious mind in your physical movement flow is lost, which is what happens when you are learning to acquire new motor skill patterns or trying to play golf with swing thoughts. It is only when you switch your attention from internal to an external focus that you can experience the state of flow within your physical actions. So how can you experience flow in your putting stroke and golf swing whilst trying to control it? Can you ever TRUST your technique and play golf free of swing thoughts and conscious control of your physical actions?
A recent theory from sports science suggests that mastery is acquired through deliberate practice and you need approx 10,000 hours of this practice to become expert at a skill. How long did it take you to learn to drive a car do you think? 40 hours? It is not the number of hours of practice which is key to mastery but what the focus of your attention is on during those hours which ultimately determines your ability to perform. The quicker you understand how to make the shift from internal to external focus, the faster you will acquire the motor skills required to perform.
Tim Gallwey advocates in the Inner Game of Golf the use of self talk techniques like 'back, hit' which help you develop a self awareness and a natural golf swing. These techniques actually promote an external focus and occupy your conscious mind enabling the non-conscious mind to manage your physical movement. Unfortunately, your attention can not be on Target whilst you are occupying your attention with swing commands but they are useful when developing a new memory for movement.
Taking this learning concept to the next level, Dr Anthony Piparo has developed a comprehensive training system for golfers which not only expedites the rate at which you acquire motor skills but also trains your attentional focus appropriately whilst doing so. His work is the missing link in golf swing education which uniquely binds the mind to the body when learning new motor skills. It is essential to train the mind and body simultaneously or your conscious thoughts will be inhibiting your progress.
It is important to understand that this shift of attentional focus from internal to external happens AUTOMATICALLY and NATURALLY in many life skills. Unfortunately, this natural shift is inhibited by existing golf coaching practices worldwide which do not systematically explain attentional focus when learning, practicing and playing. You will have already discovered that a life time spent focused on your technique in practice denies you the opportunity to access the performance state consistently.
Clearly, golfers do experience their flow state occasionally (it's what keeps us going back for more) but ultimately it is with no real comprehension of why it happened or how to get back their consistently when required. "It was one of those days when I was in the Zone!" is commonly heard on the 19th hole. Does golf performance really have to be so 'hit and miss'? What if your performance state was accessible on demand? It can be when you understand how to control your attentional focus.
Unfortunately you can't access your flow state, on demand, in competition if you don't learn how to access your flow state in practice, on demand. You actually have to change the way you practice in order to change the way you wish to play. This involves you wanting to learn how to give up conscious control of your physical actions and fixate your attentional focus on a singular, external focus. What is the one thing which provides the solution to both of these challenges? The Target.
You may have been lead to believe that the Target creates anxiety and once aligned to it you should not have to pay any further attention to it. Go and throw a ball at a target and see how much anxiety exists. None. It is Outcome Orientation which creates anxiety and few appreciate the critical difference. This leaves many trying to play golf like a child plays the party game pin the tail on the donkey. However, the blindfold will not be physical but mental. Scores will be frustratingly inconsistent.
Take time to learn how to develop quiet eyes AND a quiet mind. Flow on demand.