The optimal experience
We?ve all had these games where we are fully immersed in the game. All our focus is in the game, your mind is calm and sharp. You forget about your environment, you lose track of time. Every move you make is perfect, you?re aware of all the little details and you play at the top of your abilities. It produces intense feelings of enjoyment.
If we could, we would stay in this flow state forever. Unfortunately, we can?t. But we can get into the flow state more often with the right approach.
What is flow?
Flow is a concept from Mih?ly Cs?kszentmih?lyi (1975): Flow is the mental state in which a person performing some activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.(Wiki).
one’s mind can attend to only a certain amount of information at a time. According to Csikszentmih?lyi’s this is about 110 bits of information per second. Listening to someone already takes 60 bits a second. That?s why it?s not possible to listen to two persons at the same time.
When one is in the flow state, he is fully emerged in this task, losing awareness of all other things such as time, space, people, distractions and bodily needs. You can probably remember some games where you were in the flow state, and once the game was over you realise how badly you had to pee. The 110 bits of information per second that the mind can attend to was all used for gaming, leaving no room for other pieces of information, such as the urge to pee.
People who have experienced flow, describe the following feelings:(Wiki)
Completely involved in what we are doing ? focused, concentrated.
A sense of ecstasy ? of being outside everyday reality.
Great inner clarity ? knowing what needs to be done, and how well we are doing.
Knowing that the activity is doable ? that our skills are adequate to the task.
A sense of serenity ? no worries about oneself, and a feeling of growing beyond the boundaries of the ego.
Timelessness ? thoroughly focused on the present, hours seem to pass by the minute.
Intrinsic motivation ? whatever produces flow becomes its own reward.
How to get into the flow state?
Now we know what flow is, let?s find out how we can reach this state more often.
?Inducing flow is about the balance between the level of skill and the size of the challenge at hand? Nakamura et al., 2009
When our skill level is low and the challenge level is also low, we feel apathy. When our skill level is medium but the challenge level is low, we feel boredom. When our skill level is low, but the challenge level is high, we feel anxiety. See this photo. The biggest chance to get into the flow state is when our perceived skill level is high and the perceived challenge level is also high.
If we win every game with great ease, we want to find a more challenging environment. If we get destroyed hopelessly, we need to take a step backwards. You want to be in a game where winning or losing is highly dependent on how good you apply your current skill level.
As mentioned before, when we are in the flow state, we lose awareness of all other things such as time, people, bodily needs and distractions. All our attention is focused on a particular task. In order to help ourselves get into the flow state easier, we want to eliminate as much attention demanding elements as possible:
Time | Empty your schedule. Set aside a certain amount of time that you will be gaming. In this period of time you will just focus on gaming. If you decide for yourself that this time is just for gaming, you will not have to worry about doing something else instead, like when to do groceries or do homework.
People | Isolate yourself. Put your phone away and if there?s any negative behaviour in your game, mute those people. Tell your partner, roommates, parents that you don’t want to be disturbed.
Bodily needs | Make sure your bodily needs are fulfilled. Go to the toilet, get something to eat and to drink. Do some light stretches. Proper sleep is also important.
Distractions | Remove any other distractions. Clean your desk, close all your browsers, use a headset if there?s a lot of noise around you. Wear comfortable clothes, don?t dress too warm or too cold.
Journey over destination
To get in the flow state you want to have goals and challenges to motivate yourself. But you don?t want to focus (too much) on results and expectations. This can create resistance such as fear and worry, resulting in playing forced, cramped. There cannot be flow when there is resistance. Give up all expectations, focus on enjoying the game and the journey, don?t be too serious. This way you allow a more natural flow to happen, and you?ll end up winning even more games than when you are very serious!
Calm down your monkey mind
You want to be mentally focused and emotionally calm. Oftentimes the mind is distracted and full of thoughts. You want to be grounded, peaceful, in the moment. If you notice you have a lot of thoughts going on before you start gaming, consider doing a short (5-10 minute) meditation to calm your wandering mind. Also see the warm-up routine.
What if you are in the middle of the game and you feel more and more thoughts coming up?
You don?t want to get rid of your thoughts per se, you want to create a little distance from it, so you are not totally caught up in your thoughts. Doing some simple breathing exercises is a very effective way to help with this.
4-7-8 Breathing (PDF link here)
Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.
Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of 4.
Hold your breath for a count of 7.
Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of 8.
This is one breath. Now inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.
This breathing exercise also helps if you feel too active, too aroused.
If you want to get in the flow state while gaming, remember that your mind can only attend to 110 bits of information per second. All the above giving ideas and techniques focus on making sure your attention is focused on the game. The less your attention is required somewhere else, the more chance you have to get into the flow state.
I hope you liked the read, thanks for taking the time! I?m sure there are more ideas and techniques on how to get into the flow state. Let me know in the comments!
If you like content like this, I’m starting a youtube channel about gaming and mindset.