The Flow State [Q & A With Olympian Surfer Cody Young]
We've all likely stumbled upon a mention or two of the enigmatic concept known as the Flow State - commonly referred to as (but seemingly more than) 'being in the zone'. As world record-holder Colin O'Brady phrases his particular experience:
“I ended up being in this timeless, spaceless place in my mind of true high performance that was almost like the most deepest, peaceful meditative state that I could possibly imagine. It was very profound and beautiful to get there in my mind.” — Colin O'Brady
“The brain produces a giant cascade of neurochemistry. You get norepinephrine, dopamine, anandamide, serotonin and endorphins. All five of these are performance enhancing neurochemicals.” — Steven Kotler
Simply put, the Flow State is a mental state that we all intrinsically possess, and something we've all undoubtedly experienced at one point or another - to some extent.
What has become more fascinating of late is the indecipherable way in which this mental ability operates and how, despite generation upon generations' worth of work into the human psyche, we still have very little understanding of what brings it about - of how to actually trigger it.
“I started to be able to trigger these flow states.. As a lifelong professional athlete through different capacities in my life, I’ve tapped into that, I was a swimmer as a little kid so swimming laps in a pool, sometimes I would tap into this timeless space where maybe 30 minutes would go by in 2 minutes but I never really knew how I got there, just would sometimes tap into it and sometimes not.."— Colin O'Brady
This is why we're coming to a tremendously exciting time, an apex of understanding whereby we can finally (and hopefully) begin to discern how this mystery really works, and this is where some insights, like that of Olympic surfer Cody Young which is presented below, are exceptionally valuable.
Mental optimization is trending more than ever across fields and oceans of athletic achievement, as more and more work is being poured into working with the psyche. With more awareness flowing into each and every achievement, a little more data is extracted each time, and it appears as though we're on the verge of a breakthrough in terms of harnessing a grater understanding of our own mind.
As Cody revealed in his brief Q & A with me below, athletes are pairing with mental coaches, working like never before to understand the depths of their consciousness during the most critical time of their performance.
Q: When you won the US open a while back, during a post interview you expressed what "whenever you're in a heat, you're in your own mindset" when asked about whether the pressure of the crowd and the event in itself got to you. Wondering if you can elaborate on that and whether or not you've heard (or tapped into) the flow state?
C.Y.: I’ve definitely had events where I’ve tapped into the flow state and those events are the ones that I ended up winning or doing really well. To be honest I don’t know the secret as to how to get into that state. I think sometimes it just comes naturally. When you’re in that state it almost feels like autopilot; things just happen so easily and you don’t really even feel like you’re trying.
I’ve been working with some mental coaches to figure out how I can unlock my flow state. I think there’s a different recipe for each person. I’m excited to learn and improve my mental game.
Q: I totally agree, the way you describe it as autopilot is spot on. So is it a commonly accepted state of mind in the surfing community? What sorts of work do you do with mental coaches?
C.Y.: Yeah I think the best guys definitely have figured out how to get into their flow state. I’ve messed around a little bit with transcendental mediation and heart math. I haven’t really got to try it out in competition yet so I’m excited to give it a go soon.
Q: Any upcoming events in particular?
C.Y.: ISA World Surfing Games starts in a few days and then Triple Crown of surfing in November.
Cody Young is a professional surfer who has been competing in the World Surf League since 2014, winning the US Open of Surfing Pro Junior in 2017 and placing third in 2016. He currently surfs for Team Canada.