Playing Your A Game: The Flow State Explained

Poker

Let’s face it. We’re all pretty awesome. Especially if we narrow it down to a couple of things we love to do. We have talents and ability’s that sometimes shine while other times become non-existent.  Sometimes we’re able to play at our peak and sometimes were not. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi call this the flow state.  A magical tunnel of excellence we achieve when all the variables are tweaked just right. Many of the examples of flow state experience are physical sports or challenging physical tasks. I find this state most often when I played hockey, go skiing or cling to a cliff side.

People talk about the flow state like its an all or nothing experience.  If all the variables are right your true human and spiritual potential can find expression within the brief seconds you are fulfilling the said task.  I view the flow state a little differently.

I view the flow state as more of a scale than an On/Off switch. At one end of the scale you have your A game and somewhere behind that is your B game, your C game and your D game. Each persons individual scale is different in different areas.  Some people’s D game can clobber another persons A game but this in unimportant.

Two things become most important. How much your A game improves in comparison to your B and C game and the frequency at which you can play this new ever expanding A game.

I most deeply experienced the importance in attending to this scale while playing competitive online poker. Although, its expression is applicable in nearly every moment of your life.

Poker most greatly highlighted the importance of not only continually improving your A game and lopping off your D game but  also of playing your A game with as much frequency as possible.

After playing and analyzing over a million hands of poker online I could recognize correlations in results between the level at which I was bringing my full performance to the table and the level that I was not.

When I was off just a little bit it would be immediately reflected in my decisions which would be reflected my results.  When I was playing my A game my decisions were solid, my ability to see the field and the moves within the cards was expanded. I had an increased ability to read the players emotions and assimilate how they related to the cards.

As I got better I learned that the game was just as much about mastering yourself as it was about mastering the cards. If your mood was off,  your game was off and you lost money. If you were feeling good, well rested, emotionally balanced calm in your mind and of high energy your game was on, you won money.

I learned that if I was going to move up in steaks and beat the highest levels I was going to have to not only improve my skills but also increase the consistency at which I performed at my greatest ability. I was going to have to improve my A game and play that game more of the time.

In life the ‘why’ is less obvious than it is in poker.  In poker you have immediate returns for your efforts.  In life its a little different. Its the same subtle shift in the level of the game your playing except in life the feedback from the game is brought on more subtlety and influenced by even more variables.

If I played poker with a headache or I had my mind on something that was going on in my life or my roommate was being loud in the other room I would see a direct reflection in my decisions at the end of the session when I analyzed my results.  I learned that in order to consistently play my  A game  I had to take notice of two things.

I had to balance my body and I had to harness my attention.

When my body was balanced I felt good, I had good energy and my mind worked clearly. When I harnessed my attention I was not distracted by the events of life, I was calm in my reaction to different stimulation, and I was focused on the task with my full cognitive abilities, memory and intuition.

If I wasn’t feeling my best I wouldn’t play my best. If I had emotional things clouding my judgement, was mad at somebody, or had other things on my mind my results would suffer.

It became necessary to optimize the variables affecting my attention so that I could more regularly play my A game with more consistently. So that I could achieving the ‘flow state’ with the most frequency.

Balancing the body became about optimizing the foods I consumed and maintain a constant activity level. It became about getting the proper amount of sleep and taking naps. To harness my attention I began to research positive psychology, and happiness. I began to monitor my thoughts for negative emotions and re-frame them to things that would empower me.  I began testing habits and new ways of thinking that could translate into an increased ability to play my A game more frequently.

I started eating as perfectly as I could and experimenting with my diet. I began a daily meditation practice. I began perusing goals in exercise and fitness. I floated in sensory deprivation chambers, expanded my awareness with psychedelics, experimented with sexual transmutation, began taking opportunities to stare directly into the sun and now I’m growing out my hair.

It’s not about some end goal that you reach. Its about the process of becoming your highest self. About optimizing the variables that limit your experience of this body in this life. Why not attempt to bring our fullest most present selves to every little mission we find ourselves in each day. What kind of beauty would that lead us to?

This doesn’t only apply to the professional athlete, painter or scientist. It’s in play when it comes to how you might react while driving in traffic, being present when in a conversation and even when unloading your groceries and putting them into your fridge.

The little things you do each day add up to the game you allow yourself to play. Be in relentless pursuit of your A game.

About Travis

I'm half man half spirit.
The soul of a wizard.
An expanding awareness of space.
Experience always in place.