Get Out Of Your Own Way

How to access "flow," a mental state where you are so immersed in an experience that time and space and self no longer disrupt the present moment.

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Dr. Judson Brewer MD, PhD, is a thought leader in the “science of self-mastery,” and an associate professor of psychiatry and medicine at University of Massachusetts School of Medicine, where he is director of research at the Center for Mindfulness. In this TEDx he talks about “flow state”: a mental state in which one becomes so immersed in an experience that time and space and self no longer disrupt the present moment.

You’re Already Awesome—Just Get Out of Your Own Way

So what’s the difference between a fairy tale and a war story? The fairy tale begins: Once upon a time. A war story starts: No shit, there I was barreling down this mountain bike descent near Salida, Colorado. It was one of those descents that is a whole lot of descent and not a lot of trail, so I was really focussing on staying on the trail. And then, at some point during that ride, there was no me, no bike, not even a trail. There just was.

That’s the best way I can describe it. It was effortless, it was selfless, it was immensely joyful. I wasn’t there, yet there I was in one of the most awesome events in my life. When my sense of self came back online, I looked back on the trail and said “Wow, what was that? And when can I do that again?”

This was flow. I was in the flow state and it was delicious.

Now we’ve all been in flow at some point in our lives. Maybe it was when we were playing sports, or listening to music, or even getting really immersed in a project—when you look up, it’s five hours later, it’s dark outside, and your bladder is about to explode because you’ve been so focused on what you’ve been doing.

Why can’t we do this all the time? The answer? We get in our own way.

Reality is so much more delicious than our concepts of it.

A study at Harvard that found that 50% of the time we’re either caught up in regretting things from the past or worrying about what we’re going to do in the future. 50% of the time! Even when we’re daydreaming about that perfect Hawaiian vacation, we’re no happier than when we’re in the present moment. They concluded that a wandering mind is an unhappy mind. I’d amend this to, “Dude, get out of your own way! Flow is awesome and it doesn’t show up on drug tests.”

Getting caught up in self-referential thinking can get in our own way. Meditation can help us get out of our own way. Reality is so much more delicious than our concepts of it. What we’re learning from neuroscience is how to develop tools to help people learn and really see what it’s like when they get out of their own way and into the flow of life.

This flow business is tricky business. We can all taste flow in moments of our lives, but how can we learn to get into it more and more? What’s it like when we get caught up in thinking? How is it different than just noticing thoughts come up? How can we notice our body sensations come up that are trying to tell us to do things and just be with them?

When we can get out of our own way, we’re happier and more engaged with the world, we’re more compassionate, and as a result we can perform at our best. We all are awesome we just have to get out of our own way.

Adapted from: You’re Already Awesome. Just Get Out of Your Own Way! Judson Brewer MD, Ph.D. at TEDxRockCreekPark.