Tapping In to Flow
Despite the degree to which they help us transcend ordinary abilities, flow states are real and happen to normal golfers all over the world. This idea suggests that human beings are walking around every day of their lives with untapped reserves of potential. Like an overlooked gold mine with reserves of bullion, people have untapped reserves of energy, alertness, clarity, and potential.
Many psychologists use assessments and intervention methods to gauge and guide clients toward normalcy. They give personality tests, IQ tests, reading tests—all to discover how individuals compare with the norm. When people stray too far beyond acceptable, conforming behaviors, the psychological community labels their behaviors as abnormal, deviant, or extreme. Efforts are made to standardize behaviors and performance. This preference for normalcy may help a society become more psychologically homogeneous, but it does nothing to stimulate exceptionalism. Rather, steering everyone to average functioning and performance only encourages mediocrity.
Having spent time studying the life paths of extraordinary people, I have seen firsthand that people come into their own during different stages and phases of their lives. Furthermore, those who become known for extraordinary achievements rarely follow a well-trod path but instead accumulate the battle scars that come with being wholly, boldly, uniquely themselves. Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple Computer, was a college dropout. Sigmund Freud was a writer and physician before he created the field of psychoanalysis. Albert Einstein failed the entrance exam to the Swiss Federal Polytechnic Institute, and when he couldn’t find a teaching position, he spent two years as a patent clerk. PGA Tour winners Matt Kuchar and Will McKenzie left golf in their 20s, Matt to work in finance and Will to film snow-skiing videos, before they zigzagged their way back to the game. All these exceptional characters had the courage to follow their intuition, to live their own lives, and to let personal growth be the guiding light to lead them through adversity.
Golfers who achieve flow function consistently beyond the normal; they are at the far end of the bell curve. They deviate from the norm so that they can unleash their full potential. They celebrate the things about themselves that are unique and uncommon. As such, when exploring flow, people are essentially choosing to live their lives at the fringe of their capabilities, or at least looking within to explore and expand their internal potentialities (and break through the limitations).
Excelling at anything in life, including golf, requires us to make decisions that allow the kind of personal growth that lends itself to flow. People who want to grow (in the deep, meaningful, psychological sense of the word) have to be willing to look at themselves honestly without the filtering lens of the ego. They have to be willing to become comfortable with being uncomfortable. They have to be willing to trade illusion for candor, to replace idle comfort with difficult challenge, to face fear rather than avoid it, to love what is most difficult, to acknowledge personal weaknesses, and to relish the uncertain outcomes that accompany great endeavors. To live in flow, you must make a decision to adjust your mind-set in a specific and uncommon way to become the best you possible.
Many people live their lives in such a way that they never get into flow. Their belief system—the psychological mechanism that filters experiences and influences how they subjectively experience the world—creates a state of mind that is antithetical to flow. They live narrow lives confined to the conventions of the status quo. They are prisoners to the evaluation and validation of other people. By being risk averse, they make themselves averse to feeling the joy that accompanies living life at the edge of potential. They never find themselves, and even sadder, they are afraid to try.