Harnessing Flow and DBT Skills to Increase Wellness and Performance

flow along the glacial river in Iceland
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In 2020 I was stuck. Work, COVID, family challenges, the whole lot of things. I was reading a lot from Steven Kotler and his research on flow states and peak performance to try an get out of the valley I was in. This led me to the Zero to Dangerous program with the Flow Research Collective. That program changed my life. A few years later, as I’ve been working through my individual and group DBT program, I have found an incredible intersection that I hope to share with you.

Have you ever experienced a moment when you were so absorbed in an activity that everything else seemed to fade into the background? This state of intense focus and engagement is known as the “Flow” state. On the other hand, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) is a therapeutic approach that helps individuals regulate their emotions, improve interpersonal effectiveness, and manage distress. Today, we’ll explore how these two powerful concepts can work together to transform your life.

Flow State: An Overview

Flow is a unique state of mind where you’re completely absorbed in the task at hand. You lose track of time, experience profound joy and creativity, and perform at your optimal level. It’s like being “in the zone,” where the world around you fades away, and all that matters is what you’re doing at that moment.

Characteristics of Flow

There are several characteristics that define the Flow state:

  1. Complete Concentration: You are entirely focused on the task at hand, with no room for distractions.
  2. Clear Goals: You have a clear understanding of what you want to achieve.
  3. Immediate Feedback: You get immediate feedback on your performance, allowing you to adjust your actions accordingly.
  4. Balance of Challenge and Skill: The task is challenging but matches your skill level – not too easy that it’s boring, and not too hard that it’s overwhelming.
  5. Sense of Control: You feel in control of your actions and the task.
  6. Loss of Self-consciousness: You’re not worried about what others think of you or your performance.
  7. Distorted sense of time: Time seems to fly by or slow down.
  8. Intrinsic Motivation: The activity is rewarding in itself; you’re not doing it for external rewards.

What is Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)?

DBT is a type of cognitive-behavioral therapy that combines acceptance and change strategies. It was originally developed to treat individuals with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) but has since been adapted to help people with various mental health conditions. I have been working to build and refresh my DBT skills and practices to heal from post-deployment challenges as well as marriage, family, and individual mental health.

Elements of DBT

DBT focuses on four main areas:

  • Mindfulness: This involves being fully present in the moment, accepting your thoughts and feelings without judgment.
  • Distress Tolerance: This involves learning to tolerate distress without reacting impulsively.
  • Emotional Regulation: This involves understanding and managing your emotions.
  • Interpersonal Effectiveness: This involves improving your relationships through assertive communication and conflict resolution skills.

The Intersection of Flow and DBT

While Flow and DBT might seem like two separate concepts, they intersect in several ways. Both concepts focus on being present in the moment, maintaining focus, and managing emotions. Additionally, both require a balance of challenge and skill to be effective. Let’s take a closer look at how these two concepts can work together to transform your life.

Embracing Challenge

One of the key triggers of the Flow state is the balance of challenge and skill. When a task is slightly beyond your current skill level, it draws you into a state of complete focus and engagement. Similarly, DBT encourages individuals to embrace challenges, push their boundaries, and learn new skills to manage their emotions and relationships effectively.

Emotional Regulation and Flow

DBT teaches individuals how to understand and manage their emotions effectively. When you’re in control of your emotions, you’re better equipped to enter the Flow state. Emotional upheaval can pull you out of the moment and disrupt your focus. By mastering emotional regulation, you can maintain your focus and stay in the Flow state longer.

Interpersonal Effectiveness and Team Flow

DBT also focuses on interpersonal effectiveness – improving relationships through assertive communication and conflict resolution. This is particularly important in a team setting where effective communication and collaboration are crucial for achieving team Flow.

Mindfulness: A Common Thread

Both Flow and DBT emphasize the importance of mindfulness – being fully present in the moment. Mindfulness helps you focus on the task at hand, accept your thoughts and feelings, and maintain a state of Flow. In DBT, mindfulness is a core component that underpins all other skills.

Flow Triggers: Unlocking Your Optimal Performance

Certain factors or conditions, known as Flow triggers, can enhance the likelihood of entering a Flow state. Understanding and utilizing these triggers can help you achieve your best performance.

  1. Passion, Purpose, and Curiosity: These intrinsic motivators drive you to fully immerse yourself in a task, triggering Flow.
  2. Autonomy: Having the freedom to control your actions can facilitate Flow.
  3. Immediate Feedback: Feedback allows you to adjust your actions and improve your performance, leading to Flow.
  4. Clear Goals: Knowing what you want to achieve can help you focus and enter a Flow state.
  5. Risk: The willingness to face challenges or risks can trigger Flow by adding excitement and focus.

Harnessing the Power of Flow and DBT

So, how can you use these concepts to transform your life? Here are some practical steps:

  1. Identify Your Flow Activities: Start by identifying activities that you find intrinsically rewarding and can fully engage in. These activities should be challenging but within your skill level.
  2. Practice Mindfulness: Incorporate mindfulness practices into your daily routine. This could be meditation, yoga, or simply taking a few moments each day to focus on your breath.
  3. Embrace Challenges: Don’t shy away from challenges. Instead, see them as opportunities to grow and improve.
  4. Develop Emotional Regulation Skills: Learn to understand and manage your emotions. DBT offers several strategies for emotional regulation, such as identifying and labeling emotions, increasing positive emotional events, and applying distress tolerance techniques.
  5. Improve Your Interpersonal Skills: Work on your communication and conflict resolution skills. This can improve your relationships and facilitate team Flow.

Remember, entering a Flow state or mastering DBT skills doesn’t happen overnight. It requires practice and patience. But with consistent effort, you can harness the power of Flow and DBT to transform your life and reach your full potential. In conclusion, finding your Flow and applying principles of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy can be a game-changer. They can help you navigate life’s challenges with greater ease, boost your performance, improve your relationships, and lead a more fulfilling life. So, embrace the challenge, find your Flow, and start transforming

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