The Meaning of “Flow”
Everything we do at The Mimic Method centers around the concept of “Flow”. As you’ve probably noticed by now, I use the word “Flow” a lot, and I use it to mean different things depending on context. In this video, I’m gonna break down the four different types of Flow, and briefly describe their relevance to us as language learners.
First, we have Engagement Flow. We experience Engagement Flow whenever we’re fully engaged with an activity. The more dynamic the activity is, the more deeply it will pull us into Flow. Activities that trigger engagement flow include playing a sport, working with our hands, jamming on a musical instrument, and having a riveting conversation. In Engagement Flow, we lose ourselves in the moment, time slows down, action becomes effortless and intuitive, and our first person experience is somehow richer and imbued with more meaning. Athletes refer to this state as “the Zone,” musicians call it “the pocket”, and scientists who study this phenomenon call it the “Flow State”. When in this state, we experience peak levels of happiness, performance, creativity and learning. Indeed, few things correlate more with overall life quality than how often and how deeply we enter Engagement flow. So if Engagement Flow is the best thing ever, why aren’t we in it all the time? The problem is that we can’t just enter Flow at will; certain conditions are required to trigger it. One of the most important conditions, is something knows as the skills-challenge match. Consider this graph of your skill in a task, vs the difficulty of that task.
No matter what activity you’re doing, if the level of challenge exceeds your level of skill, you’ll experience anxiety and frustration. But if the activity is too easy, you’ll disengage and experience boredom. To enter Engagement Flow, you have to find the level of challenge that matches your level of Skill. But you can’t just stay there, because the more time you spend doing something, the more your skills improve. So to stay in flow, you have to continually up the challenge. This is what scientists call “The Zone of Optimal Development”, also known as “The Flow Channel.” If you master the art of finding and staying in your flow channel, you’ll experience the next type of flow - Progress Flow.
Much of our existential angst in life comes when we feel we aren’t making progress toward something meaningful. In the worst cases, this triggers anxiety and depression and a general state of negative self-consciousness, which is essentially the opposite of Engagement Flow. Therefore, consistent engagement requires consistent progress, and consistent progress requires consistent engagement. This explains the plight of most language learners. They bounce between boring and easy tasks like playing smartphone games, and difficult and frustrating ones like trying to converse with natives. Rarely are they in the flow channel, so rarely do they experience engagement or progress. This brings us to the the next type of flow - System Flow.
When I talk about the Flow of Spanish, or the Flow of French, I’m talking about the dynamic system of sound, movement and meaning that native speakers use to communicate with each other. If you want to flow with these people, then you need adapt to their System Flow. But you can’t do this by memorizing grammar rules and applying them to your own system of sounds and movement. The only way to adapt to a system flow of another people, is to mimic those sounds and movements of those people. Do this well enough, and you will enter into the ultimate state of human connection “Group Flow.”
Group flow is achieved when individuals enter engagement flow through their interaction with other people. In group flow, a higher form of collective consciousness emerges, and the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts. Think about a sports team, or a jazz band, or a dance troupe, and consider the way each member is able to riff of the other so intuitively. This is exactly the same phenomenon we observe in a flowing conversation. In fact, our ability to flow with each other in language actually emerged from our ability to flow with each other in sport, song and dance, as this is what our ancestors did every day long before we spoke our first words. Group flow doesn’t just optimize the performance and creativity of each member, it also optimizes interpersonal bonding. The more time you spend in group flow with someone, the more you will like and feel connected to that person, and the more that person will like and feel connected to you. This is really what language learning is ultimately about. It’s not about knowing a bunch of words, or knowing how to read street signs and restaurant menus. It’s not even about hearing sound and having a good accent. At the end of the day, we learn languages so we can connect with others in group flow. Period. So put it all together, our mission here is to help you tap into the System Flow of your target language, so you can experience Group Flow with speakers of that language. And we do this by coaching you in the art of finding the Flow Channel, so you can optimize your Engagement Flow in the moment, while optimizing your Progress Flow toward your goals. Make sense? If not, don’t worry. Just keep flowin’, and eventually, you’ll feel it 😉🌊
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