I’m no expert on flow, though I have experienced it on various occasions and in various arenas. To me, it has always been the seamless transition of heightened focus/rhythm/intent/performance to an activity/situation/circumstance. I don’t think I’ve ever hit a point of flow (self-defense, athletic endeavor, training, challenging activity) while exhibiting conscious thought – only ever in circumstances or scenarios where I have prior and deep knowledge and experience. I believe that those 2 being true is no small coincidence, though I do believe high-level thinking and decision-making, unconsciously, are a byproduct of the state. We do make unconscious or rapidly-processed decisions within the state itself. Ironically, some of the times I’ve “lost” the flow-state was due to over-thinking or prolonged decision-making. Once conscious thought and self-doubt creep in, the state tends to be broken shortly thereafter, at least in my experience.
There’s always a combination of high(er)-stakes, high(er)-stress, and/or high(er)-consciousness scenarios with the knowledge/experience/comfort on managing them present and accounted for. There are already clearly-established methods that contribute to gaining that knowledge/experience/comfort, of course, like activity-specific scenario-training, visualization/hypnosis/self-hypnosis/mantras, meditation, prior experience, breathing/body relaxation methods, even neuro-linguistics, not forgetting current state – and these can all definitely enhance its chances of manifesting itself. (maybe the more in-line, the higher or greater chance of flow?) Can it be called up at will? I think that’s the golden goose everyone is searching for…and some of the elements above can certainly give greater chance of it happening. They seem to have tapped into it in the sports and high-performance arenas already, (motorsports/communication/sports/gaming, for instance) but it’s not quite as prevalent in the SD/MA worlds as of yet, for whatever reason, though I believe that’s changing.
It’s also clearly an internal element driven by external stimuli …it comes from what’s innate/well-conditioned, not by chance. (Some examples above: driving, games, sports, communication….all things that are intrinsically a part of our daily lives and that we’re experienced/comfortable in, yet we still don’t have “flow” every time we do them). If your state/momentary capability doesn’t align with your ability, it ain’t happenin’ as to have “flow” insinuates that the activity is ongoing, has some continuity, and is not a single one-time act (that experience/knowledge thing) – that’s not “being in the zone”.
I’d also be wiling to say that there’s the perception of time distortion that goes along with the state when people discuss this, (“it’s as if time stood still”, “I lost total track of time”, “everything seemed to slow down”) showing that there is extreme focus that causes perceived slow(er)-motion of incoming stimuli. (As an aside, time distortion can also be played with in training through various means. Triggering pressure or tension also needs to be present for it to happen as there has to be a threat/danger/loss element but a talk for another time)
Regarding conflict or combat, flow could be present into the areas of the force continuum as well. Flow with communication (saying the right things at-will, de-escalating efficiently, calm & controlled demeanor maintained), environmental/situational awareness (noticing all surrounding stimuli pre-conflict, highly-tuned OODA Loop processing, seamless adaptability to changing situations), flow with noticing pre-incident indicators/PINs (great peripheral vision, attention to details, on top of everything). It could also be physically-controlling your opponent smoothly and with minimal or only sufficiently-needed damage. (if trained or conditioned efficiently and in-line with human physiological capability and evolution, these things should have minimal consciousness as well…or we fight on instinct, fully unconsciously, with what evolution gave us as survival instinct)
Developing it (or at least increasing its odds) is based on replicating the stimulus as close as is possible to the actuality of the thing…and “replicating” it only applies to the elements that can be prepared for. (It is extremely-difficult to replicate exact physiological response to high-stakes and real momentary stimuli…in training) Visualization/scenario-training/state-replication/past experience all can attempt to fit that bill, as mentioned. Whatever the case, flow states have something in-common: they are all in arenas that utilize both unconscious action (“system 1”, driving a car daily and in regular traffic), and active decision-making from prior effective conditioning (“system 2”, making a sudden decision on avoiding a potential accident) so have a far greater chance of hitting that particular state. Bringing it out at will, pertaining to real violent need? I’m not sure. Yet.