Be Water: The Flow State and Motivation

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As a gamer, I have spent a lot of time thinking about why I love video games so much. From the age of 6 I have spent a majority of my leisure time playing games. While part of the draw is that games provide an endless series of goals, part of it is how they are presented. A major tenet of game design is to keep the player engaged as fully as possible by making the game not too hard, but not too easy, resulting in a mental state that Mihály Csíkszentmihályi calls flow.

Flow can be described as the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. Whenever we sit down to play a game and we’ve been playing for hours but it feels like minutes, that’s flow. When you realize you weren’t noticing your bodily needs like food and rest because you were too busy being awesome at something, you have experienced flow. Gamers crave flow. The media likes to say that gaming is addictive. If it is addicting, it is the flow state which we crave.

Flow is nothing new, and neither is human understanding or desire for it. The teachings of Buddhism and Taoism speak of a state of mind known as the “action of inaction” or “doing without doing” that evoke the idea of flow. The perfect balance of capability and challenge results in the flow state – a plateau of peak engagement in the current activity. It’s the reason gamers play so much and it’s the reason why we continually improve. It’s also the reason why artists make art, and why runners keep pushing themselves with faster and longer runs. The difference between the flow state in gaming and the flow state of something like exercise, art, or craftsmanship is that the latter has intrinsic, tangible value.

Gaming is the fast track to flow, and it feels great while we’re doing it, but when all is said and done we know we haven’t accomplished anything of value by playing the game. This can lead to some pretty ugly thoughts in gamers. We might feel like we have wasted a lot of time playing games, and this idea is echoed by our parents and non-gamer peers. It can result in depression, which we often fight by playing – you guessed it – more video games.

The good news is, the very skills that we build by becoming good at video games can be used to get good at anything. We have boundless optimism that we can achieve game tasks. We are blissfully productive as we grind xp or (BOOM) headshot aliens. We trust strangers as we create temporary teams that work toward common goals in MMOs and other online games. We have powerful and malleable strengths. So why do so many gamers feel like they suck at life?

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There is a theory that depression is our brain’s way of telling us that we need to shift attention toward something that has meaning and value to us. Nobody can tell you what that is – you need to find it for yourself – but trust me when I say that finding it should be your number one priority in life.

Games have simulated meaning. They are beautiful to look at, they have epic stories, they have identifiable characters. But they don’t have any value. When we are done with a game, we feel empty. That’s why it’s so important to find our calling in life. The word vocation, used now to describe any old career path, has its roots in the latin vocationem, literally “a calling.” It is what speaks to us in our soul. Our calling provides limitless motivation to improve and produce, and adds true epic meaning to our lives.

Ultimate Game Strategy Guide Tip #2:Find what motivates you, then use your powerful gamer strengths of learning, optimism, and love of hard work to achieve real goals that have meaning and value to you.

Losing Weight Is Hard…Right?

Obesity is an epidemic in the United States. 27.1% of Americans are considered obese and another 35.6% are classified as overweight for a whopping 62.7% of Americans at higher than normal weight. Weight loss is a $60 billion industry. So the natural conclusion we can draw from this is that losing weight is hard and we all want to do it. It’s so hard that people talk about it every day at work, at school, on Facebook, and in the media. The Biggest Loser, a reality TV show featuring obese people competing to lose the highest percentage of their body weight to win cash prizes, has been running for 10 years and in its peak season over 1.5 million people tuned in. Hundreds of thousands of people undergo surgical procedures designed to help them control their food intake. It must really be hard to lose weight!

Or is it?

What if I told you that it was possible – even easy – to lose weight? That in 30 days you could easily drop inches off your waist without even getting up off the couch? It might be hard to swallow since most people would have you believe that you need to exercise frequently and vigorously to lose weight. This is not the case.

Exercise is definitely an important part of a comprehensive fitness plan, and I recommend it to everyone. But weight loss and fitness are not the same thing. If everyone knows that eating healthy and exercising is the key to weight loss, and everyone wants to lose weight, then why doesn’t everyone do that? Why are so many people overweight?

The simple fact is that a sedentary lifestyle is the norm in America. More people report having little to no exercise in a week than ever before. A lot of people blame TV, others blame video games, but it’s true. It’s hard to break a habit like not exercising, and if people think that’s what they need to do to lose weight, it’s discouraging. They give up before they even try.

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Well good news everyone. You don’t need to exercise, you just need to change your eating habits. I know – you probably don’t want to go on a diet either, but I said this would be easy, not magic. There’s a dietary plan that worked for me and I’m willing to bet it will work for you too.

It goes by many different names. Primal, paleo, Whole 30, but the basic idea is this. Eat only meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, vegetables, fruit, nuts, and natural seasonings like honey, sea salt and herbs. That means cutting out all the processed ingredients in packaged food like MSG, sugar, wheat gluten, soy lecithin, aspartame, and a thousand other things. You also would be giving up grains (yes, all of them), dairy, legumes (including peanuts), and alcohol.

Now I know what you’re thinking. “All of my favorite foods fall in those categories! I couldn’t possibly give those up!” That’s a perfectly normal reaction and I had it too. But believe me when I say that a lot of your favorite foods are only your favorites because you are addicted to carbohydrates. Once your body breaks the addiction, you will not crave them the way you do now.

The typical American diet is loaded with carbohydrates. Potatoes, corn, wheat, rice, bread, baked goods, sweets, pasta, it’s all carbs. When your body takes in carbs, it immediately starts breaking them down into glucose. The glucose enters your bloodstream to be used as fuel. Your body has to produce insulin to process that glucose into glycogen – glucose bonded with water – which causes what is known as “water weight”. This is what your muscles use for fuel. However, if your muscles are saturated with glycogen, your body will begin turning the sugar into fat, causing weight gain. This means if you have a consistently high carb diet and don’t exercise, you will gain weight – and lots of it.

Also, your body has a hard time knowing when to stop producing insulin. It keeps pumping it out assuming that you will be eating carbs at the same rate. The higher the glycemic load of the carbs you are eating, the more insulin is produced. When you run out of sugar to process, your body tries to regulate your blood sugar by signaling you to eat more carbs. That’s right – you aren’t actually hungry, you’re just trying to balance a seesaw between your insulin and your blood sugar.

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Oh, and carbohydrates? They’re almost all high in calories. A McDonald’s Big Mac contains 550 calories and only 260 of those calories are from fat. There’s 29g of fat, 25g of protein and – get ready for it – 46g of carbs. All those years we thought we should be cutting out fat from our diets, and we were actually making the problem worse – because we replace that fat with carbohydrates. A typical fat free product has sugar, flour, thickeners, and/or salt added to make it taste better and those ingredients contribute to weight gain and circulatory problems.

So to fix the way we eat, the general principle is simple. Try to eat mostly whole, unprocessed foods as much as possible. Avoid the foods I mentioned and try to moderate your carb intake. I suggest somewhere around 80g-150g per day to start. Use MyFitnessPal or some other free digital tool to track your food intake, and it will tell you how many carbs you’re taking in. A basic guideline is to keep your fruit intake to no more than your vegetable intake because the sugar in fruits is all carbs. Also eat nuts in moderation – they are carb rich and in large quantities can exacerbate some inflammatory conditions in your digestive system. You don’t even really have to watch your portions that much if you follow these guidelines, because a protein rich diet will cause your body to feel satisfied much sooner, and your blood sugar won’t be constantly trying to regulate itself. Oh – and drink lots of clean water. Half a gallon or more a day if you can manage it, to keep your body loaded with all the resources it needs to break down proteins and fats into sugar.

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Do this for 30 days or until you’ve reached your goal weight. Once you have lost all the weight you want, you will probably notice you sleep better, have clearer skin, and have a lot more energy. You can even introduce your favorite foods again. Just eat them in moderation, and remember that the carbohydrate rich foods like potatoes, sweets, and pasta are the ones that will make you hungry faster, and if you eat them consistently, you will start to gain the weight back.

“That’s unfair!” You probably are saying. “How come my favorite foods are the ones making me fat?” Well it’s unfortunate, but true, that your body becomes addicted to these foods. It makes a permanent imprint on your brain when you take in something with a very high glycemic load, and when your blood sugar gets low, your brain tells you it wants those things so it can bring your glucose back up again. It’s a vicious cycle, and it works a lot like a drug. And it’s a hard drug to kick – you have to eat every day, so there’s no way to avoid all situations where you’d be tempted to indulge. It takes discipline and will power to stay with it, but the results are incredible. You’ll start losing weight fast – with or without exercise.

Once you’ve brought your body mass index down to a level where your body is more comfortable doing physical activity, THEN you can work on your total body fitness and begin exercising. I guarantee it will be a lot easier and you might even decide you enjoy it. I do the Angry Birds workout from Nerd Fitness, and my wife wants to do Couch to 5K. I’ve lost 50 pounds, only working out 30 minutes a week or less. She’s lost 60 pounds and went from a size 24 to a size 16.

The Ultimate Game Strategy Guide: Tip #1
Lose weight with healthy food choices, THEN work on being more active with all your extra energy!

Stay tuned for more weight loss and fitness tips in the strategy guide for the ultimate game:  your life!