Increasingly effective use of cognition is essentially proportional to effort until thought travels to the hidden back side of reasoning’s circle where effort mysteriously vanishes. What seconds earlier took tremendous concentration and effort suddenly flows with unimpeded focus even while the complexity of the task increases significantly.
Or, does this phenomenon occur exactly because the task’s level of difficulty increases significantly?
Few of us are fortunate enough to have experienced this remarkable transition point where ultra-performance becomes second nature and automatic. Fewer still are able to call upon this extreme level of alert acuity and skill at will.
The central control for this nirvana of effectiveness is no doubt buried deep in the psyche as some sort of evolved survival response.
For most of us living in the confusion of post-modern society (well, I never left, at any rate), this apex of proficiency is usually arrived at through a sharply defined medium that allows for a quick and predictable break through. Incredibly intense meditation might get one there, or a dangerous task, hobby, or job where the operator in question is both well experienced and under extreme pressure to perform at the highest possible level.
Professional athletes are often ultra-performers, but—in my opinion—serve as simplistic, one-dimensional cartoons of the greater meaning and potential that this learned skill has to offer. Playing a game for money, fame, and/or a superficial sense of glory offers little or no lasting reward, again, in my opinion.
It’s not enough to just perform at the level of effortless proficiency to truly understand and leverage the power of this state. Other parameters must be satisfied:
• the activity must require extraordinary personal risk;
• the challenge must be an individual’s choice; and
• the endeavor must be accomplished for a greater good.
I’ve been both fortunate and cursed with catching brief glimpses of this higher state, and these few instances have left me floundering for a way to replicate the experience’s essence. Each of my personal incidents have occurred flying in the Navy, largely due to the third requirement that the endeavor be accomplished for a greater good.
While I’ve had very close calls diving, the ensuing heightened awareness was strictly due to a desire for self-preservation; only my life was at stake. Performance was raised, but not nearly to the same level for me as when flying off the aircraft carrier.
In Naval Aviation, “mission” is everything, not letting down your buddies is a close second, and somewhere in distant third is one’s life. Put the three together and it’s amazing what the body and mind can do making high “G” turns at 480 knots, 200 feet above the ground in the fog, with several thousand folks trying to kill you with bullets and missiles.
To be able to transfer this “in the zone” flight perfection to an on demand talent that transcends any task might just be our next evolutionary leap forward. Or it might just be the outline of a bad war story. I would love to know the reflections, thoughts, and experiences of others on this subject.
A quick note regarding Peter Hunt’s professional credentials:
I am not a formally trained scientist or philosopher. I do, however, visit a neurologist every three months, and I did stay at a Holiday Inn Select after drinking too much one evening in the not too distant past.