Is it really possible to achieve the elusive and mysterious “flow state” just by peeling potatoes? The answer is certainly, yes. Flow state can be reached through any activity as long as certain criteria are met.
In this definition from Wikipedia, we see that flow state is composed of
(paraphrased) an energized focus, full immersion, full involvement in the current activity, as well as enjoyment.
Let’s break down those components and see how they relate to peeling potatoes.
The point of peeling potatoes is to prepare them for cooking, probably for your supper or lunch. This gives the activity quite a valid purpose. While purpose is not listed as essential for the attainment of flow state, it certainly adds impetus to that goal. The focus is on getting the potatoes peeled, and you can only do one at a time. in my case, the focus is energized by the purpose of doing the activity; getting a tasty meal at the end of it. I am motivated by the end result.
You have to concentrate while peeling potatoes, not only could you get a nasty cut from a sharp peeler, but you also want to do a good job getting all the skin off. I am able to block out external distractions and really watch what I am doing. It helps to have nothing else happening at the same time, or if something else is going on, I want to be sure that it will not disturb me while I am in the midst of peeling. I want every cut to be good so that the next one can also be made quickly and easily. While peeling potatoes, I am completely immersed in doing only that.
This one is closely related to the above. Involvement aids immersion and vice versa. I take my peeling technique quite seriously. I am always looking for ways to optimize the speed and quality of what I produce. I may decide to peel in a spiral pattern, taking all the skin off in one piece. I have strategies to deal with pits, eyes, discolourations, sprouts. I must hold the potato a certain way depending on which technique and/or peeler type I am using.
All of these variables keep me fully involved in the task of peeling spuds.
There was a long period in my life during which I absolutely abhorred peeling potatoes. I saw it almost as a particularly cruel punishment that might be used in an army expedition for a soldier who had made some serious infraction. “Private Smith. You gave the two-finger salute to your commanding officer. A weeks potato peeling duty!”
As I matured and became wiser, I thought I should tackle this aversion to potato peeling. I looked into what it was about the activity that I disliked so much. I looked at it objectively and not reactively. It turns out that I didn’t like it when my parents would ask me to do it when I was busy enjoying myself with something else. This turned into resentment for peeling potatoes.
When I eventually moved away from my parents and had to cook for myself, I thought about it more logically. I saw that it was just a neutral process of food preparation, obviously. So as I like potatoes and they are a good source of clean energy for an active body, I accepted that I had to peel them now and then. As my technique improved, I began to enjoy the period of determined concentration that it takes to get the potatoes ready. Peeling one really quickly, or neatly, or getting a good shape all added to the enjoyment as I saw my skill progress. As this is a skill that is not very difficult to learn, results come quickly and the reward for doing it is immediate.
Who knew that peeling potatoes could be such fun?
How being in the potato zone feels
Once I’ve counted out the right number of potatoes that I will need for the meal, I select my peeler based on average potato size and type. I take the peeler in hand and it’s at that point that potato peeling flow state begins.
Everything that is not a potato moves to the background. A feeling of calm certainty washes over me. I will get these potatoes peeled, that’s a given. This might sound melodramatic, but I actually get a feeling of connectedness with the universe while peeling potatoes. I become aware of being part of the spacetime continuum. Just like the Earth orbits the sun, the moon orbits the Earth, the tides ebb and flow, and I peel these potatoes.
The feeling of the potato flow state zone is one of calm, peace, and moments of joy when I peel one particularly well.
How do you benefit from the potato flow state?
Once you have experienced the peace, tranquillity and effortless action that the zone brings in one activity, you can then transfer the same concepts to almost everything that you do. It doesn’t take much figuring out that if I could reach that state while doing something as mundane as peeling potatoes, then why not at my other chores/work/hobby/sport?
If you find yourself getting frustrated or annoyed at the difficulty, complexity or inconvenience of a task, then go right back to the basics of that task and become a beginner again. Remind yourself that you are good at the basics and challenge yourself from there. This is a first step towards entering the flow state.
As you progress in your skill and ability, you will more easily slip into the state of flow when practising your craft. You can find yourself fully immersed, involved and enjoying most of the things that you do in a day. When you are in this state most of the time, from peeling potatoes to changing the sheets on your bed to going for an evening walk, you will eventually find that you have been flowing through all of life itself.