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  • Writer's pictureDave Nixon

Introduction to Flow Intelligence Theory

Updated: Jan 25, 2021

Reading Time: 6-8 minutes

Over the years, one of the main challenges I have had whilst working in the fitness and health industry is how heavily it relies on objective data. Throughout the years I found that often when using the data, be it writing programs, hitting macros or calculating ideal recovery, we can often miss the actual, whole, human being standing right in front of us.

It wasn't that the data wasn't or isn't important, there was just something dry about looking at the person in front of me as merely an object of information.

This really came to light early on in my career when I grew a little tired of having the same conversation with the same people every 6 months. These were good people who had families and full-time jobs. They knew, objectively, what to eat and how to train, but for some reason, they would find themselves getting results, losing results, getting results, losing results and so on and so on.

That's when it occurred to me that the fitness industry created/upheld long term psychological (subjective) issues, provided short term physical (objective) solutions to generate repeat customers.

People were pursuing short term results and sacrificing long term progression.

So I started to search beyond the so-called 'data'. Search for what I was missing in the way I was working and dealing with the individuals I came in contact with.

I soon realised that for years, I was only seeing half the truth.

A handful of years later and I recall a conversation with a client struggling with losing weight. Over the years, it would be normal to go back over their goals, change their program, go over what their diet should look like and even offer different habits for making small changes when it came to their diet.

This all changed for me when talking to a client. It became apparent they kept weight on to be unappealing to the opposite sex. Which, for most people, is the opposite of why they train, or so they think. But for this person, it meant that they couldn't be physically harmed if they weren't in a relationship with a male.

In a traditional fitness model, it is common to see the overeating as the problem causing the weight to stay on. In reality, for this individual, keeping weight on was a solution to a problem they were barely conscious of.

It is easy to fall into the camp that someone just isn't committed or motivated when in reality, the individuals meaning structures were setting off alarm bells at the thought of being appealing to the opposite sex. These alarm bells (in the past) kept this person safe. Here we were trying to overwrite them with motivation, goals and a diet plan…

Another example is a lady in her 40's who would only snack on "sometimes foods" in private. So private that if working with a nutritional coach, the coach would have no idea about these particular snacks. When this client was younger, she would sometimes drive across town with her mother to the closest McDonalds to get an ice cream cone. A treat they would share. One particular memory she had was moments after they had left the McDonalds her mother turned to her and said: "let's go get another one, it can be our treat, no one needs to know."

What adds more complexity to this issue is the clients desire to be closer to her mother when she was younger. More or less, she had associated snacking with the nurturing she so deeply craved from her mother.

Neither of these ladies would be considered special populations or high risk. They are successful and normal functioning adults that you would meet at dinner parties or similar. Seeing these examples and many, many more (including my own), I searched for answers beyond the data.

In the early days of my search, I may have neglected the objective data for the sake of attempting to uncover and understand what was really going on with people. To begin with, this helped me unearth many misdiagnosed problems and even help forge out paths of development that allowed people to move past the conditional worth and esteem that they have built by leaning on data to decide how "good", "happy" or "healthy" they were.

This helped a lot of people begin to understand their 'why' behind their 'what'. Whether that be late-night snacks, up and down motivation for training, to never really feeling good enough no matter what they achieved.

A lot of new ground had been uncovered with everyone from high-level athletes to overcommitted 40-year-old women. Although this resulted in new understandings of the positive intentions behind so-called negative traits, my model and coaching never really felt complete.

It wasn't until I realised my deep dive into understanding the subjectivity of people and mapping out areas of their mental reality was simultaneously ignoring the ever-important objective components of life. I was doing to objectivity what those who snubbed understanding the meaning structures people created for plain, objective data.

They were looking at people as objects of information. I was looking at them as subjects of interpretation. The obvious was staring straight at me. I had to do both.

This opened up a world of seeing the connections of the inner world and the outer world—a constant exploration of potential from an approach of integration rather than separation.

From this came my model of understanding health, which I call Flow Intelligence Theory (FIT).

Flow Intelligence Theory (FIT).

The core value that FIT holds is that only 2 things in life truly matter:

  1. The memories/experiences you create

  2. How you contribute

Unlike the objective outcome model that is so prevalent within the fitness and health industry, FIT is an Experience-centric model that places individual Experience (moment to moment) and the Experience (learning acquired over time) required to Experience that more often at the centre of how we view health and fulfilment.

These personal experiences are so often related to the highly resourceful and fulfilling state known as Flow.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a Hungarian-American psychologist and author of many books on 'Flow' describes that States of Flow have 8 main characteristics:

  1. Complete concentration on the task;

  2. Clarity of goals and reward in mind and immediate feedback;

  3. Transformation of time (speeding up/slowing down);

  4. The Experience is intrinsically rewarding;

  5. Effortlessness and ease;

  6. There is a balance between challenge and skills;

  7. Actions and awareness are merged, losing self-conscious rumination;

  8. There is a feeling of control over the task.

With all of this in mind, the goal of pursuing our health-potential shifts from appeasing numbers on a computer to experiencing more fulfilling moments in life.

In doing so, we don't neglect the data, but instead, we use it to gauge what we need to do to experience more of the moments in life we so cherish.

Lines of Intelligence

There is a perfect world where data reigns supreme. But here, in reality, we deal with a forever changing unique landscape that we refer to as 'Life Conditions'.

Working with thousands of people over the years, I came to learn that technique was not something people got wrong or right but rather an intelligence they continually had an opportunity to develop.

In 1983, psychologist Howard Gardener first published his trailblazing book titled 'Frames of Mind' and his theory of Multiple Intelligences. Howard proposed the notion that an intelligence carried 3 main characteristics which are:

  1. 1.The ability to create an effective product or offer a service that is valued in a culture.

  2. A set of skills that make it possible for a person to solve problems in life.

  3. The potential for finding or creating solutions for problems, which involves gathering new knowledge.

He also put forward 8 lines of intelligence:

· Linguistic intelligence

· Logical-mathematical intelligence

· Spatial intelligence

· Bodily-Kinesthetic intelligence

· Musical intelligence

· Interpersonal intelligence

· Intrapersonal intelligence

· Naturalist intelligence

Integrating his work with Ken Wilber's writings (among many others), I grew to understand and map out the developmental lines people move through when progressing through the Lines of Intelligence relevant to experiencing more of the moments they value in life.

This became the bedrock on which the framework of FIT was built on.

The 3 major lines of Intelligence we put forward are:

  1. Somatic Intelligence

  2. Emotional Intelligence

  3. Nutritional Intelligence

Each line of intelligence is a cluster of intelligence that can be separated into self and other. Each has 3 main stages of development one could move through. This model is pointing at the core of what people want in life whilst integrating all of the data and information necessary to allow them to be, do and have the experiences they value the most.

Over the next few blogs, I will breakdown the intelligences in greater detail, for now, this is an introduction into the overarching model my 16 years within the fitness industry has lead to


Keep Learning

If you would like to hear my podcasts on the above subjects, you can find them here: Podcast:

I explain FIT in bite-sized chunks between episode 644-648.

Using this framework of FIT, myself and the Functional Fitness Australia and Alpha Theta teams continue to position ourselves as an educational facility that supports individual unfolding and growth in both one on one and group settings whilst promoting long term, positive, intergenerational impact.

This model is continually evolving and updating. We hope to continue to provide frameworks for training, athletes and everyday people to make long term sustainable change for both them and their communities.


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