Every once in a while, I’ll finish a race and I will barely even remember anything after the countdown. It’s like my mind shuts off and my body simply performs. It uses the hours of training and the development of muscle memory to do what it should, without any thoughts from the mind.
This phenomenon is called Flow. Many people think of it as being in the zone. A place where it’s almost like everything slows down around you, but everything also speeds up at the same time. It happens when skill level is maximized with difficulty level. If it’s too easy it’s boring, and if it’s too hard it’s stressful. But when you find the perfect medium, you enter the flow state.
This can happen while doing a variety of activities, not just sports. In fact, one of the ways I experience flow the most is while playing the piano. That was why I thought of this. Before heading back to Provo from my parents house I sat down and tickled the ivory for a few minutes, and was reminded of the beauty of flow. It just happens. You can’t really force it, but you can create an environment where flow is more likely to occur.
You do this by maximizing your skill level in combination with difficulty level. This is why winning a race too easily isn’t fun. But getting crushed and getting last place isn’t fun either. The best is to be somewhere in the middle, winning after a good battle. Or simply accomplishing a time goal that was a stretch, but possible.
It’s also important to have a clear goal and immediate feedback combined with a high level of concentration. If you can’t see progress, you’re not going to enter the state of flow. But if the progress is clear, and the focus is high, the likelihood is much better.
One way that I’ve been surprised to find flow is while doing my studies. I can sometimes get caught in the moment and in the work, that I won’t realize how much time has passed until I look at the time again and realize I’ve been in the same spot for 3 hours.
Flow simply makes life better. It allows you to do whatever it is you’re doing at your best, without feeling like you’re white knuckling it. It’s like the word suggests, you just flow.
This is also why I like to go for KOM’s or PR’s for my hard interval sessions. If I’m just looking at numbers and following a structured workout, it makes it hard for me find flow. But if I’m engaged in a good goal that I can quickly get feedback with, the state of flow will quickly be entered.
So as you go throughout your activities each day, try to enhance whatever you’re doing so that you can enter this flow state. It’s amazing.