PART 2: FLOW FUNDAMENTALS
In the second installment of our Flow In Sports breakdown, we take an overview on the key components needed to achieve flow.
Flow is a psychological state that uses up all of our attention and concentration to the point that no other thoughts can enter our minds. In the book Flow In Sports, the authors lay out nine key components required to get into this zone of total engagement.
#1: Challenge-Skills Balance
This is something that will constantly evolve as you progress in your sport. As your skills get better and more refined, your challenges also need to increase. To get in the flow and experience that harmonious balance between enjoyment and accomplishment, the run you’re about to descend needs to be challenging to you, but within reach if you really try.
#2: Action Awareness Merging
Remember when it no longer felt clumsy to have your equipment strapped to your feet? This is the beginning of action awareness merging. To experience flow you need to feel as if your equipment is an extension of your body, that you have complete autonomy and control over it, and can make it do exactly what you want on command. At this point you’ll perform smooth fluent movements and glide towards your end points.
#3: Clear Goals
Rather than having one big goal to focus on in the horizon, this is the art of breaking down your performance into much smaller goals. When you know exactly what you want to do and where you want to go, you have confidence and focus.
For instance, when choosing a line you might plan to take a small chute, put in a deep turn by a group of trees, then hit a few small pillows before stopping at a cat track. This premeditated plan leaves less to chance and removes the need to second guess or doubt yourself. It’s worth remembering the phrase, ‘clarity of intention helps focus attention.’
#4: Unambiguous Feedback
The most reliable feedback we get is from our bodies. It lets us know if something hurts or doesn't feel right, and it also lets us know when something feels good. Experience also allows us asses our performance and make adjustments as we progress down a line to maintain speed, or ride out a landing. Being able to react to this feedback requires us to be present and focused, which plays into the next component of flow.
#5: Concentration on the Task at Hand
Take your mind off a black run, and you could end up in hospital. The same can be said for a Formula One driver, though with more dire consequences.
The thing is, one of the virtues of mountain pursuits is how it can take your mind off of other worries or troubles. When an activity demands your complete concentration, you experience an escape, but become enraptured in the task at hand.
#6: Sense of Control
To get into a flow state it’s imperative to own a feeling of power, confidence and calm. The three feelings go hand in hand and come about from a belief and trust in your abilities.
When you have a sense of control, it results in a lack of worrying, particularly of failure. However, it’s a fine line and the pursuit for too much control can also be detrimental to flow.
#7: Loss of Self-Consciousness
The term ‘lose yourself’ is an expression that sums up this component perfectly. This usually comes from using all your attention span on the previous components. The result is that you have no mental capacity left for self-doubt or worrying and instead operate on an instinctive level. This is where things start to get really interesting.
#8: Transformation of Time
There are two ways flow can impact our perception of time. This could be riding a line that felt like it went on for hours when in reality it lasted mere minutes, or it could be how a whole day flys by in the blink of an eye.
The first example comes from being confident and calm, it allows you to slow things down and make real-time adjustments. The second example, where time appears to vanish, is often a result of losing self-consciousness.
#9: Autotelic Experience
This can be described as that ‘rush’, that feeling of exhilaration, that everything was happening as it should and you feel filled with enjoyment. The word autotelic is a Greek word blending auto = self, and telos = goal.
Autotelic experiences are what spur us on to keep going, to try and achieve and unlock that sensation again and again. A feeling that makes getting in the rhythm or flow such an addictive pursuit.