What makes some people fall in love with running while others hate it? What makes someone all smiles after a really challenging & brutal workout in the gym? Why do some sacrifice to train for events like armature bodybuilding competitions or triathlons around full time jobs and families?
They have found “FLOW”
I was introduced to the concept of flow in the book Drive by Daniel Pink, according to Pink“Flow describes those exhilarating moments when we feel in control, full of purpose, and in the zone. “ Pink also states, “Contrary to what we usually believe….the best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times – although such experiences can also be enjoyable, if we have worked hard to attain them. The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to the limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”
Flow reveals how people have turned even the most ”unpleasant”task into enjoyable, rewarding challenges. Think of a marathon runner; to most of us running 26 miles is a hell we dare not speak of, even for those who love to run 26.2 miles is brutal both physically and mentally. For those who have found flow in running it is the best time of their life where they are filled with purpose and challenge and are in the zone where time almost stands still and all is perfect in the universe.
Although flow can be achieved in environments like work or home it can sometimes be challenging to obtain. We all are enriched by the personal and professional relationships we have in our lives but for that we give up a bit of control and predictability. Fitness however is the perfect environment for flow where we are in the driver’s seat and 100% in control.
The key to finding flow in fitness is to discover your goldilocks activity; the “sweet spot” where tasks are neither too easy or two hard but just right. If you have never done a clean and jerk before and someone asks you to do 30 with a 135lb bar the task is far beyond your skill set and will only lead to frustration and feelings of failure. On the flip side if you are active and fit and asked to spend 45-60 minutes on the elliptical at a low resistance and pace the task becomes mind numbing and a situation you dream of escaping. The key is easy enough that the task can be performed with enough challenge to keep you engaged and feel successful upon its completion, this balance is essential to reaching the state of flow and to achieving mastery.
Mastery is an interesting word to use when referring to fitness. We don’t often think of fitness as an activity we can master like golf or martial arts. We view fitness as a tool that we use to enhance our daily living; from that prospective fitness is the vehicle that we use to take control of our lives. We can use fitness as a method to develop a mastery of “life control” developing a body and mind that have mastered the art of creating the life we want to live.
Finding flow will take some work and experimentation; you have to be brave enough try lots of things and possibility fail at some to discover your goldilocks task. Sometime we have to work our way up to that goldilocks task which can be a long journey but the payoff is a big one
The concept of flow was introduced by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi; you can read more about it in his books;
· Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life
· Creativity: Flow and the Pyschology of Discovery and Invention
· Beyond Boredom and Anxiety: Experiencing Flow in Work and Play