In an age when distraction is constant, and anxiety (both state & trait) seems to loom at every turn, flow just might be the antidote to it all. Sport offers a medium, through which to experience flow. Consciously, or subconsciously, we are attracted to sport for the experience of flow. Deep focus, absorption, & shift from a mind that is constantly fidgeting, to one that is lost in an activity, focused is deeply appealing. Yet, for some, the ability to access flow, however, remains a challenge.
Flow has the ability to create purpose, enjoyment, & resonance. Particularly when shared with others. Community flow, for a lack of better term, is magic. Think of a a powder day skiing with friends, a highly competitive game with 100K fans screaming in concert, or a Taylor Swift concert for that matter. If there is a magic potion out there, to counter the maladies of the modern life, it might be flow, both individually & collectively.
Science tells us flow needs a few things:
Specific Goals or objectives around manageable challenges (get in the right game)
Measurable feedback (Objective Feedback, can I see it)
The Ability to Focus & Concentrate, and to say Focused & concentrated.
The Ability to separate the task from the outcome
What I see in many Athletes today, is confusion amidst the how effectively to create these conditions. Challenges are often too easy, or unrealistic. They are often playing in the wrong games (Comparison, Identity, Self-Worth as a function of results).
Sport is mot the only medium in which we can find flow. Concerts, plays, and spectating at sporting events create flow producing environments for us, and often we can then access a form of flow inherent to these kinds of things, but it’s fleeting, and also unpredictable (Particularly if you are a Bronco fan). Besides, who can spend $2000 on a Taylor Swift ticket very often, or really ever for that matter.
So, the individual pursuit of sport, remains our best, controllable, daily opportunity for flow. Most of time when we enter into a sporting environment, whether it be a golf course, ski hill, or soccer pitch, feedback relative to our involvement in the activity is to general & abstract, (How was that? Good or Bad?) and in the age of devices & distractions, the ability to focus on a singular task becomes more & more challenging with each click & swipe & click.
Further complicating things, are our well-intended efforts to ‘try harder’ when we perform. Typically we couple this with an intention to be ‘perfect’ and execute on more complex objectives than what we typically use when we practice. . . .I just have to hit this perfect shot perfectly this one perfect time at this specific event. . . .Good Luck.
Over the last Year, I have been fortunate to have spent quite a bit of time in the Country of Morocco, working on a Coaching Project for their National Team. Near to my hotel where I usually stay, there is an awesome urban park that I really like to run in.
Ibn Sina (980 – June 1037 CE)
It’s named after the Persian Philosopher, Ibn Sina, who is known for having said: ‘a short life with width is preferable to a long narrow one’.
Most nights, when I run just before dusk, there are over 7-8 different pickup soccer games, like this one, using rocks & trees as goals, all taking place next to each other. As far as I can tell there, is no league, scoreboard, or medals for the winning team. Yet, the participants are highly engaged, deep at play, and are of all ages, and are playing hard.
It’s no surprise to me, since experiencing this, that Morocco has become the force that it has in Soccer on the world stage. The people are truly passionate about the game, and will go to great ‘widths’ just to play, with palpable enthusiasm late into the night.
This is the key to long term success: deep enjoyment & engagement of/in the activity, for the sake of nothing other than the activity itself . This is Flow. That’s it. And if you can find flow communally. . .well, that’s like the top shelf stuff.
Deep short & long-term exploration of an activity widens your life. It’s not trivial. You don’t need to ‘grow up’. Deep play & the flow states that can be experienced as a result, just might be the key to it all. Flow might be the key to transcending an otherwise seemingly exhausting existence filled with anxious, striving, climbing, comparison oriented feelings of inferiority that seem to never end no matter how much stuff you do, buy, or say.
Flow assuages all of the externally dependent problems that weigh on our minds. In flow, these things quietly fade, and a more deeper, more lasting connection to our Authentic self emerges. If we do this often enough, our connection to it stays, longer & longer each time. And, if you find flow with your friends (community), the impact is even more potent.
Take a deep dive in your activity, whatever it may be. Dream big, write it down, and take action. Chip away at the the rock of progress one effort at a time, and keep monitoring your progress with objective data. Sharpen you ability to concentrate. Breathe. Meditate. Read. Rest. Connect. Just sit quietly and observe the world without succumbing to the need to swipe up. Lastly, explore the deep joy in simply being an athlete, without needing or fearing the outcome of your movements. Feel the sun on your back when you run, the deep rhythm in movement, the super power of simply being very fit, the grounding nature of sport with friends, or the execution of a skill you’ve mastered that simply feels really good.
This is what it means to find width, as Ibn Sina wrote. . . Tap into it, and you might just find everything you need.