Getting into Flow

flowBy Cindra Kamphoff, Ph.D.

I remember my last 20 mile race vividly: Running was effortless. I was completely immersed in the race. I felt energized, focused and alive. With each mile, I got faster and faster. I was on automatic pilot. Time seemed to pass quickly. What took me 2 hours and 27 minutes felt like only 27 minutes. I was in the zone, and it felt awesome.

All runners long to experience the kind of euphoria I did during that particular race. They long to feel that natural high that can last for weeks or months after a good run or race. It keeps me and others going and running more.

Psychologists call this experiencing “flow.” Flow is when you are completely involved in a task to the point of forgetting fatigue, time and anything else but the activity itself. When you experience flow, you have positive emotions that are controlled and channeled.

In an ideal world, we could control when we get into flow — like turning a light switch on and off. But we can’t force flow. It just happens. In fact, you can experience flow while you are engaging in any activity, but it is more likely to happen if you are doing the activity simply because you love it.

Although we can’t force flow, there are facilitators that have been proven to increase your chances of getting into the flow, including having confidence in yourself, a positive mental attitude, being internally motivated and feeling just nervous enough to be your best.

Given this, here are five recommendations to help you get in the flow during your next run or other important performance — whatever the activity may be.

  1. Completely absorb yourself in the activity. Concentrate on the activity and work to forget distractions.
  2. Set goals and expectations that are right for you. They need to be attainable for you, but also challenge you to be at your best. The challenge of the situation must equal your skill level. Setting goals too high or having expectations that are unrealistic can disrupt flow.
  3. Be in the moment. Work to not be critical of yourself and your performance. Avoid thinking about others and how they may view or think about you.
  4. Relieve extra butterflies by breathing deeply so you can use your energy in a way that is helpful and sustainable. You need to have enough nervousness to perform at your best, but too much can disrupt flow.
  5. Staying positive and genuinely happy will provide you with the mindset to reach your best and allow you to experience a peak performance.

If you have a performance coming soon, flow is a factor for you. The same strategies work in any activity, so focus on how you can best facilitate flow no matter what kind of performance you are engaged in.

If you do, you will be more likely to experience your best performance. Flow happens when you are using your mind optimally, and focusing on the facilitators will allow you to do that.