To Be In Full Flow - Discovering the "Zone"




In positive psychology, flow, also known as zone, is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does. Named by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, the concept has been widely referenced across a variety of fields, though has existed for thousands of years in other guises, notably in some eastern religions.[1] 
According to Csikszentmihalyi, flow is completely focused motivation. It is a single-minded immersion and represents perhaps the ultimate experience in harnessing the emotions in the service of performing and learning. In flow, the emotions are not just contained and channeled, but positive, energized, and aligned with the task at hand. The hallmark of flow is a feeling of spontaneous joy, even rapture, while performing a task[2] although flow is also described (below) as a deep focus on nothing but the activity – not even oneself or one's emotions.
Flow has many of the same characteristics as (the positive aspects of) hyperfocus. However, hyperfocus is not always described in such universally glowing terms. For examples, some cases of spending "too much" time playing video games, or of getting side-tracked and pleasurably absorbed by one aspect of an assignment or task to the detriment of the assignment in general. In some cases, hyperfocus can "capture" a person, perhaps causing him or her to appear unfocused or to start several projects, but complete few. Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flow_%28psychology%29
This is the last week of my training stay at my trainer's barn and I must say: it was worth it. I counted the trainings that we had it is NOT that we had training everyday, but we made a huge progress: we can canter now. And I mean WE! Hafl was obviously not the problem - it was me. But all of a sudden, we canter. And we canter. And we feel go. We even reach the state of FLOW - the feeling of energized focus, full involvement and - most important of all - enjoyment in the process of an activity. That may sound a bit weird and believe me, as a mathematician I would love to see proofs of this "state". But seing me canter these days you would immediately believe that there is such a kind of mental state.

I remember well when sitting trot felt super awkward. Having to stay seated during a test gave me a bad feeling, I got tense and the situation got even worse. When I learned to change my seat accordingly to sit better and better, sitting trot was not a problem anymore and actually, it became one of my favorite ways to sit on my horse.

The same I had with canter - only that this awkward feeling lasted for years. Sure, that bad feeling was strongly connected to our accident a hundred years ago - but I could never get rid of that feeling until last week Monday. After having my clinic the weekend before, I felt that I had to work even harder on the canter. So we cantered. It must have been more than half an hour. We both had left comfort zone already years ago when all of a sudden, WE GOT IT. I do not know what happened, maybe it was a centimeter more to the left, maybe it was that eventually my hips opened properly, maybe it was just me breathing - but the canter felt effortless, round, not hectic, there was no fighting, he was on the bit apparently happy that I IN THE END got it. And we changed rein, and we counter cantered and we did simply changes - as if we never did anything else before. Of course, I did not trust this feeling and kept thinking that there MUST be something wrong: what if he wasn't cantering properly?! What if that was just the wrong feeling? Thank God, all my questions were answered the day after when my trainer gave me a lesson again. And what should I say? He was surprised too! And it felt even better on Tuesday and we worked on and even better on Wednesday. And I couldn't wait to canter again and when cantering, couldn't get rid of the smile on my face anymore.

Our canter faces BEFORE!

Young and Pain conducted a study on the concept of flow and describe this state as the state where athletes perform to their best. Performance becomes exceptional, consistent, automatic and flowing. (Source: Being in the flow in sports). So when being in the flow, you do not have to think, you seem to perform the necessary movements automatically. While I needed to think and think even more of how to move my hips, hold my legs, hold my arms, move my fingers during canter, now it seems as if I learned to walk - you do not have to think of HOW you need to move your legs, which one comes first, etc. It is important to notice that flow is not the privilege of top athletes - it is something that even the beginner can reach. It is even possible to facilitate this state of mind - though you cannot reach it intentionally.

So these elements facilitate reaching the state of flow:

  • Setting clear goals
  • Receiving immediate feedback 
  • Becoming immersed in the activity by paying attention to what is happening in the moment
  • Enjoying the current experience

Flow is something that is happening in the present moment - when you are able to fade out anxiety, worries, future expectations, when you just love what you are doing in the moment when you are doing it. The concept of flow helps you to improve your performance overall, since:

The ideal performance focus is total concentration to your performance. Focusing on distracting thoughts (about final placing, others’ expectations, the weather) interferes with an effective task focus. Stay in the moment, which is the only one you can influence anyway. (Source: http://www.psychology.org.au/Content.aspx?ID=4988)

And what's more:

What is true for life as a whole is also true in the more limited domain of sport. Winning, getting medals, improving one’s time, or beating a record are important to get us motivated in the beginning, but if we take these goals too seriously – so that their pursuit blinds us to the experience along the way – then we miss the main gift that sport can give. (Source: http://www.psychology.org.au/Content.aspx?ID=4988)
So it seems we are on a good way for this show season - at least one worry less...



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