When swimmers are asked to recall their best performances, they typically describe a feeling of effortless power, excitement, and readiness for the upcoming challenge. In Sport Psychology terms, this is known as achieving a State of Flow. Research tells us that those who frequently experience flow states are;
More Self aware
More in control of their lives and interests
More committed to reaching their goals
Having more fun
So, the question that follows is ‘how do I achieve this flow state?’ Is it simply luck, or can we create circumstances for ourselves that are likely to manifest this state of being? Csiksentmihalyi’s Flow Theory describes moment to moment subjective experience, defined by the relationship between person (perceived skill level) and environment (perceived level of challenge), that is engaged in for the sole purpose of enjoyment. In other words, how we think and feel about our upcoming challenge determines how much joy, passion, and fun we have. There are four possibilities for approaching a competition. Remember though, this is all based on our perceptions of the task.
High Challenge + Low Skill = nervousness, emotionality, over-thinking
High Skill + Low Challenge = boredom and apathy
Low Challenge + Low skill = Asleep/disengaged
High Challenge + High Skill = Engaged, energized, and aware
Certainly, we would all prefer to find ourselves in this high challenge/high skill situation, and the good news is that you can create this at any time! The next time you are in practice, or a meet see if you can creatively do some of the following;
- Find a balance between the challenge of the task, and your perceived ability to match it. This could be faster repeat times, faster intervals, better technique, or a race that your team really needs from you. The possibilities are limitless here. As long as you feel properly challenged, and believe in yourself, you will be on your way to finding flow.
- Have clear goals for the upcoming challenge. Be sure your goals are realistic, and then resolve to allow nothing to get in the way of your desire.
- Involve yourself fully in the task directly in front of you. This means that your thoughts, feelings, wishes, and actions are all moving in the same direction.
When you are able to accomplish this mindset, your involvement in the task feels effortless, and because you are so focused on the challenge, you lose self-awareness. You are doing this for the pure joy of the activity. This means there is no time for self-doubt!
- Remember your strengths! You will go into a flow state when your highest strengths are called up in order to meet your highest challenges.
When we achieve this state, we call up a sense of purpose and meaning, gain self-confidence, and are ready for the next challenge. The best part is, we are now able to meet this next challenge with even greater perceptions of our ability. As Life would have it, this is what it’s all about!
Pete has worked in the sport psychology and human development fields with Fortune 500 companies, Division I,II, and III collegiate athletes, as well as high school and middle school staff and students. He was a swimming coach at the club, high school and collegiate level for 30 years. Pete now runs a private Sport Psychology and Adolescent Life Coaching practice, working with student-athletes nationwide. His life coaching sessions for adolescents are designed to create challenge, teach resilience, and instill self-esteem. For information regarding Pete’s Life coaching and sport psychology services click here.