Thursday, December 8, 2016

Flow in Obstacle Racing

I’m reading, The Rise of Superman by Steven Kotler. I’m also listening to Kotler on episode number 873 of the Joe Rogan podcast. Steven Kotler is a New York Times bestselling author and the cofounder/director of the Flow Genome Project. He is one of the world’s leading experts on ultimate human performance. The Rise of Superman explores what the upper limits of human possibilities might be. In 2013, The Rise of Superman was the first book in history to land on the national bestseller lists in the sports, science, and business categories simultaneously.

So what is Flow? Kotler says,”Flow is an optimal state of consciousness, a peak state where we both feel our best and perform our best.” Wikipedia defines flow like this, “In positive psychology, flow, also know as the zone, is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in the 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.”

The psychological concept of Flow was named by Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Csikszentmihalyi wrote in his book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, “ a state of concentration of complete absorption with the activity at hand and the situation. It is a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter.” Csikszentmihalyi laid out nine component states of achieving Flow, “challenge-skill balance, merging of action and awareness, clarity of goals, immediate and unambiguous feedback, concentration on the task at hand, paradox of control, transformation of time, off of
self-consciousness, and autolelic (deriving meaning and purpose from within) experience.”

I think it is the Flow that makes OCR so fun and addictive. When I’m running an obstacle race I lose myself. As you read the list of states of achieving Flow, you probably notice that many of them are components of an obstacle race. When approaching an obstacles one has to quickly assess it and evaluate the challenge and their skill level. They have to be aware of the conditions of the obstacle and their action on the obstacles have to match the conditions. Is the obstacle wet or dry? It is stable or unstable? Obstacle racing incorporates the all component states of achieving Flow.

On the Joe Rogan Podcast, Kotler describes one of the routines he does to put himself into Flow. He starts with a 30 minute hike with his dogs. Exercise and being in nature are two elements that can start the neurochemicals flowing that are part of Flow. He then does hill sprints for about seven minutes to get endorphins in his system. He finishes with running down hill to create a risky situation. The greater the risk the better the Flow. After he finishes he uses the Flow state for his writing.

Kotler’s routine for creating Flow is just like running an obstacle race. Most of the Elite runners show up early and warm up before the race. They jog around the area and do various warm up exercises. When the race starts they sprint to the first obstacles. When they reach the obstacles they encounter the risk. No wonder people can do the World’s Toughest Mudder, they are repeatedly putting themselves into Flow.

But you don’t have to be an Elite runner to experience the flow. Just being outside and walking to the obstacle is enough to start the Flow experience. When you reach the obstacle it might be difficult for you and that is enough to get your endorphins to kick in. The risk is built into a lot of the obstacles. Obstacles require awareness and focus. Flow follows focus. So even beginners will experience Flow while running an obstacle race.

One other way to experience flow is in service to others. When are helping others we lose ourselves in the moment. Some of the obstacles are really hard to do alone. Some people show up at the race that are not physically prepared to meet the challenge of the obstacle and need assistance to make it through the obstacle. Running as a team is very popular in obstacle racing. Friends and families helping each other through the obstacles. But it doesn’t end with friends and families. Strangers helping strangers is also the way some get through the course and feel the Flow. Group Flow is even more powerful than individual Flow.

Next time you run an obstacle race think about Flow. Try to have the best Flow experience you ever had while running the race. Enjoy being outside and enjoy the exercise. Push yourself physically so that you get your endorphins pumping. Attack the obstacle in a way that makes you feel the risk. Don’t walk around scarey obstacles, try them. Then sprint off to the next obstacles. Keep repeating this cycle through the race. Enjoy the moment, push yourself and/or help others, and feel the risk.


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