What is the ‘flow state’ anyway?
“It is, for many people, the reason why we engage in these sports,” says Forelli. “You can pretty much block out the rest of the stress in your life and experience pure joy.”
The idea of the flow state goes back to researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a researcher and co-founder of the positive psychology school of thought. After researching happiness and and interviewing athletes, musicians, and artists he developed the term ‘flow state,’ as something that describes the feeling that comes in an optimal state when performance “flows” without effort.
He outlined eight characteristics of flow:
·Deep concentration on a task
·Clear goals and immediate feedback
·Balance between skills and the challenge
·The feeling of control
·The experience is intrinsically rewarding (the joy of the task is not externally motivated)
·An altered perception of time
·Action and awareness merge (a loss of self-critique
When was the last time any of us were able to get into a flow state? Has it been a while, and shouldn’t it be more often? Mountain bikers will recognize the flow state as the moments where everything “clicks” on the trail. Your hips move up fluidly over bumps and rollers and cut to the side without a conscious effort or second guessing where your tires are around a turn.
Jumps are easily cleared, drops are conquered, speed is carried. Usually, it feels like the perfect ride and it’s what hooks many of us to chase the trail dragon.
“It’s really an altered state of consciousness, it’s a mental state,” says Dr. Taryn Forelli of Flume Formulas. “It’s this idea of effortlessly moving and thinking. Your mind and body are one.” Forelli recently developed a supplement to help people find their flow and I wanted to learn more from her about what the flow state is, what’s happening, and how mountain bikers can get into it more often.
You’re being dosed with these feel-good chemistries that encourage you to keep doing these [activities], even though they might be high-risk, like mountain biking. But, if you match the right skill to the right challenge, then you’ll be rewarded. It’s kind of your body’s award for moving.”
Research proposes that in a flow state, the prefrontal cortex, the forward portion of the brain that is known for decision making, is inhibited, turning off that self-critic that says, “you’re not going to clear that jump!” As a reference, alcohol also inhibits the prefrontal cortex. The good thing though, is that motor skills are still sharp, unlike being under the influence of alcohol.
Even though flow has been studied extensively, there is still debate about research because the flow state can be very hard to measure objectively, so take most of these as strong associations with the state and know that it can differ with everyone. A study by Joshua Gold and Joseph Cioriari published this year said that the “primary method of studying flow has been through questionnaires as well as interviews for more qualitative explorations.” MRIs and EEGs are helping shed light on flow states, but haven’t accumulated quite enough evidence yet, they say.
Gold and Cioriari’s study reviewed almost 150 pieces of literature and did find that there is support for a shift from the frontal left to the frontal alpha or visual-spatial area of the brain “thus resulting in higher levels of performance. Alpha activity in general represents lower levels of consciousness and awareness.” Meditation is known to bring out alpha and theta brain waves too and can lead to increased creativity.
Forelli adds that this is why a lot of us might experience a flush of creative solutions or ideas during a ride. Mountain biking can be a “moving meditation,” but probably more so on a smooth climb when your focus isn’t on a drop ahead.
The Gold and Cioriari study also mentions dopamine, the brain’s pleasure chemical, usually released during sex, or in the consumption of hard drugs, or something as innocent as chocolate. “Furthermore, a key site of pleasurable experience of rewards is associated with the dopamine rich striatum, due to dopamine’s role in rewarding behavior by predicting rewarding outcomes that would result in reward-seeking experiences, which lends support to the autotelic nature of flow states.”
“Whether or not an individual is in flow depends on his or her perception of the existing challenges and the nature of his or her skills rather than on the objective nature of the challenges or skills themselves. When the challenges and skills are perceived as being in balance, the person enjoys the moment and stretches his or her capabilities to learn new skills and increase self-esteem and personal complexity.” Relaxation comes when skills outperform the challenge. Flipped, when the challenges outweigh skills, there will be anxiety.
It’s a question all of us should be asking ourselves. When was the last time any of us were able to get into a flow state?
Post time: Dec-28-2020