Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Go for the Flow, Not with the Flow

This post is an open letter to all graduates of the class of 2011.
I have been training for a while, mostly in the gym but lately outdoors.  I love to run and have set my sights on a half marathon in September.  Anyone who runs can appreciates the enormous difference between training on a treadmill and actually beating the pavement outside.  Sometimes I get discouraged and recently began to doubt my ability to meet the challenge I set for myself.  “If you can’t cut it, you can always downgrade to a 10K run.  That’s pretty good too; especially for someone my age!”  This is an example of the inner chatter that fills my thoughts.
Runners Den Classic Road Race 2010 - Middle of the Packphoto © 2010 Dru Bloomfield | more info (via: Wylio)

Today I decided to silence the chatter and set my sights high.  OK – 10K, here I come.  I grabbed my iPhone, opened up my Runmeter app, selected my favorite playlist and set off.  As I looped and lapped around the park in the heart of Montreal, passing runners much younger and more efficient than me, my thoughts turned to the hopeful faces of the students who delivered their valedictorian addresses to the committee of teachers charged with the difficult task of picking the winner.  In just a few minutes, they tried to wrap up five years of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual growth that will forge their futures.  I loved their earnest energies and their words gave me goose bumps. 
I brought my thoughts back to the present and focused on my lungs and legs as the voice on my Runmeter app informed me of my pace, time and distance.  Lungs…good.  Legs….hmmm…getting tight.  “Go for the flow”, I tell myself.  Reduce speed (not that it was fast!) and focus on distance; reach for that flow zone where running is your happy place.  I reviewed, in my mind, the psychology class this week where I introduced Mihalyi Cskiszentmihalyi’s idea of flow and the psychology of optimal experiences.  My students call this ‘the zone’; my dad used to call it his ‘laughing place’.

We all have experienced these moments when time slips away and we lose ourselves to the present moment.  Skill level and challenge are perfectly matched in a sublime dance of joy and grace that marks the moment in our minds.  “I can do this”, I tell myself.  And I do.  Mission accomplished!  My first 10K run this year (OK, actually in a few years).   But better than that, is the memory of ‘flow running’.  The challenge I set was a perfect match for the skill level.  Cskiszentmihalyi tells his readers that if the challenge is inferior to the skill, we risk boredom or apathy.  Set the challenge beyond the abilities and you will only create anxiety and worry.  The trick is to realistically appraise your skill and then push the envelope just a bit as you set your challenge.  Cskiszentmihalyi recommends that we operate at the very edge of our comfort zone; this way we are always challenging ourselves to grow in skill and ability.
So, dear ‘soon-to-be graduates’ of 2011, may your future be filled with challenges and may your hearts have the courage to meet them.  Some moments will be grace-filled with flow; others will run the gamete of ordinary, disappointing, scary, and exciting and the list goes on.  Remember that the task is not to go with the flow but go for the flow; that way you will never disappoint yourself and have wonderful memories of your own to cherish as you try to run your own races in the different stages of your lives.

1 comment:

  1. "Anyone who runs can appreciates (sic) the enormous difference between training on a treadmill and actually beating the pavement outside" - Like education, unless you can apply your head knowledge to practice, it wouldn't make much difference than one who didn't study the same program as yours.

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