Finding Flow | Sweat Therapy

Finding Flow | Sweat Therapy

Has the fitness become too focused on visible results, and less about the joy of escapism and the mental wellness that exercise can bring you? There seems to be a general assumption that exercise motivation is all about the physical result-driven aspects of exercise.  Straining and striving to make our bodies look a certain way. The reality is that long term physical health and mental wellness is about discovering and unleashing the powerful psychological benefits of exercise as a forum for mental escape, creativity, and rejuvenation.  

Find Your Flow

In the early 1990's Pioneering research by psychologist Michael Csikszentmihalyi identified and coined the concept of the Flow Zone, an  “optimal state of consciousness where we feel our best and perform our best.”

Familiar and yet elusive to many athletes, musicians, writers and other creative types, Csikszentmihalyi was able to begin to distill the mystery of these seemingly magical moments by tracking, in real time, the activities of accomplished musicians as they recorded what they are doing, who they are with, and how they feel.

He identified several characteristics necessary in order to achieve or find oneself in Flow Zone where one is operating almost outside the limit of their own ability:

    1. Work is enjoyed for its own sake causing one to lose awareness of time and space. Hours can pass like minutes.
    2. Awareness of oneself is only directed in relation to the activity itself.  A musicians' fingers on a piano keyboard,  the way a chef's knife cuts through vegetables, or the balance of a Snowboarder or Surfers body in relation to their board.  There is no other inner dialogue related to physical comfort, outcome or external perception.  
    3. There is no interruption by extraneous thoughts- shopping list, irritating sounds or smells, task lists, etc
    4. Goals are clear at each moment but they are focused and detailed rather than directed at the ultimate result. The task itself is intrinsically rewarding — mastering or explaining a line of thinking in your academic work, mastering a slight hand adjustment for your forehand, or visualizing a way out of a difficult chess position.
    5. Flow Zone activities aren’t passive, they are active and the individual is in some control over the end result although ultimately, the performance seems touched, charmed or enhanced by a force just outside ones own comfortable ability.
    6. Work is effortless. Flow Zone experiences require a well trained pre-existing level skill or technique and although a person is likely working harder than usual, at flow moments everything is “clicking” and feels almost effortless.

Interestingly, flow happens only when there is a balance between the challenge of an activity and the skill you have in performing it. Set the challenge too high or too low and it'll be elusive.  Meaning, there's ample evidence to suggest that performance results will improve by pushing oneself moderately, allowing space to start losing oneself. Moreover, the brain releases an enormous cascade of neurochemistry. Large quantities of norepinephrine, dopamine, endorphins, anandamide, and serotonin flood one's system. All are pleasure-inducing, performance-enhancing chemicals with considerable impacts on creativity and determinants of happiness.

The focus should be on fitness as a lifestyle- a way to feel energetic and balanced on a daily basis. Finding escape in sweating it out can be the best kind of therapy for your body and mind, so ditch your shrink, find your exercise motivation and your flow zone and the rocking body will follow.

Inspirational Links:

Flow 101: 5 of the World's Best Athletes Reveal the Secrets of the Zone

From Fear to Flow | Cedric Dumont: TEDx Talks

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