Entering & Appreciating ‘Flow’

Photo by Quino Al on Unsplash

Today I clicked on a link to this post from the Elemental publication digest in my inbox.

Who doesn’t enjoy the Flow state and want more of it?

Jeremy Sutton, Ph.D. says,

Entering flow is possible for anyone. Sure, it can be challenging to get there, but the challenge can make moving more enjoyable. The ability to master physical challenges and find them fulfilling benefits both the body and mind. Looking for the zone — and getting in it — seems worth the pursuit.

I agree, and it opened a lot of thoughts in me. My mind is swarming.

The struggle makes the win more enjoyable

It’s helpful to not be in the Flow to appreciate the Flow.

I’ll rephrase that:

  • When we’re not in the Flow, and then we get in the Flow, and we have experience of both, we appreciate the Flow more.
  • Loses make the wins feel sweeter
  • Being “down” makes us appreciate being “up” more.

In response to Jeremy, runner Ryan Fan shared some thoughts that resonated with me. Ryan’s full response:

Here is the part of his response that I honed in on:

But after you run more consistently and build a better aerobic base, and acclimate your mind and body to the activity, you get runner’s highs more often, especially towards the end of runs. So here we are also more likely to enter flow when we perform better, but in my line of exercise and competition, you have to acclimate yourself to, well, feeling like shit and pushing yourself far outside your comfort zone before you attain a “flow” state.

(Emphasis mine.)

I responded to that, then realized that I’d written enough to share in my own post. I edited my response down to 3 sentences — four, including a postscript, and here we are.

Here is the short, final version:

I think this is a metaphor for life that teaches us resiliency & perseverance.

Your comment also makes me want to start running again. Every few years, I start running and give up when the weather gets too hot or wet.

What can I say? I have the luxury to choose comfort when it comes to running. I can decide to start back with the Couch to 5K running app or not.

Sometimes we don’t have the opportunity to choose comfort (we don’t have a choice in every situation). Sometimes we decide on discomfort.

Discomfort: The theme that keeps arising

Until I typed that previous sentence, I had no idea that I was going to use the word “discomfort”. It is a theme that keeps coming up in my writing on Medium. I’m almost annoyed by its persistence, and yet I think it’s pretty awesome. Even when I don’t consciously intend to address the topic, my thoughts go to being comfortable with discomfort.

It seems that subconsciously, discomfort is my theme of the year. It’s my teacher.

Think my subconscious is trying to beat me over the head with this message?

When I drafted the original response (below) I was thinking of pushing through a challenge (“perseverance”), of feeling like shit to get to the good stuff, of getting stronger (“resiliency”). That in itself is good stuff.

You Want to Lack Flow

It seems, then, that my subconscious “obsession” with the concept of discomfort is the reason that what Ryan said that struck me.

Here is my original response to Ryan.

I think this is a metaphor for life.

When individual experiences become applicable to the rest of our lives, it’s helpful. For example: Near the beginning of my multi-day hike in Peru, high altitude, during the wet season. It felt difficult. Breathing felt like a challenge. I told myself, “Turning back isn’t an option.” I had no choice but to put one put in front of the other and take breaks when needed.

I’ve taken that memory with me into less physically taxing experiences. You push through the challenging moments, find the blissful moments, and at the end, you recognize your accomplishment.

Your comment also makes me want to start running again. Every few years, I start running and give up when the weather gets too hot or wet.

(TL;DR version: Ryan’s comment is a metaphor for life, and difficult exercise teaches us resiliency & perseverance.)

That stock image above from Unsplash is a good representation of my experience of hiking in Peru, but the clouds were closer to the ground.

Further down the rabbit hole of my brain, I started to think about going down to go up. Or, as I said near the top, experiencing a lack of Flow to appreciate the Flow.

The ego prefers anything to failing, changing or dying. Our ego speaks up when we don’t immediately excel at something. Some call it “Automatic Negative Thoughts”, or “ANTs”. I call that voice my inner “Gremlin.”

Examples of shit the ego says,

  • “You’re weak.”
  • “You’re not fast enough.”
  • “You’re not flexible enough.”
  • “Look at the perfect pose of the person next to you in this yoga class.”
  • “Look at how much weight she can lift.”

We compare ourselves to others. We tell ourselves stories of failure even though everyone experiences being a beginner, and we all have different innate abilities. While our bodies are more or less designed the same, they have variations. We vary in height, limb length, torso length, natural weight and more. Our DNA is different. Our brains work the same but with varying amounts of neurotransmitters. Our experiences shape our current truth and reality.

We tend to see inability as failure instead of a place to start to improve.

We focus on the end result but forget to enjoy the process.

Cliches exist out of necessity and those about enjoying the journey before the destination are valid reminders.

In exercise, if we’re not competing with others, we’re competing with ourselves. That’s a good thing. It’s motivating. It propels us. Competition is healthy until it’s not, and hopefully, you’re self-aware enough to know when you’ve crossed that line.

Falling Upward

In his book Falling Upward, Fr. Richard Rohr says the following, regarding the pattern of loss and renewal:

It is still a secret, probably because we don’t want to see it. We don’t want to embark on a further journey if it feels like going down, especially after we’ve invested so much into going up. This is surely the primary reason why many people never get to the fullness of their own lives. The supposed achievements of the first half of life have to fall apart and show themselves to be wanting in some way, or we will not move further. Failure and falling lead to progress.

This applies to so much in life.

I’ve seen people in gyms who barely break a sweat. They go through the motions but don’t challenge themselves. Where’s the growth in that?

It’s important to push your body to the edge of its limit, to break through plateaus to feel like you’re working. It’s important to try new activities. Allow yourself to feel challenged or to feel ridiculous.

Get to the fullness of your life, will ya?

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Digital Marketing Manager | Freelance Writer | ADHD Coach for adults | Available for hire. http://andreawrites.ca.

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