Creating Athletic Flow
by Gordo Byrn
Superior athletic performance requires getting your mind out of the way of your body.
One of the shortfalls of a classical approach to sports psychology (goal setting, visualization, self talk, arousal control) is the exercises actively engage the mind.
Athletes seldom have the problem of “thinking too little.” The challenge is our minds are constantly spinning.
How do we free ourselves?
I’m often asked for book recommendations on performance psychology. Most self-help books would be better as articles. For busy athletes, a book gives us too much to work on. We pull a dozen points out of the text and ...nothing. We seek to do too much, too quickly and revert to our existing patterns as soon as we are stressed.
As a coach, I love the unreasonable obsession that athletes have with performance. By tapping into our obsessions, we can use them to free ourselves.
Let’s get to the practical side of giving yourself a shot at calming your mind. To get the most from this protocol, you need to follow it exactly. There’s a reason behind each tip.
Before you start:
It’s not until you remove yourself from your typical patterns that you’ll be able to see how they set up your thoughts.
The above removes:
To access your “flow” in a race, you’ll need to practice extensively in a low-stress environment and create a physical mantra that will bring you into a performance state.
That’s a fancy way of saying that you start by learning to relax with your pulse at 120 bpm and gradually progress to 165 bpm, in a crowd, when fatigued.
You learn to perform when you race by chilling yourself out in daily life.
It used to baffle and bother me that age-groupers would always start too fast and fade towards the end of every workout. Over time, I realized that athletes are clueless on their early pacing because of the thoughts/fears/anxieties (invisibly) raging in their minds. Bother turned to compassion and now I simply try to lead by example.
If you have a lot of noise in your life then it’s going to flow through your head. Pay attention and let it go.
It’s normal to have all kinds of emotions and memories flow while you’re doing this type of training. Pay attention and let it go.
With recurring themes, you might benefit from reaching out and making amends with the person/situation. If there’s disharmony in training then it’s likely to reappear when racing.
You’re not going to be be able to outrun, drown out or medicate your noise away. You simply burn through it by creating harmony in your life and letting it flow through your endurance training.
Athletes often use loud music, stimulants, alcohol, drugs, exhaustion, intensity... to mute the noise they experience in their heads. Personally, I’ve found it much more valuable to use sport as a gateway to serenity.
Easy training is worth the effort.
Links and Recommended Reading
Fear Anger and Flow - An article of mine explaining the challenges that confront the athletic mind
EC’s Recommended Reading - Sift through for links to my favorite spiritual and philosophical books
Kipling’s poem, “If” - a favorite of Chrissie Wellington
Serenity Prayer - by adjusting the words a little, I remind myself what it takes to race well
Gordo is the founder of Endurance Corner. You can find his personal blog here.