Extreme Sports Allure – Go with the Flow!
After breaking my ribs for the third time in three years while wakeskating this summer I started to come to the realization that maybe I shouldn’t do this anymore. Some might say ‘Why the *@!* did it take three broken ribs to realize this?’ Am I just a slow learner?
I really struggled with the thought of retiring from this somewhat dangerous sport. Coincidentally I was reading a fantastic book this summer which was very relevant to my attraction towards extreme sports. Steven Kotler’s book ‘The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance’ helped me understand why I do dumb things like continue to wakeskate even with a very painful broken rib. It comes down to flow!
So what is flow?
Flow, also known as the zone, is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does.
I had heard about getting into the ‘flow state’ about a decade ago and have been very interested in it ever since. One of the first times I actually made the connection of being in flow was on a trip to Hawaii. Two buddies and I learned how to surf and went out on the last day of the trip to try and ‘catch some rides’. I can recall with absolute vivid memory riding one particular wave (the first real wave I had ever surfed) and the feeling I experienced was one of the best moments in my life.
Time stood still. I wasn’t thinking about anything except being in that moment and trying to make micro-adjustments in my stance so I could continue riding this wave in a constantly changing environment. To this day if I want to relax I can tap into that memory again and it puts a smile on my face.
You may be reading this thinking about times that you have been in flow. It doesn’t have to be during an extreme sport – it could be reading a great book, painting a picture, exercising, walking through a forest or immersing yourself in a project.
The reason I am mentioning extreme sports is because YOU HAVE TO BE IN FLOW or else you won’t be able to do it. Extreme sports are novel, challenging, require intense focus and have risky consequences for failure. These are all triggers to get into the flow state. Don’t worry if you aren’t into trying extreme sports as there are other ways you can access flow without skydiving off a cliff and these are outlined below in the video.
Speaking of flow – one of the benefits of flow is a release of endorphins. These are natural opioids stronger than heroin released in the body that make you feel good and are great pain killers. Earlier this summer when I injured my rib on the first attempt to get up on the board I tried again twice more even though I was in excruciating pain. I was unsuccessful, super frustrated, and even more sore. The next day my friend Craig, who introduced me to the sport, asked if I wanted to try again. Even though I knew it was going to hurt like hell – I tried again and this time I got up right away. I had a great ride and when I fell down eventually my pain had not only disappeared but my whole body felt awash in endorphins and I had a huge smile on my face. 🙂 This may also explain why flow is soo addictive.
Benefits of flow that occur after you are in the state
- More happiness
- More positive emotions
- Better coping (ability to handle stress)
- Better performance
- More Creativity
The cool thing about the flow state is the more you put yourself in it the easier it is to access the state more frequently. The question I still struggle with:
Is it worth it to have severe rib pain for two months after getting into flow?
Here is an example of getting my flow on….
If you would like to learn more check out Steven Kotler’s talk on Flow here:
Go with the flow!
Author’s note: An article on flow isn’t complete without referencing the first author to really delve into flow: Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Author’s Update: I just finished building a long board from scratch so I can get my flow on the pavement. Wow – like I need another way to injure myself!
This article is also featured in the GoodLife Fitness Blog