I’ve always loved the term flow, as opposed to its other synonmyms such as “in the zone”, fully focused or peak performance. In sport, or any other context in life, flow can be described at the times you feel completely absorbed in what you’re doing and totally in the moment (For a great book on it check out Flow in Sports). As an athlete, you may experience those rare training or racing days where time seems to slow down, your efforts feel effortless, and you feel in total control of what you’re doing. It is often the moments where the challenge is optimally matched with your skill level.
I think of mountain biking as a great example to illustrate flow in sport. If you are riding trails that are way beyond your ability level, you’ll end up walking more than riding, while likely throwing out many choice words in frustration. If you ride trails that are too easy, you could end up bored with nothing to challenge you. On the other hand, if you’re riding trails that are the optimal challenge to your present physical and technical abilities you’ll be fully alert and focused on what you’re doing, loving the thrill, and whooping with excitement!
Through working with many different athletes and from personal experience, it seems that our ability to find that challenge-skills balance in life in general can relate to our ability to experience flow in sport performance. Experiencing flow generally happens right in the middle of the continuum between boredom and stress or feeling overloaded. And for everyone that balance is completely individual. Some athletes perform optimally when they can focus 100% on their sport, and taking on any other commitments sends them into the stress zone. Others feel more focused when they are pursuing other goals such as school and work (and I could add for some of us raising a family!) at the same time. Everyone has to find the balance that works best for them, and it can be an evolving pursuit.
School is back in this week, and with all the nostalgic feelings of going back to school comes renewed enthusiasm to start new projects, study something new, sign up for classes, and buy new clothes! There are so many things we could do!!! Just as we as athletes strive to find flow more consistently in sport performances by balancing all the demands optimally, we can also practice some of the same principles as we parent and figure out how to balance a family by remembering things like…
1. “Over-reaching” from time to time is okay. Over-reaching is the type of fatigue an athlete may feel after a hard training block or competition, and is readily reversible after a few days. Some weeks of training or life in general are crazy. We can get through them if we can see a rest time to look forward to at the end to reset the balance.
2. The art of saying “No.” It is unbelievable how many activities I could sign myself or my kids up for these days! Between lessons, birthday parties, work commitments, training schedules, social invites, and day to day life it is easy to feel overloaded. I’ve had to work hard at saying “no” especially to fun things that I know will impact too much on my recovery as an athlete, my ability to be fully present at work, or on family time.
3. Prioritize what is important. Whether you’re a stay-at-home mom or a full time career mom, or somewhere in between, it takes just as much work to prioritize what is important for you and your family. Experiencing flow in life means being true to your values regarding career choices, family choices, and lifestyle choices! As moms, it is easy to get caught up in the so called “mommy wars” but the most important thing is striking the right balance between our needs and wants and time spent with our kids. If we are true to that balance we’ll likely be a better, more present, and hopefully patient mom to our children!
Finally, flow reminds me of the image of a river. A river keeps flowing smoothly. When it runs into obstacles like rocks or logs, it doesn’t resist them, it just reroutes and finds the best way around them. Those obstacles may be the days or moments we feel temporarily overwhelmed, but with proper time outs to unplug, to breathe, and to relax, we can get flowing again with our balance restored.