By Greg Conderacci
In an earlier article, we talked about the magic of “Flow,” that wonderful state (on or off the bike) that is so absorbing that you lose track of time, terrain and headwinds and glide along effortlessly. That’s probably what Lance Armstrong was describing when he said it felt like the bike had “no chain” when he was on a roll.
Of course, we now know that Lance had a little chemical help. For those of us searching for a “safer” solution, the question still arises: “How do you get into flow?”
The “answer,” like so many others in life, is not so simple. In his book with Susan Jackson, Flow in Sports: The Keys to Optimal Experiences and Performances, the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, specifically resists providing “The 12 steps to flow.” In other words, the Father of Flow says, there’s no “cheap grace,” like popping a pill or sticking a needle in your arm.
You Can Control Flow – Sort Of…
He and Dr. Jackson quote their anonymous cycling star “Simon” as saying “I believe the flow state can be a controllable thing. Someone who can control it has got a lot of power in the sport. I think I know how to get it, but it takes a lot of practice. And a lot of work. And you have to master these things in your head.”
What “things?” Well, first it makes sense to understand the flow phenomenon. “It is a state of consciousness where one becomes totally absorbed in what one is doing, to the exclusions of all other thoughts and emotions. So, flow is about focus,” they say in Flow in Sports. (See our earlier article about “Focus”). “More than just focus, however,” they go on, “flow is a harmonious experience where mind and body are working together effortlessly, leaving the person feeling something special has just occurred.”
Although the two Ph.Ds. give a variety of techniques on how we can reach a flow state, to me the #1 tip is marshalling the “psychic energy” to meet a goal at the limit of our skills. “When the skills match the opportunities for action,” Csikszentmihalyi says in his pathbreaking best seller, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, “a person must concentrate attention on the task at hand and momentarily forget anything else.”
“These periods of struggling to overcome challenges are what people find to be the most enjoyable times of their lives,” he concludes.
Finding Your Flow Channel
In Flow, he describes a “flow channel” where the challenges are just right – like the Baby Bear’s famous porridge (that’s my metaphor, not his). If the challenge is too tough, we suffer anxiety; if it’s too easy, we’re bored.
To me the lesson for us riders is to pick the just the right challenges – physically, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually.
My personal example is riding Elite PACTour in 2015. The tour was tough: coast to coast in just 18 days. It wasn’t Race Across America (I could sleep every night), but I had to average about 150 miles a day, with no rest days. I never gone so long so hard, but I had ridden an easier version a decade earlier and believed it could do it.
At 66, I was the oldest person to ever complete the ride; there were many stronger riders than me and I rode alone a lot. Often, it was flow, plain and simple, that brought me through each challenging day.
Next: Why You Should Ride Like Crazy Horse
Greg Conderacci is a marketing consultant and a former Wall Street Journal reporter, non-profit entrepreneur, and investment bank chief marketing officer. In Getting UP!, he brings you the same skills he teaches at a top graduate school and Fortune 500 companies. Lots of people promise better performance … Greg proves it. Using his energy techniques, in 2015 he rode a bicycle across America in just 18 days — averaging 150 miles a day.