Monday, July 5, 2010

Flow and Cycling: An Introduction

Some days the pedals turn over with ease, the gaps are closed with ease, your power is strong and steady.

Riding feels smooth and effortless and you can go forever.

No matter how hard you push the pedals, you don't hurt.

Each pedal stroke, each acceleration, each breath brings focus and clarity.

Almost every cyclist and athlete has had this feeling, it can be difficult to explain and even harder to replicate for most. This is the state of flow, and is described by Csikszentmihalyi (1990) as the optimal balance between skill and demand. The flow experience is sheer enjoyment and may result in optimal performance. If a cyclist has the ability to achieve objectives in training and experience flow, that cyclist will likely have increased confidence come race day and an increased opportunity to experience flow.

Csíkszentmihályi identified the following ten factors as accompanying an experience of flow:

1. Clear goals, goals are attainable and align appropriately with one's skill set and abilities.

2. Concentrating, a high degree of concentration on a limited field of attention.

3. A loss of the feeling of self-consciousness, the merging of action and awareness.

4. Distorted sense of time, one's subjective experience of time is altered.

5. Direct and immediate feedback, success and failure is apparent.

6. Balance between ability level and challenge, the activity is neither too easy nor too difficult.

7. A sense of personal control over the situation.

8. The activity is intrinsically rewarding, so there is an effortlessness of action.

9. A lack of awareness of bodily needs, one can reach a point of great hunger or fatigue without realizing it.

10. People become absorbed in their activity, and focus of awareness is narrowed down to the activity itself, action awareness merging.

You don't need to experience all of the above to experience the flow state.

Flow can be difficult to achieve, but there are things that every cyclist can do to increase the likelihood that they will experience the flow state during a race or training.

This is the first post on Flow, subsequent posts will take a more in depth look at the mechanisms, and conditions for flow and the steps each athlete can take to optimize there performance through the knowledge and application of flow.


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