Have you heard of flow?
If not, you’ve probably heard of the zone. Being in the zone and experiencing flow are two similar ways to describe optimal experiences while completing a task. It’s just that being “in the zone” is used more colloquially, and flow is the official term used in sports psychology. It turns out that archers perform better when experiencing flow and that mindfulness meditation for archers can help them experience flow.
This is really good news for high-performance coaches and archers.
Flow state requires a balance between our perception of challenge level and skill level. This means we should feel confident that we have the skills to complete the task while at the same time recognizing that completing the task would require our full concentration and attention on the challenge at hand and on the present moment.
Flow state often produces a feeling of unity between action and awareness. That is, during flow, we might describe feeling at one with whatever task we’re doing. Our mind is completely present in the activity, undistracted by other life events or challenges that might cause us pain or anxiety in our daily lives. During flow, all consciousness of the world outside of the activity simple fades away, and we feel at one with the task.
Flow state also requires clear goals. To enter flow, we must be able to describe exactly what we’re supposed to do before attempting to complete the task. That way, during the activity, we can focus all of their attention on achieving the goal.
Unambiguous feedback about how we’re performing is another key element of flow. To experience flow, we must receive positive feedback about our performance. Feedback can be received a number of ways. Sometimes the feedback comes from an outside source. Sometimes it comes simply from meeting our clear goals.
For archers, feedback comes from a range of factors, often at the same time. Archers receive feedback from their own kinesthetic awareness of how their bodies are moving through space. However, most of the time, archers do receive additional feedback from judges, fans, coaches, or simply meeting their goals. The feedback athletes receive as they perform facilitates flow.
Total concentration on the task is one of the clearest indications of experiencing flow and is highly related to a challenge-skill balance. When our skill level is just high enough to accomplish the task, in order to really accomplish it, we need complete focus. In doing so, we forget about all the anxiety and troubles of daily life and enjoy the present moment. If we are able to complete the task while thinking about what we’re cooking for dinner that night, our thoughts are likely to wander from the present moment and take us out of flow.
The sixth element of flow is a sense of control, which is closely related to a challenge-skill balance. Notice, the key to experiencing the sixth dimension of flow is a sense of control, not complete control. Complete control would imply that we easily have the skills to complete the task. A sense of control, however, implies that while we have just enough skills to complete the task if we focus all our attention on what we’re doing in the present moment. On the other hand, if our skills reside far below the challenge level, we might feel out of control and start to doubt our abilities. This doubt would take us out of the present moment and out of flow.
Loss of self-consciousness is another important element of flow. Most of us live our lives consistently evaluating and judging ourselves and worrying about judgment from others. When we’re self-conscious, we’re unfocused, distracted by thought, and out of touch with the present moment. That’s why the loss of self-consciousness is an important aspect of flow – because self-consciousness distracts us from the task at hand. That’s also why the balance of skill and challenge level and complete concentration on the task at hand are so important for flow. When we need full concentration to complete a task, we can’t let self-conscious thoughts distract us, or we’ll fail.
The transformation of time refers to our perception of time. Deeper flow experiences have the power to make us experience time as passing faster or slower than it is in reality. When we’re focused so intensely on a task in the present moment, time seems to fade away or have little importance.
An autotelic experience is one that is intrinsically rewarding. This means we do the activity because the activity in itself makes us feel good, not because we receive external rewards like money, status, approval, etc., although such outcomes may result. Csikszentmihalyi said that in many cases, flow experiences bring us so much joy that we seek them out and they become autotelic. It’s not until after the flow experience, however, that we experience this joy because during flow, we’re often too focused on the task to fully experience joy.
Researchers have found that some main limitations of flow for athletes are sports anxiety and general pessimistic thinking.