The pretty good books of Susan Larson

Flow State: Finding My Zone

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I am so interested in this state of being.  I have gotten into Flow State quite a lot, mostly performing as a singer in difficult operas; or horseback riding; I am always trying to return.


Flow State is also called “The Zone,” “The Groove,” or “Being Unconscious.” The official definition, by psychologists anyway, is that precise conjunction of a challenging activity with your capacity to perform it.  The task is hard but you know you have the chops to do it, and you are going to bring it with everything you have. You are neither overwhelmed by the difficulty of the task, nor bored because it’s too easy.


Peace, calm, ease of effort, take us over in Flow State.  We feel godlike. “It’s like the job was doing me, not me doing the job!” No grinding, no struggling, no forcing; and none of the sloppy carelessness and stupid mistakes that we make when it’s all just too easy.  Suddenly, Life is perfect, for this dance, this song, this game, this bike-ride.


 “I was outside myself,” “ I was floating,” “I just saw the ball! It was huge!”  “I was fully in every moment and I didn’t have to think.” “I just did it!”


You want to go there again and again.  You’re maybe even addicted; so you push for more, you dare, you risk. But flow state can’t be forced. You can tell when an athlete or an artist is forcing it beyond her capacity of the moment.  Performance is wooden, uncoordinated, mechanical, maybe physically damaging.  How to dig deep but still stay within yourself? And if you choose to stay within yourself, do you ever really find the true high of Flow State?


I go cycling with some older but dedicated enthusiasts.  They are friskier than me. Some of them are kind of maniacs. I have been told by my chiropractor that there is a limit to what you can demand of your body; staying in or around that limit will keep you healthy happy and long-lived. If you blast past that limit, the results are less good: you over-stress, you break down, you die sooner.


I am truly happy when I can go on a moderately challenging ride, making sure to warm up for the first twenty minutes even if my pals stampede out of the parking lot (I call this strategy ‘working my way to the back of the pack’), not feeling like I have to keep up with them, not mashing hard on the pedals, riding as fast as I can but not so fast that I end up as a basket case at ride’s end; to sweat and pant and live to cycle another day.


Some of my pals hammer; they push it all the time.  Sometimes I only ever see them in the parking lot. They ride hundreds of miles a week, and talk of nothing else but riding. They are so stringy and skinny they look like famine victims.  Or addicts.  


Are they addicts? Or am I taking it too easy? I tell myself I’m trying to pace myself in my golden years, while those skinny maniacs have blown through Flow State and are heading for a breakdown. Where is the good groove that lies between hanging back and working it so hard that you wreck your body? I will probably never know any more, because I am not going there. I don’t want to die sooner I want to stretch it out  for as long as I can.  I kind of want to do what feels OK– what feels, sometimes, like Flow State.






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