When I work with my clients, I coach them on how to be in the state of flow. I also teach them the science behind what it takes to get their heart, brain, and nervous system into alignment so that they may achieve a peak state of performance. However, for the purposes of this article, I want to help you recognize how easy it is to lose touch with that state of flow and the obstacles to avoid while you are in it.
“There is nothing you cannot achieve if you keep your head down and the right support is guiding you along your way!”
When an athlete has a great mindset and is performing amazing feats of skill, building up the art of their sport, they are not thinking, Wow, look at how amazing I am playing every day. How am I doing this? No, they are too busy keeping their head down, focusing on what is in front of them, and living the dream that they have created for themselves.
When I am in this state, everything is pure, vividly clear. I’m in a cocoon of concentration.
~ Tony Jacklin
DISTRACTIONS TO AVOID
When someone or something distracts an athlete long enough to make them pause and look up, they begin to take stock of what they have been accomplishing while in this state of flow. This could be analyzation of the performance by their peer group and/or pressures of additional tournaments and opportunities to milk the wave of success that they are having. Or it could come from outside influences and drama that have nothing to do with their game. An athlete may have loved ones who are used to having more of their individual attention, but with this newfound success, an athlete may have to make a choice about where to devote their time. This may lead to anxiety or overwhelming emotions that the athlete has never experienced before.
These are just two examples of situations that may occur to take an athlete out of his or her peak performance state.
An excellent illustration of this is when an athlete wins several important matches or tournaments in a row, and they suddenly look up to receive acknowledgment of their success. Accepting accolades should certainly be done, as the athlete has worked hard for these achievements. And, of course, the necessary media engagements and/or social media obligations are important.
The problem comes when the athlete spends too much time performing victory laps rather than putting their head back down and focusing on their game. The athlete must stay on a steady course, but one that is not filled with too many outside distractions.
This would be difficult for any athlete to do, but it is especially true if great success comes early in an athlete’s career. They may not have the mental maturity to handle this type of outside stress and pressure.
Many young, up-and-coming athletes may live with their head tilted toward the stars, going with the flow, all the while not realizing that they have been on a ladder, climbing their way to the top. Than something distracts them long enough for them to comprehend where they are. They become aware that they have not been on solid ground. They may begin to over-analyze their position and overthink how the hell they ascended so high so fast. And then, BAM! The young athlete looks down!
Everyone knows that you should not look down when you are high up on a ladder. Do not look down! You will freeze on the spot. You will lose all of the momentum that you built up. The rising athlete recognizes that they do not want to give up all the progress that they have made. Their performance has been going so well, and no one in their right mind would want to screw that up. As the great Mac O’Grady once said, Of all the hazards, fear is worst.
If a young athlete is lucky enough to have the right people behind him, who are supportive and know how to keep outside distractions at bay, he will have a better chance of recreating the momentum up the rankings ladder that he previously generated. The athlete’s physical game is already on the right track, it is his mental game that needs to be addressed.
WE ALL FALL INTO THE TRAP OF DISTRACTIONS
You do not have to be an athlete to make the mistake of being distracted, out of the flow. Many of us do this all the time, and I am not talking just about the larger accomplishments while in the state of flow that we achieve in life. I am also talking about the small things that we do every day.
For example, I have done this very thing with writing. I can be in such a state of flow when I am writing that I lose track of how much time has passed. Hours may pass, and I do not even stop for spelling or grammar checks. But when I am in the state of flow, I am writing so effortlessly that I have no time to catch my own mistakes. The only thing that matters at the moment are the words flowing now, not the ones that need to be tweaked later. Sure, this gives my editor a headache because she must fix my run-on sentences and my spelling and punctuation errors, but she can live with that.
I can get distracted when the phone rings and or I hear the insistent vibration of my phone indicating that I am receiving a barrage of text messages from numerous clients or friends. If I fall into the trap of answering the call, then I have to try and remember the point that I wanted to make in what I was writing. Instead of making the smart play and shutting down my laptop and taking a nap, I find myself re-reading the last sentence multiple times in my determination to get my groove back. Ugh!
Continuing to work only makes the situation worse because now I am overthinking it, like a dog with a bone. I cannot seem to pull myself away, all in the hopes of retrieving that one small detail from my memory, which likely would not have been significant anyway. I follow this with the promise to myself that the next time this occurs, I will be quick enough in the throwing of my phone across the room so that I will not lose my train of thought, which was flowing so perfectly before.
Athletes always hear coaches telling them to stop getting distracted, stay focused on what is taking place in front of you. My favorite line, the one I use with my clients when I am trying to get this point across, is, Stay in your lane! I love this line, as it says everything that needs to be stated.
If you are a tennis player, this means to stay focused on what is happening on your court, not on what is happening the next court over. Do not concentrate on what or who is in the stands watching. To a golfer this means not letting the fans who are trailing you from hole to hole distract you. Thankfully, I am not a pro golfer. I cannot even imagine how difficult that would have to be.
But I do know that concentration is a matter of what you are interested in. You need to decide if you are more interested in the fans or the players on another court or on the ball that is in front of you.
A STORY ABOUT TIGER WOODS AND A DOG NAMED GEORGIE
I once lived in a community where Tiger Woods lived, and the community was having what is known as the Tavistock tournament. My house was on the 11th hole, and I was hosting a Tavisstock party. My guests and I watched the event from the back of my house, where the golfers were teeing off eight feet from my backyard.
Well, I had a loving Cairn Terrier, whose name was Georgie. Georgie barked at everything, even things of little consequence. He barked every time his feet met the outdoors. So, as the moment for which we had all been waiting and drinking all day for arrived, and everyone was following the proper etiquette and remaining hushed as Tiger was about to swing his club to make the perfect shot on the par three hole, someone opened the door between Georgie and his freedom. A high-pitched bark resounded through the hushed group of spectators and party guests!
At this point I immediately turned to look at the tee, at which our beloved Tiger stood. And what I perceived was Tiger and his caddy, Steve Williams, giving me a look of disdain that would have cut anyone to the core. They may have been looking at Georgie, who was then being muffled, but I felt that I was being singled out and damned to go down in a ball of flames directly to hell.
What is that saying? Hell, hath no fury like a golfer being disrupted from a shot off the tee! Okay, I just made that up, but it is true, nevertheless. But being the Tiger Woods that we know and still love to this day, he nailed that perfect line drive!
LOOK DOWN AT YOUR FEET
Distractions exist in every sport and in our everyday lives. When you find yourself distracted or interrupted out of the state of flow, center yourself. Look down at your feet. Yes, look down at your feet because that is where you are right now. Where you are right now is the only place your head should be. It doesn’t matter what is happening around you. What matters is what is happening where your feet are.
But what about all the distractions in your head? At least on a tennis court or a golf green you have an announcer or generally accepted rule of etiquette telling you to remain silent. But there is no announcer there calling you out for distracting yourself. How great would be if there were?
If an announcer or referee was there to penalize us every time we distract ourselves with negative feedback or call us out when we let that backseat driver, known as our subconscious, chime in when we are supposed to be in the flow, this could make all the difference between winning and losing. In addition, it would save us monumental amounts of mental energy.
Think of it this way, if you cannot perform your best being ridiculed or coached from the sidelines, how can you perform your best when it is you distracting yourself from inside your own head? We deal with outside distractions every day. But it is the distractions from our inner mind that are holding us back from reaching our full potential and staying in that flow.
When your life is in a state of flow, any task that you are performing feels fluid. Do not let anyone or anything interrupt you or distract you from this feeling of ease. More importantly, try not to overthink the details of life or the particulars that have no value in the grand scheme of things.
If you are in the sync with your own life, it will automatically flow in the right direction and down the stream with ease. Go with the flow of life!