I messed up yesterday. Myself and a bunch of others from Pro-Fit Whitefield climbed the 6th highest peak in the UK. Good so far. On the way there, I realised I’d left my walking boots at home.
I looked at my feet and was wearing a pair of Nike 3.0 Flyknits. Which are almost the least appropriate shoes I can think of next to jelly flip-flops.
But we were halfway there, and I wasn’t going to sit in the car for 4 hours while everybody else climbed a mountain. So I geared up, hoisted my backpack on and set off.
The start was a bit of a struggle. It was mostly slippy mud and puddles which in my barefoot, grip-worn-away trainers was not the best terrain. I had to seriously focus on every step and take some wide detours to find the path of least potential slippage to the point where one of our clients, Paul, said: “Shaun’s going to be walking twice the distance to get up here!”
And he was probably right. However, that didn’t mean I was going to have the hardest time.
What happened after our third stop and regroup (about half a mile in) might surprise you. It certainly surprised me.
Up until that point I’d been staring at the ground thinking about every single step I had to take. And I was talking to clients and other trainers which made life even harder.
After that stop, I moved up ahead a little so I could focus on just not falling over. Then found focus like never before.
The path became loose stones, and the weather took a turn for the worst. The amount of rain felt like walking through a constant thick mist, with wind so strong the rain was falling sideways.
And yet, the weather somehow made things easier for me.
Walking along with my hat on, hood up, and snood around my cheeks, all I could hear was the rain battering against the side of my head and my breath through the rain-saturated snood.
With that white noise minimising distraction all I had to focus on was my feet, and the ground beneath my next step.
Every step was in rhythm with my breath, analysing the ground for what would give me the most support and what might slip away, flowing from one to the next like a rain-drenched dance.
When I realised what was happening the feeling was incredible. It was so freeing, almost meditative having nothing to think about but the balance of my own body and how it was responding to the world going on around me.
In my head, all that mattered was the next step. There were no other thoughts, no other concerns, and nothing to distract me from my objective: to get to the top of that mountain and get myself out of the wind inside the shelter Bruce had mentioned a mile earlier.
That’s called flow.
Flow, also known as the zone, is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.
The zone is a brilliant place to be. And it doesn’t have to be for climbing a mountain, or training in the gym. You can achieve a flow state in any endeavour. Whether it’s a project at work, cooking dinner, or learning a new skill.
This time, for me, getting into a flow state happened by accident. Since then I’ve done some research, and if you can set up the situation to hit these 7 criteria, you can create the flow state.
- Knowing what to do.
- Knowing how to do it.
- Knowing how well you are doing.
- Knowing where to go (if navigation is involved).
- High perceived challenges.
- High perceived skills.
- Freedom from distractions.
I’ll talk you through them all and how my situation this weekend meant I hit that flow state and got deeply immersed in the zone.
- I know what to do – get to the top and keep walking without falling down.
- I knew how to do it – keep looking at the ground a few feet ahead to know what was coming and what I might need to avoid, just like avoiding potholes on my road bike.
- I knew how well I was doing – I hadn’t fallen over yet, and I could always see the next checkpoint.
- I knew where to go – there was a single path of loose stone with grass either side.
- There were high perceived challenges – I was climbing a mountain in terrible footwear and the weather was fucking horrendous.
- There were high perceived skills – I knew from my experience of road cycling and freerunning how to analyse the path ahead and smoothly adjust to the obstacles.
- I was free from distractions – I couldn’t hear anything because of the wind, or see anything too far away because of the raining and fog.
Like I say, I got there by accident. But now I know how to get there on purpose. And so do you. Next time you have something you know you just need to get “in the zone” for. Go through those 7 criteria and ask yourself if and how you can satisfy them. Then get started, relax, and let yourself flow.
Have you ever hit flow or properly got into the zone? Let me know your story in the comments!
Main image via Hypebeast