"FLOW STATE - Offpiste Humor"
  Schooner Zodiac at sea
High on Adventure



FLOW STATE - Offpiste Humor

Column and head-scratching photos by Steve Giordano, mostly

The best advice I ever got from a personal coach for an exercise program was to start out slowly and then kick back. This technique never won me any foot races, but I always passed a lot of runners just before the finish line. They had started out fast but couldn't maintain the pace. As slow as I was, there were always people to pick off whose strides were bigger than their feet, so to speak.

Starting out slowly and then kicking back is a great stress-buster that could apply to a lot of activities. It takes the edge off any performance anxieties that may be lurking around and leaves you free to enjoy what you're doing. With that attitude, expectations stay in the realm of the possible, the achievable, and the flow of the moment fills your awareness.

Take tugboat races for example. No, really. I'm not kidding. Years ago, Seattle's Maritime Festival featured three heats of tugboat races. I got to ride in the second heat on the little tug that could.

Tugboats in Olympia, WA 1988
Harbor Days in Olympia was a Puget Sound event
where workboats also played with the public.

Northwest Seaport photo credit

Actually it was the big tug that could, but the engine was little, 700 horsepower compared to shorter tugs with 7,000 horsepower engines. Those tiny tugs could practically do pirouettes during their spirited showoff ballets on the Elliott Bay waters.

Ours, the Arthur Foss, was probably the original Foss tug built more than a hundred years ago. She's off duty now, serving out her time as a National Historic Landmark. She's maintained by volunteers who once a year had an incredibly good time starting out slow and then kicking back. That year she passed two other
tugs near the finish line, and the crew's twin goals were met: finish the race and have a good time doing it.

You could say the race had a good flow to it. Once up to speed, a sort of steady state was maintained and everyone on board was free to enjoy the flow.

Flow as a human state of mind is the subject of a book called ``Flow, The Psychology of Optimal Experience.'' The author is Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, and I'm guessing he was motivated to study flow by the sound of his own name.

  Streams flow together   No-pedal bike  
Rivers converging and bicycles moving are examples of good flow states in nature and in human power.

Csikszentmihalyi says the enjoyable, fulfilling state of personal flow happens when ``attention can be freely invested to achieve a person's goals, because there is no disorder to straighten out.''

He explains that the steady state happens during activities that require psychic energy, activities that are both goal-directed and bound by rules. That can apply to a game of chess or go, to dancing the night away, to any kind of race, or even to something so mundane as mowing the lawn in an orderly pattern.

  GPS of mowing lawn   GPS of riding bike in circles  
GPS of mowing lawn
GPS of bike circles

The flow state is a merger of action and awareness. When the goals are clear and the feedback is immediate, things flow right along.

Musicians get into it. In fact, you could say the flow state is a requirement of their art. These musicians are all in their own personal states of flow.

  Two pianos   JP Falcon Grady   Jonny Lane  
Barbara Ryan and Cassandra Carr
JP Falcon Grady
Jonny Lane

Steve Allen, the original Tonight Show host, was a jazz pianist who knew about flow. He once said that people flow through their day or their art, doing thousands of things, making thousands of decisions and having thousands of thoughts, without, so to speak, thinking about them.

The flow of the activity is interrupted when someone asks, ``Why are you doing that?"

Allen said we'll usually stop what we're doing - and stop the flow - and invent a reason, because we really don't have a reason when we're moving in the flow.

  Getting good flow requires realistic goals. If the speed you want to drive on the freeway is faster than the flow of traffic, forget it. When everything around you is in a clog state, flow isn't going to happen for you. To avoid the anxiety, you have to change your goals or learn to put yourself in the right place at the right time.   2022 bike parade in Bellingham, WA  

If you have trouble kick-starting yourself into a busy day, if disorder is your natural state of mind in the morning, here's something that might work. I heard it at a stress-reduction workshop: Make a list of your tasks. But don't write today's list. Write yesterday's list, or last week's. There is no better feeling of accomplishment than to have the jobs finished as soon as the list is done. The rest of your day should flow pretty evenly, even if your name isn't Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

Speaking of Csikszentmihalyi, he and his concept of flow are discussed in this TED talk on play. A pioneer in research on play, Dr. Stuart Brown says humor, games, roughhousing, flirtation and fantasy are more than just fun. Plenty of play in childhood makes for happy, smart adults -- and keeping it up can make us smarter at any age.

26-minute TED talk with photos & videos on how play is a big part of our inner natures

About the Author

  Steve Giordano   Web manager Steve Giordano, past president of the Society of American Travel Writers, is a veteran ski and travel journalist & photographer whose work has appeared in newspapers, magazines, books, radio and television and many places around the Internet. He's written numerous travel books. Steve is the designer and technologist of HighOnAdventure.com and was the online and guidebook editor of SkiSnowboard.com. He is a member of the North American Snowsports Journalists Association and can be reached at rsgiordano@gmail.com.   Steve Giordano  
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