~Reaching a flow state~ How kiteboarding can Increase confidence, personal growth and make you happy!

AN ALTERED STATE

Can you recall a time where you have been totally immersed and completely absorbed in a kiteboarding session that it feels as though you are moving in perfect harmony with the wind and waves, fully enjoying every moment as it passes?  It seems as though you are in an altered state, you have lost track of time and innate needs become negligible for the time being.

If you can recall a session like this, amazing, you have experienced a flow state while kiteboarding and know how great it feels.  Reading this post will sound very familiar, so please read on to learn more about it.  If you can’t recall a session like this, no problem, keep reading to learn about this blissful state and what you can do to make it a reality.

Although I didn’t know what a flow state was or how to explain it until recently, I knew the feeling was unique and wanted to dig deeper to find out what the state of flow was all about.

Reaching a flow state or being in the zone as it is often referred to, is a great way to increase your kiteboarding skill, add happiness and enjoyment to your life while increasing positive traits like concentration, confidence and performance.

Flow states are experienced by people who throw themselves completely into their work or play.

After reading this article you will know what a flow state is, actions needed for a person to reach flow, health benefits from experiencing a flow state and why kiteboarding is a good conduit to reach a flow state.


WHAT IS A FLOW STATE?

Flow, is a mental state in which a person is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, total absorption and enjoyment in the process of the activity at hand. When experiencing a flow state your self-consciousness falls away and all emotions aid to enhance your performance and learning, and you feel spontaneous joy or happiness. Flow is a high performance state.

A flow state is an optimal state of intrinsic motivation.  Intrinsic motivation as the name implies, is motivation a person creates from within.  This type of motivation is propelled and sustained by the sheer enjoyment you experience from completing the task, in this case kiteboarding.

Intrinsic motivation is the desire to challenge yourself with learning, observing, and gaining knowledge.  When Intrinsic motivation is the driving force for someone participating in an activity, external pressures or rewards are meaningless.

My definition of Intrinsic motivation is doing what you want for reasons that are important to you and only you.  Intrinsic motivation is driving 3 hours to get in a 2 hour session at your favourite kiting spot and not thinking twice about it.  It is packing a fake golf bag with as much kiteboarding equipment as you can, until it is busting out of the seams, burning up 1 week of precious vacation time and spending thousands of dollars so you can experience some consistent kiteboarding in a tropical location with other like-minded folk.

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Most kiteboarders run on a full tank of intrinsic motivation.  It is a sport that if you are not fully immersed in and passionate about, you will lose interest in rather quickly and soon find yourself falling into wannabe purgatory.

Kiteboarding is a sport that lends itself nicely to reaching a flow state, because the demanding requirements in learning and progressing automatically filter out people who are not likely to be motivated.  Intrinsically motivated kiteboarders, become highly skilled kiteboarders and are the ones that survive and thrive!

When I have been fully absorbed by a kiteboarding session and in a flow state, I recall feeling a sense of contentment, ease and continuity in my movements. It’s as though my body is on auto pilot and I’m able to enjoy the experience uninterrupted by thinking, ego or distractions.  It is one of those rare occasions that I am firmly planted in the moment.

Now that we know a flow state is an optimal state of intrinsic motivation, with total immersion in the task at hand and a feeling of spontaneous joy or happiness, next we will examine what is needed to reach this high performance state.

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FLOW STATE REVEALED

Although a flow state can be achieved while performing any activity, you are most likely to reach this state when you are fully committed and actively performing an activity for the sheer pleasure of doing it.

Flow theory points to three conditions that must be met to achieve flow;

THE BIG THREE

1. One must be involved in an activity with a clear set of goals and progress. This adds direction and structure to the task.

  • In kiteboarding, clear, specific goals and progress start from the first moment you commit yourself to learning the sport.  Goals and progress vary by individual and are unique to the rider. For example some riders may want to become pro, while others are content mowing the lawn and many fall somewhere in between.  The beauty of the sport is that you can learn at your own pace and set your own individual goals. The flexibility to do what is important to you adds direction and structure to your kiteboarding sessions.

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2. The task at hand must have clear and immediate  feedback. This helps the person negotiate any changing demands and allows them to adjust their performance to maintain the flow state.

  • Clear and immediate feedback is what kiteboarding is all about. You know quickly if what you are doing is working and if any micro or macro corrections are needed.  In order to ride you are always negotiating different demands from the elements and surroundings.  Riders are constantly tweaking their riding to match the demands they face.  Successfully kiteboarding in changing conditions with immediate feedback confirming your actions builds confidence and helps achieve and maintain a flow state.

3. Must have a good balance between the perceived challenges of the task at hand and their own perceived skills. Must have confidence in one’s ability to complete the task at hand.

  • This last point is all about confidence, learning and progression.  As every kiteboarder knows, there is much to learn about the sport and many opportunities to be challenged.  When challenged, your skill is stretched to its limit and through practice your skill increases to meet the challenge at hand.  When there is a balance between skill and challenge, a flow state is possible.  Although this can be achieved throughout your progression from beginner to expert rider, a flow state is achieved and maintained when your skill level is high and the challenge is sufficient enough to put your skill to the test.

EXPAND AND RECAP WHAT WE KNOW

Although reaching a flow state isn’t an exact science, there are key criteria that make flow more likely to develop, as mentioned above.  Let’s recap and explain in more detail.

1. Do something you truly enjoy.  Flow is entered much more easily if you are doing something you truly enjoy, since we kiteboard we have that one covered.

2. Have clear and specific goals.  Again, in kiteboarding not hard to do.  For example, I want to be able to tack back and forth consistently, I want to be able to do a smooth transition, I want to be able to do a  jump transition, I want to do a backroll etc…  Make your goal specific, specific goals are easy to measure against and provide direction and structure.

3. Feedback is your friend.  While kiteboarding you know quickly if your actions are the right ones to reach your goal.  For example positive feedback could be as simple as, I’m trying to ride up wind and I’m riding up wind, great, keep doing what I’m doing.  Negative feedback could be, I’m trying to ride up wind and I’m going down wind, make adjustments depending on the feedback your getting. ex. I will fly my kite through the power zone more aggressively and edge my board differently.

4.  Develop your skill.  Your skill and the perceived challenge is somewhat of a teeter-totter that must be balanced to enter a flow state.  If your skill is higher than the challenge you must increase your challenge.  Conversely if the challenge at hand is higher than your present skill, to reach flow you must increase skill.


THE PSYCHOLOGICAL CONCEPT OF FLOW

The man responsible for the concept of flow is Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi,  I will call him Mr.C.  He is a distinguished professor of psychology who is known for his work in the study of happiness and creativity, but is best known for creating the psychological concept of flow.

Mr.C ‘s flow model shown below compares your skill level (x axis) and the perceived challenge level (y axis) and places you in  corresponding mental state.

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For example, let’s take a look at a beginner kiteboarder.  As a beginner your skill will be low and the challenge at that point will be high therefore planting a beginner in the state of worry and/or anxiety. To transition beyond these un-resourceful states to more resourceful ones, you must practice to expand your knowledge and skill. 

Looking at the model on the flip side,  if a kiteboarder is skillful but has hit a plateau and doesn’t push himself to further expand his skill he will be in a state of boredom or apathy, Skill=high, challenge=low.  An individual in these states does not grow and will exhibit a state of indifference and absence of interest.

No two kiteboarding sessions are alike and because of this kiters are always engaged in their craft.  This engagement keeps all sensory channels open and learning progressing at a rapid pace.  Rapid learning and consistently challenging yourself increases skill, this increase in skill will land you at the doorstep of Arousal which is the gateway to flow.

Arousal:  Is the state of being physically and psychologically awake.  Arousal increases your heart rate and blood pressure and increases your sensory alertness, mobility and ability to respond to incoming stimulus.  Arousal is important in regulating consciousness, attention, and information processing.  Arousal is a great state for learning because your senses are fully alert and you are ready to take action.


 

“Arousal the gateway to flow”.


IN A FLOW STATE

FLOW:  When you are in a flow state your entire body is aligned, energized and focused on the task at hand. 

Flow is a single-minded immersion, where your emotions are harnessed for the purpose of performing and learning.  The pinnacle of flow is the spontaneous joy you will feel by simply performing the activity.  It is a merging of action and awareness and falling away of your ego.

Mr.C, who was mentioned above, and, the man when it comes to the psychological concept of flow, cites, in his 2004 TED talk (flow the secret to happiness) , that a person can only process about 110 bits of information per second, although there is an abundance of information available to them at one time.

Under normal circumstances you can consciously choose what to focus your attention on, but In a flow state a person is so engrossed in the activity that they are completely using all of their mental capacity.

This total immersion and concentration causes you to lose awareness of time, people and distractions as there is just no more attention to be allocated.

The sense of competency, happiness and personal growth you experience while in this state increases self-esteem, confidence and decreases anxiety.  

Can you recall marathon sessions lasting multiple hours?  You land your kite, look at the time and 4 hours has gone by?! I know I can, I experience some serious time distortion while kiteboarding.


THE END GAME

Now that you know a bit about flow state, I’m sure you can recall multiple times you have experienced flow during your lifetime and in many different disciplines – hopefully kiteboarding has been one of them.

Personally it wasn’t until I reached a point in kiteboarding where I could independently ride and decided I wanted to become a better kiteboarder and started pushing myself, that I really started to notice this trance like state.

Although, at the time I didn’t know the theory behind flow, I did recognize it as a unique feeling .  I was intrigued and wanted to figure out if the experience of flow was special to kiteboarding or something universal.

In my search for answers I contacted a world renown Canadian hypnotist and explained in detail the experience I had while kiteboarding.  I asked him if he knew what it was that I was experiencing and if it was at all related to an altered state?  This hypnotist informed me it was indeed an altered state and that state was FLOW.

After receiving that email I was intrigued and started learning about flow states which ultimately led me down the path to writing this article.

The concept of flow and reaching a flow state is quite theoretical as there is no definitive destination point confirming you have arrived, it is a true energized feeling state, and if you previously have or do experience it, you will know.  Although flow is not tangible, it is real and reaching and maintaining flow is great for your personal growth, physical, mental and emotional health.

I’m certain most kiteboarders experience flow whether they know it as such or not. Flow states can’t be faked, they are simply a by-product of the actions of a good kiteboarder and the right mindset.



Session complete.

Resources:

flowstate – wikipedia

Mihaly– wikipedia

photo credit Wayne.W

If you have been in a flow state while kiteboarding, please share your experience in the comment section.

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