By Hannah Alderfer, BA, CPT, FMSC
"Dig deep." That's the phrase the designers decided to print on the shoelaces of my Brooks Launch coral-colored running shoes. That phrase passed through my mind more than once during the 26.2 miles of the Boston Marathon on Monday, April 20th. For just over 3 hours, I not only had to dig deep into my physical capabilities and push past increasing fatigue and soreness, but I also had to dig further into my mental toughness and concentration. Eventually I stopped hearing the crowds and feeling the rain. Despite poor weather conditions (temperatures in the low 40s, winds blowing at 20 mph, and cold rain) I experienced a condition called "flow," also known as a peak experience, which can happen to anyone in any type of sport, exercise, or work situation. My skills were an equal match to the challenge. After months of preparation, my body was physically prepared to take on the 26.2 mile course from Hopkinton to Boston.
In flow, a high challenge is met by high skills combined with great concentration. The experience itself becomes its own type of reward. This is why sports and exercise themselves are fulfilling and we come to enjoy the process of going through the activity. It's also one of the reasons, I believe, why so many people love the feeling of a run. Being able to arise to the difficulty of a challenging run (or insert another type of activity) brings about great results and great rewards, even if it's just the awesome feeling of accomplishment.
Too many people today suffer from a lack of flow in their lives. In place of flow, you may find yourself in one of these three other categories. First, when you choose a high challenge but fail to prepare yourself for it, you may feel a sense of anxiety and failure. Second, if you choose a goal that is too low and there's little difficulty achieving it, you will end up feeling bored and the accomplishment will mean little to you. Lastly, if you both fail to prepare (have little skill) and never give yourself something to work toward that requires more of you, then you will be left feeling apathetic. Being willing to work hard toward a goal that seems a little daunting is highly beneficial to life's overall enjoyment! If you want to live a life of more peak experiences try these suggestions...Test the limits of your skills a little; what can you do to push yourself beyond your comfort zone? Avoid passive activities that require mindlessness and lack of focus. Set clear goals and respond to feedback, whether it's official results, numbers, or physical and emotional feelings. Finally, practice mindfulness and thought control by limiting doubts about yourself and focusing on the challenge.
During my marathon, I believe I experienced a sense of flow because of the high challenge and the high skills I had worked toward attaining. I can honestly say that the entire race in itself was a reward and that crossing the finish line was sweeter still. There were moments where I could have lost focus, where I let the pain, the wind, and the rain defeat me, but the "dig deep" mantra would come back to remind me that I could indeed rise to the challenge.