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If a runner is suffering during his or her run, dialing the intensity back will produce a more enjoyable experience. If a runner is bored, increasing the intensity of the run will lead to a more enjoyable experience. Now, if you’re competitive or experienced, this may seem obvious and might not be good for your training regimen. However, to runners with motivational issues, insights like this can make the difference between quitting entirely and sticking with it.
One of the great things about running is that it can lead you into flow in a non-competitive way. It depends on your goal. If your goal is to focus on a specific task, you can do it. Even if your goal is something general – like “get healthier” – running can make you feel the satisfaction of flow. Testing your limits? You can do it. Raising money for charity? That too.
To achieve flow, you must meet several criteria.
(A) Intense, focused concentration on the present moment
(B) Merging of action and awareness
(C) Loss of self-consciousness
(D) A sense of personal control over the situation
(E) A distorted temporal experience (losing track of time)
(F) Autotelic experience (the activity is intrinsically rewarding)
You can achieve each of these individually, but only doing so collectively will allow you to experience flow. Luckily, they are all closely related in psychological terms, so it’s easier to achieve than it may seem. Once you become aware of flow, the tricky part becomes focusing your concentration on the activity. You set out to achieve flow, but you can’t be in a flow state if you’re focusing on flow and not the task at hand. In other words, you can’t just go out and say “Gee, it’s nice outside. I think I’m going to get in The Zone today.” So there’s that. But you can take several steps to achieve the six criteria.
You must give definition and structure to the task. This almost always means setting clear, specific goals and defining success – at what point have you accomplished that goal?
You must balance your perceived skill level with the perceived level of difficulty
You must have immediate feedback. This allows you to adjust your performance to maintain a flow state.