“Flow” is a popular word among mountain bikers and second to our other favorite words, like “bro” or “shred.” However, the word “flow” goes much deeper than lingo tossed around by sweaty mountain bikers conversing in a parking lot. In fact, flow is recognized by psychologists as a mental state of being where one is fully immersed and focused on a task. Oh yeah, we’re diving deep into psychology in this article. But don’t worry, I’ll try to keep it fun. Flow can be achieved in a number of ways—from writing an article to reading a great story—but for most of us, it is our mountain bikes that get us there most often. Our bikes can be our vehicle to the ultimate state of mind.
What in the world is Flow?
If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably had a ride go one of two ways. The first is the best kind of ride where you speed down the trails like a drop of water easily finding the path of least resistance. The other type of ride feels a lot like a rock tumbling to the bottom of a hillside. This is the kind of ride where I grab my brakes too late, set up my corners funky and feel completely off rhythm. The following day, however, on that very same trail, I might feel like I’m charging for my personal best time. So, what sets these two rides apart? As far as I can tell, everything is the same, but sometimes I just can’t seem to put myself in the zone. I decided to learn more about this so-called “flow state” and if it’s possible to achieve it during every ride. Here’s what I found.
How to step into a flow state of mind
To achieve the flow state, one must find a challenge. Too difficult of a challenge will scare a rider out of flow, while in contrast a trail not challenging enough causes the mind to wander and drift right out of flow. It seems like finding flow requires a rider to find a Goldilocks trail that’s challenging enough to keep them on their toes but not so scary they fear they’re going to crash. Flow seems to be triggered when the body feels a mix of relaxation and adrenaline.
The next thing I learned was the importance of visualizing what I was trying to achieve. I sure wasn’t going to meditate on the trails with my legs crossed asking my mountain bike guru how to hit a drop, but I did find it helpful to imagine what it would feel like to land the trail feature I had been desperately wanting to ride. From take-off to landing, I began to focus more on body position, feeling the speed I needed to clear the obstacle I faced and trying to sight exactly where I planned to land. Through this experience I found I could more easily accomplish my goal by first imagining what it would feel like to have already achieved it.
The last piece of advice I discovered was the importance of focus. I’ve chatted with many Red Bull level athletes who have all told me their worst crashes rarely happened during a big stunt but rather soon after. This seems to be because these athletes put every bit of focus they have towards accomplishing their goals. As soon as the goal is over, they put down their guard, only to make a minor mistake. Of course most of us aren’t chasing wild stunts, but I’ve found the same to be true during casual trail rides. When descending, it’s important to place every inch of focus you have towards getting down the trail. Looking out at the scenery, although pretty, may distract you long enough to end up in a crash. When a scenic ride is more my speed, I’ll stop multiple times to take in the view as opposed to taking it all in while navigating a rock garden.
Let’s go get it
The flow state is something I’ll always be trying to chase, and while I may not achieve it every ride, I don’t let that discourage me. From what I’ve read and discussed, it takes years of practice to be able to tap into this state of mind. So, while the word flow is tossed around during your next ride, try to think of its deeper meaning. Find your challenge, picture yourself achieving it, relax and focus on your goal, and before you know it, you’ll be flying down the trails in no time. Well, what are you waiting for? Join me and let’s get after it.
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