Part 2: Access Flow by Understanding It | What Your Instructor Can’t Teach You About Riding In Harmo
For equestrians, Flow is that magic moment that we dream of, where we are 110% connected to our horse. By understanding flow state, we can access it intentionally rather than by happenstance.
For at least the past century, The fields of psychiatry, psychology, and neurology have studied the way Flow effects and enhances human performance. Flow state has been purposefully, harnessed trained by elite soldiers, extreme athletes, and high performing business executives behind the scenes to enhance both physical and mental performance. Organizations like The Flow Genome Project have been working toward better understanding the what and the how of flow so that it becomes more accessible.
Flow is what makes the hard work worthwhile. When you feel like you are paddling against the tide while training with your horse, try thinking of the challenge in terms of a surfer paddling through the waves. With the perseverance to do what is hard, you get to experience the effortless power of the surge carrying you back to shore. Embracing a challenging moment is even more rewarding when you know that by doing so you can work towards reaching the ultimate connection with your horse.
Hungarian born psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, is the grandfather of Flow and considered to be the world’s leading researcher on positive psychology. Csikszentmihalyi’s TED talk on flow and happiness helps us understand the two basic criteria for flow to occur in a given activity:
Your skill set needs to meet the level of skill required in the activity
The level of challenge in that activity needs to stretch the upper limit of that skill set
The measurable changes that occur during flow state can be quantified with bio metric feedback marked by an increase in certain neurotransmitters that reinforce and enhance the learning experience. One of the most remarkable changes is a decreased activity in prefrontal cortex of the brain, which is responsible for executive function:
This means, that in Flow State, the skills we have learned and practiced become automatic without us over analyzing the situation. The result is being unconcerned with inconsequential details like who you are, who’s watching, is this “good or bad””, “right or wrong”. Our skill set is allowed to simply happen.
No second guessing, no overthinking, just flowing. Yes, this is something EVERYONE is capable of achieving. Imagine what that could mean for you and your horse.
1 Kotler, Steven. The rise of superman: Decoding the science of ultimate human performance. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014.