This continues from Part 2 of our discussion of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s eight “characteristic dimensions of the flow experience” outlined in his book The Evolving Self.
In The Evolving Self, Csikszentmihalyi is connecting the research findings he presented in his original book Flow to how these can be applied to improve one’s quality of experience of life and to make a more powerful, positive contribution to the world.
In Chapter 7 he reviews eight “characteristic dimensions of the flow experience”, and in this series of posts I will review these eight dimensions and discuss ways we can apply these to our swimming practice. You can read through this series to see how Flow works and then think of ways to improve your practice time accordingly.
#1 – Clear Goal With Immediate Feedback
“Clear goals: an objective is distinctly defined; immediate feedback; one knows instantly how well one is doing.” (p.178)
This has a features we should discuss:
- clearly defined objective
- immediate feedback
- at each moment one knows how much closer or farther from the objective he is
It is common to have an overall training goal, like, “I want to swim a faster Ironman swim,” or, “I want to be able to swim continuously for 30 minutes without feeling exhausted.”
And, it is common for swimmers to have some sort of external objective for a training set, like, “I need to complete 10x 100 on the 1:45, going faster than race pace,” or, “I want to swim two laps continuously before I rest, instead of just one.”
But, it is not so common while even more important to have an objective for every length, and an intention for every single stroke. Do you?
For the length it could be like, “I will use 21 strokes to get across the pool on every length of this set.” For the stroke it could be like, “I will keep my lead arm extending on each breathing stroke, rather than push down.”
The immediacy of the goal determines the immediacy of the feedback. Your big goal is broken up into a clear objective for each practice, each practice is divided into sets with a clear objective, and each repeat has a clear objective, and each length has a clear objective, and you have a particular (focal point) objective for each stroke. The objective for the stroke should contribute directly to the objective for the length, and so on, up the chain to the big goal.
Then you identify the form of feedback that fits each of those objectives.
Here’s an example of how to break down a big goal into an immediate action, with feedback:
- The Big Goal: to swim a faster Ironman swim
- The Practice Objective: expand tempo range
- The Set Objective: adapt to faster tempo
- The Repeat Objective: maintain precision at incrementally increasing tempos
- The Length Objective: hit my target on every BEEP – don’t fall behind
- The Stroke Objective: fully extend to my target on each stroke
- The Attention Objective: reach full extension at the BEEP of the Tempo Trainer
With these objectives clearly defined, at each moment I know if I am hitting the target on each BEEP or not. During each stroke I know whether I am fully extending or not. On each length I know if I am consistent or not. On each repeat I know if I am adapting (starts feeling easier) in my ability to hold precision at the assigned tempo or not. During the set I see clearly how far I could speed up tempo before I started to fail and could no longer adapt or correct it. After that practice, in comparison with the last time I did this practice type, I could see clearly whether I made progress in what tempos I worked with or if I need more practice time at these tempo settings. At my next test swim I will see how my practices with clearly defined training objective contribute to my speed improvement.
Awareness Of Progress
Consider the role of those last three in the nested objective hierarchy: it is the Length Objective and the Stroke Objective and the Attention Objective that keep your mind locked into the moment and provide critical information. You are not waiting to finish the repeat to look at the time result to see if you did OK or not. You are not waiting until after the set to look at your watch data. You are monitoring what you are doing in each moment, knowing that your ability to consistently send a very specific muscle command to a specific part of the body will produce the result you want. You can feel it when you get closer to executing your chosen focal point or farther. You can hear the BEEP and know instantaneously whether you are executing on time or off time.
You keep your attention on that task alone. This is how the sense of time and ego disappear, and you turn difficult practice into something engaging, making it more pleasant. Give your attention a puzzle to solve in each moment and things will be more enjoyable.
With that, I may need to provide a more useful definition for ‘pleasant’ – I would like to define it as ‘more engaging, more satisfying experience (even if there are lots of informative mistakes) with less sense of time passing and self-conscious ego.’ In this way, I think the hard work required in Deliberate Practice and the enjoyment of Flow can be brought closer together.
To read the other parts of this series:
- Part 1 – Finding Flow In Swimming
- Part 2 – Flow Requires Preparation
- Part 3 – Flow Requires Clear Goals
- Part 4 – Flow Requires Opportunities To Act
- Part 5 – Flow Requires Full Attention
- Part 6 – Flow Requires Sense Of Control
- Part 7 – Lose Your Self In Flow
- Part 8 – Flow Alters Sense Of Time
- Part 9 – Addicted To Flow
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