“Every ice speed skater I speak tells the same story; when you touch the ice right it is the best feeling in the world.” Kjeld Nuis after prolonging his Olympic title
If you stop to think about it, you’ll problably agree that when we leave it up to chance, life can be rather unpleasant. Much of what we do in a lifetime is stressful, from the days of dreading the teacher’s call to the blackboard to the years of worrying about our job, family or health. Even though life these days is much safer and more comfortable on average than at any time else in history, dangers and discomforts are never very far away. And when we are not stressed or anxious, we are likely to feel bored sitting in a stiffling classroom, office or apartment.
Yet the value of our lives depends largely on how we feel toward our experiences as we move from birth to old age. Some of us will waste the only oppurtunity we have to experience life as it can be – a wonderfully enjoyable, stimulating, satisfying state of being – because year after year we feel stressed and bored.
Yet, in actuality life offers great richness, and it certainly is not all stressful or boring. There are moments that stand out from the chaos of the everyday as shining beacons. In many ways, one might say that the whole effort of humankind through millennia of history has been to capture these fleeting moments of fulfillment and make them more a part of everyday existence. Works of art, musical performances and writer’s rituals are some examples of how we have tried to have ordered practices that improve the quality of life.
One of these fruits of civilization is sports. From the earliest times men and women have learned to use the body in ways that provide the greatest physical pleasure and mental enjoyment. Most people are attracted to sport for more practical reasons: they hope to keep their weight or blood pressure down, want to excel over the competition, or dream of making a great deal of money in the professional leagues. But whatever other reasons motivate the athlete, the crux of sport is the quality of the experience it provides. Contrary to what happens in most of life, sport can offer a state of being that is so rewarding one does it for no other reason than to be a part of it.
Athletes in all sports, all over the world, seek moments like these. The feelings involved are among the most intense, most memorable experiences one can get in this life. The state they describe in their stories is what we call flow, or optimal experience. Once attained, flow experiences are quests which reamin etched as stories in the memory and provide the blueprint, the model for returning to this optimal state. Yet experiencing flow is not easy. This Hero’s Journey will explain how flow experiences are achieved and identify conditions that make it more likely to occur.