Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Kaizen Meets Flow

If you're an athlete, you know what Flow is. You're either in it, or you're out of it. Like a current in the river, you know when you're moving with it or just in an eddy by the shore going nowhere. But how do you grab hold of it and wrestle it to the ground and make it yours? Now that's the challenge. It reminds me of the lyrics to that wonderful song from Sound of Music about Maria, "How do you catch a cloud and pin it down?, How do you hold a moonbeam in your hand?" Achieving Flow can feel just that elusive.

The book Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi should be on every athlete's bookshelf as the author studies the state of flow (you might refer to this as being "in the zone") among many different people, some of them athletes. He comes to some conclusions about how people achieve flow that are, I think, useful to those of us who would like to be there more often.

For me in swimming, flow is more elusive than just its mental component and is tied directly to technique and my ability to hold that good technique through the fatigue and intensity of a workout. In a sense, I lost the flow of my swimming when I pursued the high-elbow catch two years ago. I managed to nail the catch, which definitely brought a lot more power into my stroke, but at the same time I lost some elusive groove in my rhythm, with the net result that I ended up slightly slower. If there's anything more frustrating to a swim coach than tweaking your stroke and ending up slower, I'd love to know what it is!

But in the spirit of Kaizen, which you may remember from a previous post is a Japanese term for "constant never-ending improvement", I have been trying to find that rhythm ever since. I've tweaked my kick, my hand exit, my hand-entry, my timing, but all to no avail. I am no faster than I was in December of 2007 when I started mucking with my stroke.

That is, UNTIL LAST NIGHT!!! I changed one more thing, one more little tiny thing, and BOOM, it all fell into place again. I changed the angle of my head when I breathe, just slightly more forward, and that was IT. My old rhythm came back, swimming felt effortless and free and beautiful and gliding and all of the things I remember it could be. I did a set of descending 500's and the last one clocked in at 6:51, despite massively fatigued arms from a morning workout of bench presses and pull-ups and a 1.5 hour karate class in the mid-day.

So today I am celebrating, not just because the flow and the groove came back to my swimming, but because I never gave up trying to find it, trying to change and improve what I'm doing there in the pool. Today I'm signing up for my first swim meet in over 20 years, and I think now I'm actually excited to see what I can do. I know the times won't be what they were when I swam in college, but I think they'll be good for where I'm at now, and that's all I need.


midlife_swimmer said...

oooooo have fun at your first meet!

Anonymous said...

thank's for the book reference. I am definitely gonna check it out. Great pace on the descending 500s, too!!! WOOHOO!!

B Sue Fly said...

Great post, I have read Flow, but think I need to go back and re-read it in the athletic context. I wish I could find flow in the pool, maybe someday!

Also, really enjoyed your post on the age group athlete article, it was exactly what I needed to read!

Have a happy day!

janasmama said...

Yes! Thank you for the book reference. You will rock the swim meet!