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The following report is from an academic trial that I ran with ethics approval through the University of Portsmouth.
I am pleased to announce an interesting result from a recent flow training study carried out on elite athletes across several months.
The climbers involved in the study received four components of training over a 4-month period and the results far exceeded our expectations.
The first stage was to deliver an initial education on mental skills training, flow, and peak performance. The second stage was to then practice a series of mental skills learnt over video and recorded delivery, including the use of a performance cue or flow anchor to help elicit the thoughts, emotions, and neurological responses associated with previous flow experiences. The third stage was to integrate a series of mindfulness practices into their preparation. Lastly, the final stage involved refining their attentional skills to be more process orientated during the task.
The training aimed to be generic and easily replicable, so that larger scales studies could benefit. In other words, we didn't make the training dependent on the skill of the instructor, rather results were achieved because of the educational content and practice adherence.
One of the subjects engaged in the study was Camille King, a professional athlete and adventure enthusiast who competes in triathlon (and a multitude of sports)—a true inspiration.
"I was delighted when Cameron, asked me to be part of the group of elite athletes selected for a case study on flow training.
Initially, I didn't know what the flow mindset was and it is thanks to the study that I learnt more about it.
"Flow is the optimal mental state that produces performance, creativity, decision-making and innovation."
Flow is a psychological state we experience during our peak experiences and is behind many of the greatest athletic performances. It is the state when we perform at our best and feel our best.
As part of the study, the climbers were asked to complete the same indoor climbing route twice a week, time ourselves and then complete a questionnaire straight after each climb including questions on our performance and our flow state. We were also asked to rate our overall climb. As weeks progressed, we were provided with training and individual coaching sessions on flow.
Throughout this experience, I've learnt some great tips on how to train your mind to get into the flow state and how to maintain that state. I thought I'd share the most valuable ones to me.
For me, motivation to perform is the biggest contributor to get me into a flow state, i.e. the desire to get to the top of the route. When the motivation is missing, my performance suffers. When the motivation is at its' best and I truly want to reach the top, I'm enjoying the moment and I give it me all.
Secondly, finding focus is key to get me in the right state of mind. I need to completely shut down the outside world around me. For example, I need to ignore other climbers watching or shouting tips during a training session (sorry, I know you're only trying to help J). This is especially true during a climbing competition when I find the audience very unnerving and it makes me anxious. So I need to completely zone out my surroundings and forget about my ego, so I can totally concentrate on the task at hand.
To reach and maintain flow, I need to be completely focused on the present moment. I can't be thinking about anything else other than each move as it unfolds. If I'm already thinking about reaching the top whilst I'm only half way up, my mind is not in the present.
The climb has to be challenging enough for me to get into the flow state. If it is during the warm-up or an easy climb, it not motivating enough for me to really be in the flow.
I've found that my perception of my physical fitness and readiness to climb a route has an impact on my ability to reach and maintain the flow state. If I feel physically ready and capable, then I feel in control and there are no limits!
When I have reached the flow state, I am so focused on each move that there is no holding back and I forget about the fear of falling (even in the dreaded overhangs!).
With the help of our coach Cameron, I have come up with my climbing mantra which I now repeat to myself at the start of each climb, and sometimes in the middle:
Repeating the mantra in my mind has been very effective to help me get into the flow when everything seems to come together and I perform to my highest standard.To conclude, my personal results from the route I climbed during the study are:
Of course, once I knew my results, my first question was related to the fact that even without the coaching, my performance would have improved naturally just by the experience gained by every attempt and the increased memorization of the moves. However, this was minimised by having us only start the training and coaching on flow once our performances had plateaued and we weren't climbing faster at each attempt.
Finally, being part of the study and learning about applying flow for sporting performance was definitely eye opening and a great opportunity for me in the pursuit of following my passion for the sport and performing the best I can.
These techniques can, of course, be applied to any experiences in life. I'm also currently working on applying these techniques to my running and learning to find the flow state during a run. So I've now created a mantra for running as well."
If you would like to find out more, or how we can replicate this training for you and your team, simply get in contact.
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