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3 Tips & Tricks to Finding Your Mental Flow on Runs

Want to train your brain? Learn about consciousness and its relation to "the flow" so you can perform and feel at your finest.

Excerpted from Mindful Running by Mackenzie L. Havey, published by Bloomsbury (October 2017). Condensed and reproduced with permission of the publisher.

You know that visual effect in action movies when a bullet fires out of a gun in slow motion and the camera pans around the protagonist as they demonstrate their supersonic reflexes to dodge the deadly projectile? This illusion is known as “time slice photography” and it perfectly encapsulates what it is like to be in flow. It’s when time and space are suspended, and you perform and feel at your finest.

Reaching that heightened state of consciousness isn’t like a switch you can mindlessly turn on and off. As 2004 silver medalist and winner of the 2009 New York City Marathon and 2014 Boston Marathon Meb Keflezighi explains, “Achieving flow doesn’t happen with the snap of a finger … As an athlete I get there through movement. After a period of time, my mind starts to tune out distractions and I slip into that elevated state. Today, with so many years of experience, I can even get there on regular training runs.”

RELATED: How You Can Learn To Run With Mindfulness

It is a mindful approach to your running practice that creates the right conditions for entering this supernatural headspace. Indeed, research published in the Journal of Clinical Sport Psychology has demonstrated that as little as a month of mindfulness training can assist athletes in achieving flow. By existing in the present, monitoring thoughts and physical sensations, and fully engaging in forward motion, you train your brain to cross the Rubicon into that next-level state of mind.

Here’s how to train your brain:

  1. Focus. Tune into your surroundings, body and mind with nonjudgmental awareness. For instance, in bringing mindful awareness to your legs, you may have noticed that they were sore.
  2. Fathom. Consider the information you gathered in Step 1 and determine if adjustments need to be made. In our example, you must consider whether that leg soreness is part of the inherent discomfort that can come along with physical training or if perhaps you’re on the edge of overtraining and you should cut the run short. This is the insight required.
  3. Flow. Bring your attention to an anchor, either your feet or your breath, and you’ve created the conditions to enter into flow.

RELATED: Is Running Meditation?

Elites Explain

Flow can be a tough thing to put into words, so here are a handful of Olympic and Paralympic runners from around the globe to get first-hand accounts of the flow experience.