Flow State: Cannabis Helps Athetes Get in the Zone
Have you ever felt ‘in the zone’? That beautiful balance of exhilarating slow motion when you can anticipate your next move with ease and precision – your execution becomes subconscious excellence. In essence, you are fully absorbed in the activity at hand.
The experience of flow is typically characterized by feelings of spontaneous joy and rapture, despite a deep focus on nothing but the activity – not even oneself or one's emotions. This is the same sensation artists, athletes, performers, and professionals have when they ‘get lost in their work’, disregarding the need for food, water and sleep.
In the field of psychology, this is known as flow, the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a Claremont Graduate University psychologist, coined the term ‘flow’, although the phenomenon has existed for thousands of years under other guises. According to Csikszentmihalyi, flow is completely focused motivation. It involves full mental immersion and keeping emotions positive, energized, and aligned with the task at hand.
How is This Possible?
With the exception of basic bodily functions like hunger and pain, people are able to decide what they want to focus their attention on. However, when one is in the flow state, they are fully immersed in the activity, and without making the conscious decision to do so, lose awareness of all other things. Because all of the attention of the person in the flow state is focused on the immediate task; there is no more attention to be allocated to things like time, people, distractions, and bodily functions.
The flow state can be entered while partaking any activity; however, it is more likely to occur when one is performing an activity for intrinsic purposes. Passive activities like showering and watching TV usually don’t bring out flow experiences, as the individual is not actively engaged. Regardless of the specific activity, three external conditions must be met to engage in a flow state:
- Clear goals. Adding direction and structure to the task creates purpose.
- Unambiguous feedback. You're immediately capable of negotiating new demands and adjusting your performance to maintain the state of flow.
- Success potential. A balance between the perceived challenges of the activity and your perceived ability to perform favorably.
Components of Flow
Jeanne Nakamura and Csíkszentmihályi have identified six factors that encompass an experience of flow. While these aspects can appear independently of each other, only in combination do they constitute the flow experience.
- The merging of action and awareness, as participation in the activity becomes both automatic and spontaneous
- You're focused only on you, creating loss of reflective self-consciousness
- Intense and focused concentration on the present moment
- With practice you develop sense of control over the activity
- Slow mo vision has set in, your experience of time is altered
- You intrinsically enjoy the experience, also referred to as autotelic experience
Components of Cannabis
Many athletes have pre-competition routines designed to increase focus and motivation. Some utilize meditation techniques while others choose less traditional avenues like consuming cannabis. You may be wondering how cannabis could possibly help an elite athlete competing on an international scale, but the parallels between cannabis and flow are more than just a coincidence. Cannabis induces a number of effects in users; those that pertain to flow are as follows (corresponds to numbers 1-6 above):
- Cannabis merges the mind and body by stimulating spirituality and a diminished sense of self
- Alleviates stress and anxiety, providing a relaxed mental state
- Sativa induces feelings of focus and increased energy levels
- Cannabinoids have been shown to regulate neuroplasticity, the structural changes and new connections made between neurons when learning and mastering a specialized skill
- Users self-report the experience of a slowed perception of time
- Inherently induces feelings of euphoria during favorable activities
Still Don’t Believe Me?
You may not be aware (as many athletes must hide their usage), but cannabis use among elite athletes is very prevalent. Athletics inherently create the conditions required to elicit a state of flow. Thus it is not surprising that so many athletes have experienced the state a flow when training or competing.
Within the context of sports, Roy Palmer suggests that ‘being in the zone’ may actually influence movement patterns as better integration of the conscious and subconscious reflex functions improves coordination. It is not uncommon for athletes to describe their performance while achieving personal bests as effortless and natural.
Here are some statistics for you:
- Olympic Gold Medalist Ross Rebagliati won the giant slalom event at the 1998 Nagano games with THC in his blood
- Tanner Hall, freeskiing pioneer and 7-time X-Games Gold Medalist has incorporated cannabis into his skiing and recovery regimens, becoming the first professional athlete with a cannabis pro model sponsorship
- Former NFL lineman Lomas Brown said that at least 50 percent of the league's players smoke cannabis
- Former NBA guard Robert Pack once put the association's cannabis usage rate at 70 percent
- Elite triathlete Clifford Drusinsky (39 years old) took the podium for his age group in nine major triathlons in 2013 while using cannabis to train and compete
- Former Denver Broncos tight end Nate Jackson used marijuana during his six seasons in the NFL to deal with pain
- International cricket star Sir Ian Botham used cannabis regularly during his career
- Pro wrestler Rob Van Dam has publically stated that he personally knows "boxers, bodybuilders, cyclists, runners and athletes from all walks of life that train and compete with the assistance of marijuana"
- Pro Skateboarder Bob Burnquist has publicly stated that he's learned "a lot of tricks while stoned."
The Challenge: Everyone Responds Differently
But if athletics activities present the perfect opportunity to enter the state of flow, why is it so difficult to elicit on command? The short answer; the conditions of the activity or the mental requirements of the participant are not met. The goal is to pick an activity that you are competent in and passionate about, and then to use cannabis as a tool to induce the ideal mindset.
Cannabis, like your diet and overall nutrition, can both enhance and impair one’s performance as it pertains to athletics. The challenge when incorporating cannabis in an athletic regimen is selecting the correct strain, dosage, and delivery method. I can help you learn more about how to use cannabis when exercising and how to use cannabis for recovery. Furthermore, you can explore my strain guide, dosage guide, and the guide to unlocking your full athletic potential through cannabis with Olympian Ross Rebagliati.
Focus on the Activity, Not the Stash
Managing your smoking supplies in between activities and adventures can be challenging, especially when subjected to the elements. However, with the right smoking kit at your disposal, you can focus on the activity on hand instead of the integrity of your stash.