A blog by runners. For runners.

Runner’s high: How to get, and stay, in ‘flow’

Runner's high: how to get and stay in the flow

We all know that amazing feeling when you become so completely absorbed in your run that it feels effortless; when an hour feels like 10 minutes, you don’t have a worry in the world and you have a stupid grin on your face. This is flow – the state originally identified by researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi as a state of complete absorption in one’s activity, in which “every action, movement and thought follows inevitably from the previous one.”

Flow has been shown to boost not only creativity and productivity, but also athletic performance. It has also been found to increase overall quality of life – people who experience flow more frequently have been shown to be happier overall and exhibit higher concentration, higher self-esteem and even better health.  

In order to get into flow, you must be “intrinsically motivated” to be running (i.e. not feel that you are required to do it by anyone or anything); it must be challenging but not too difficult, you should feel as though you are in control and you must receive immediate feedback throughout the activity. 

Here are some tips for switching on and prolonging flow during your workouts:

  • Train consistently: Potentially the most important factor in achieving flow is having your task be challenging enough for your skill level (but not too challenging). The more consistently you train, the easier it will be for you to identify your strengths and challenges are as a runner, and thus to know how to adjust your training appropriately. It will also be easier for you to know what kinds of tasks are enjoyable for you so that you can go out for the run without feeling like you have to. This will contribute to that ‘intrinsic motivation’ factor.
  • Set your goals wisely: Having clear goals is another important factor that helps to get into the flow state. This doesn’t necessarily mean that every time you go for a run, you have to be training for your next race PR. But it does mean that you should leave the house with a concrete goal for your training session – whether that goal is to run a certain tempo or simply to capture a beautiful sunset photo. More ideas for non-PR running goals.
  • Stay present. The best way to get into flow and stay there longer is to pay attention to clear and immediate feedback, and adjust accordingly. This means listening to your body carefully, and keeping focus on how you feel. If you feel stressed, winded, or strained in any way, then the challenge of your workout is exceeding your current ability, and you should dial it back. If, on the other hand, you feel bored, your mind is wandering to thoughts of work or day-to-day minutia, or you don’t feel like you’re working out at all, that’s an indication that your skill level exceeds the challenge of this workout, and you should kick things up a notch. The best way to train this body focus is by practicing regular meditation, whether seated or running.
  • Stay positive. If you get ‘kicked out’ of flow, the best way to restore it is through relaxation and positive thinking. That means silencing the inner critic in your head and focusing on what you’re enjoying in your workout.  
  • Do something new, different, or scary. Another potential contributor to flow state is one often seen in extreme sports: the element of risk. This doesn’t mean you have to go running along the side of a cliff; simply doing a task differently from the way you normally do it can help increase your level of focus, interest, and attention on the task, which can help you to get into flow faster. This is an instance where it can be helpful to set goals that scare you.
  • Listen to music. A final ‘hack’ that is frequently used by athletes is one you likely already employ – listen to music that makes you happy, and that helps you set your favorite pace. Music has been shown to enhance flow and boost performance in athletes. In fact, music and performance researcher Dr. Costas Karageorghis has actually said that “music can be thought of as a type of legal performance-enhancing drug” precisely because it helps athletes to get into flow, reduce unpleasant thoughts, boost concentration and increase positive emotions.

The best thing about flow is that absolutely everyone can experience it, and it’s even easier for regular runners than for non-athletes. Do you have any favorite tricks for getting into, and staying in, “the zone”? 

Written by Varia Makagonova.

Use the habit pairing strategy to your advantage

Using the habit pairing strategy to accomplish your goals

As runners, we are lucky enough to have a hobby we can do almost whenever we want – unfettered by opening times, budgets, and even daylight hours. And as a result, many of us have a well-formed, fairly consistent "running habit" on one or more days … [Continue reading]

Exercise-induced asthma: when a cough is more than just a cough

exercise-induced asthma

It’s common for runners to cough after a tough run. Same goes for coughing after running in the cold and dry air. But what if that cough persists? A health condition known as exercise-induced asthma is something runners should be aware of … [Continue reading]

Being happier can make you a better runner

How being happier might make you a better runner

We all know running can make you happy. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of endorphins kicking in partway through your run, when you feel like nothing can stand in your way. But did you ever notice it can work the other way around as well? … [Continue reading]

Juicing vs. blending: which should you choose?

juicing-vs-blending

While we have plenty of juice and smoothie recipes here on WalkJogRun, today let’s discuss the difference between juicing and blending. Both of these methods have merits, can be great for your health, and give you energy. What's the … [Continue reading]

Stroller exercises and stretches

Stroller lunges

Over the past year, I’ve become a master at running with my BOB stroller and my dog – pushing the stroller over bumpy sidewalks and snow-packed trails. Along with the usual running and walking that I do, I’ve also started doing the following … [Continue reading]

Protect your hair and skin when running this winter

Protect your hair and skin from dry, cold air this winter

All too often, I have sat down in my hairdresser’s chair in March or April after the winter training season only to have him cluck and tell me I have to say goodbye to a few good inches of dried ends. Well, not again – it's not too late to prevent … [Continue reading]

From apps to watches, a comparison of GPS run tracking tools

WJR route

Editor's note: This the WalkJogRun blog so of course the assumption is the WJR app will be at the top of any of our lists of "best" running apps. That said, we recognize there's some pretty nifty competition out there and told our writer to be as … [Continue reading]

Keep your child happy on the run: the best jogging stroller accessories

Jogging stroller accessories

Figuring out which jogging stroller to buy is hard enough, but after you’ve been running with your kid for a few months, you’ll probably realize there are a few stroller accessories that can also make your run easier. Here are a few of our … [Continue reading]

Why so serious? Inject some fun into your run

Inject some fun in your running

Fun is a word associated with running not often enough. Why? For starters, runners tend to be very serious about their training, about their times, about their race schedules, about what they eat , wear, and drink. We don’t want to get injured … [Continue reading]