Originally Published in American Border Collie Magazine. Reprinted with permission.
Did you ever notice that athletes and highly skilled people sometimes act like nobody is around them when they perform? Some can become blind and deaf to the elements that surround them to concentrate on the matter at hand. This is called "flow." In a book called "flow: the psychology of optimal experience" written by Mihaly Csikszentmihaly, the author looks at how we can improve our performance in competition and every day life by focusing and getting in the flow. Personally I had never thought of this concept until I had read this about "flow," but a number of people who become apprehensive about trials, and performing in front of crowds asked me how I am able to concentrate. I usually say that I really don't know except that I try to concentrate only on the moment and block every thing else out of my mind. When my dog is on an outrun, I am concentrating about the outrun, and not thinking about the drive, penning or what I am going to have for lunch. When I watch great handlers run their dogs, I admire those that can have a major error in the run, and still be able to put that behind them and finish the rest of the run without letting the error bother or upset them. Flow is something that you get yourself so involved in that you forget yourself and you just pay undivided attention to your task. It occurs when there is a perfect balance between your skill and the challenge that lies ahead of you, flow not only happens at competitions, but also occurs in our life everyday through work and play. Flow focuses not on us, but on the task at hand. This will help eliminate stress and become successful.

How do we get into flow? Do we just say we are going to practice at getting into it? It is not that simple unfortunately, to get into a state of flow we must understand that flow does not begin with a sense, it comes from physical or mental performance. When you watch professional athletes before a game on event, you notice that they put themselves through a routine that helps them get into a state of flow. Watch a basketball player before he shoots a free-throw Usually the crowd is trying to distract him, and the pressure of the points that can be obtained with the baskets would be enough to throw us all into a nervous breakdown. But the professional has a routine that helps him get into a state of low that eliminates all of these outside distractions.

Personally, I had never thought of this concept in sheepdog trialing. But now that I have been exposed to the concept, I find that when I've had my best runs, I've been in a state of flow. I am only concentrating on the task at hand, meaning whatever that part of the run that l am in. I also find that I do best when I use the same routine before each run. This helps me focus through a physical ritual. The times that I have had my poorest performances mentally, are times that I did not get to go through my normal routine before the competition. Have you ever noticed that if someone forgets where they run in the order and gets caught without much preparation time, they rarely do well? Most of the time if I had not had time to prepare, I slip mentally, and a wreck usually happens

Look back at the times that you have felt a connection in your run that makes you feel like you met the challenges. Did you prepare for that run with the same routine each time? Were you able to experience that intense flow on a later run? Most of us are just learning about how to peak our performance, getting the flow might just help you peak yours.