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Flow, Pseudo-flow, and Mind Tweaking during Exercise!

Flow, Pseudo-flow, and Mind Tweaking during Exercise!

This article is about pushing your mind out of the picture so your body can do what it wants to do – go faster and harder.

This article will answer questions such as:

What is mind tweaking? What is Flow? What is Pseudo-Flow?
What is your E-mind? L-mind? CS-mind?
What is “stopping the mind”?
How can I go to the next level of competition?
What is Vipassana meditation? How can it help you have “flow”?

First I talk about three parts of the mind we all have in our heads:

1. Logical Mind – L-Mind
2. Emotional Mind – E-Mind
3. Common Sense Mind – CS-Mind

Is your mind limiting you while you’re exercising?

Mine does. Or rather, it tries to.

I’m not a competitive runner or cyclist anymore. Now I run five or six times a week and I don’t have my road racing bicycle or membership at the local Olympic swimming pool where I used to spend many hours each week. My days as a triathlete are over (for now) and yet I’m still going through some mental gymnastics on most of the days I run hard. What I mean is, I’m trying to break my mind so I can go harder or faster.

I’m running mostly for fun now, but there was a time when I was running for the money so to speak. I was training for 3 – 9 hours per day over the course of two years. I entered running races, bicycle races (roadie), and biathlons and triathlons. I would work the overnight shift at a seniors care home and then drive two to four hours in my Jeep to make it to the starting line early in the morning. I was dog-tired before some of those races because I wasn’t quite conditioned to the overnight work schedule. Yet I was still able to compete because I refused to accept my mind telling me “The Body” was tired or that it wasn’t such a good idea to be racing after a night of no sleep.

In fact, whenever my emotional mind (E-mind) tells me it’s stupid because it can’t be done or really shouldn’t be done – I go ahead and make myself do it. I want to show this part of my mind, along with the common-sense part of my mind (CS-mind) – which is small sometimes, that little things are of no consequence really. I won’t bow to common sense all the time or to mind-blocks thrown up by the E-mind – ever. I won’t let these parts of the mind’s processes overcome what I’m going to do.

I take it personally!

It’s funny, but I really see it that way.

I refuse to let those two things slow down my plans for exercise.

Now I’ll talk a little about the relationship that I have with “the mind” and its parts…

To go deeper about the various parts of the mind, the “E-Mind” is the emotional part of the mind. It’s the one that fears things. It’s the one that wants to slow down any attempts to do something that is out of the ordinary or that will require a great deal of effort, whether physical, emotional, mental, or social. The “CS-Mind” is the part of the mind that relates to common sense. I’ve been known for a lack of it sometimes, and when others see it and point it out to me, it’s usually very surprising.

I tend to see the big picture clearly, but I don’t see the common-sense details all the time. The S-mind helps me and yet it also joins the E-mind’s side rather often. So, I need to take control over it by using the L-mind.

The “L-Mind” is the part which is logical. It’s the part that is closest to who I think “I” am. It’s almost “The Me” but it’s more like the part that must analyze everything and make decisions that are based on the evidence collected. It’s the part that basically controls me, tells me what to do, unless the emotional or common sense side is briefly in control. The L-mind is the part that I want to handle things because I don’t trust the other two parts – they are too unpredictable and too prone to bad decisions.

“The Me” is the sum total of who I am. It includes all the parts of the mind, as well as “The Body”.

“The Body” is, of course, everything related to the body and how it feels. The L-mind is always monitoring the body, but so too is the E-mind. Sometimes they have conflicting opinions. CS-mind might also add its point of view if it seems important. L-mind usually listens to all of it. However, during certain activities, like running or other intense physical exercise where I’m pushing myself to some limit, L-Mind doesn’t listen much to any of it.

L-mind is well-versed at manipulating the other parts of the mind. It knows some little tricks. These little tricks to overcome something… some obstacle, are what I call “tweaks”. Mind tweaks are those mental gymnastics that the L-mind must do to get around the resistance from the E-mind and CS-mind, and sometimes “The Body.” This results in plans being accomplished in a way that will bring personal satisfaction, joy, bliss, accomplishment and success.

Sometimes mind tweaks are done overtly by the L-Mind, other times they are done covertly. Sometimes ignoring the other parts of the mind makes the most sense and the L-Mind just ignores everyone altogether.

If you’re a serious athlete or any kind of athlete that pushes yourself hard in a race or even a time-trial against yourself, this article may help.

If you’re focused on getting better results all the time and you’re running up against a performance barrier that doesn’t seem to be falling down… this article might help you.

I’ve been running all my life beginning at six years old in soccer as a kid growing up. I haven’t stopped for more than a few months since then, and I’m now forty-eight.

I’m a really logical person in general. There is very little I do that is based on emotion. Logic rules me and I feel good like that. I can be emotional, very emotional – but logic drives me all day. I really get revved up about doing things efficiently and producing something of value. Those are the things that drive me, so I let the L-Mind drive the vehicle nearly all the time.

I also have something that affects the mind in another way. I have attention deficit disorder (ADD). I refuse to take medication for it because I don’t want to stifle any creativity, but with this problem there is always something new to pay attention to that has nothing to do with anything I have planned.

And maybe that’s part of the problem while I’m running.

The L-mind is always active. It’s always monitoring things. When I’m writing – like now – the L-mind is monitoring the spelling of every word. It’s judging whether I’m chugging along fast enough to be able to write a five-thousand word article by the time this internet cafe closes (I’m in Thailand at the moment). It’s also monitoring ten other things going on nearby. There is a boy and girl chatting at the table twenty yards away. A guy is washing dishes behind me. Music from a radio station is playing on the speakers. There is email making a ding when it lands in my inbox. The discomfort of my seat. The birds I heard… etc.

When I’m exercising, the L-Mind is studying every single action that is going on with the body and anything coming in through the senses as a byproduct of ADD. The L-Mind registers each movement and is gathering bio-feedback from “The Body”. Unfortunately the E-mind is getting it too.

I wish there was a way to knock out the E-mind completely for hours at a time. The E-Mind part of the brain is the one that tells me that I’m maybe going too fast and I’m going to pull something. It tells me that there’s no rush, run again tomorrow or later in the day… don’t push it too hard – something bad will happen.

It, along with the common sense mind (CS-Mind) tells me things like, “there’s moss on that sidewalk – and you can feel you’re slipping a bit, what if you fall and tear a ligament?”

Or, “What if you twist your ankle on all these broken sticks laying all over the path after the summer storm yesterday?”, and, “It’s dark, is that a snake? You know there are many different kinds of poisonous snakes here in Thailand…”

I don’t know if any of you reading are like this – or if you notice it. I think you must have this little monologue running through your heads too as you’re exercising. I’d hate to think I’m a weirdo on this. But, my brain is constantly in this “fear mode” when I’m running or exercising and pushing myself over 85% of my maximum effort.

The E-Mind is paying too much attention to fear.

The L-Mind is watching without emotion or reaction to the variables – but it’s monitoring them, and when something really IS worth paying attention to, it will do so.

Now when I’m running, the logical side is monitoring breathing and it’s counting in and out-breaths in relation to how many times the feet are hitting the concrete or path.

Logically I know that 4 strides for an in-breath and 4 for an out-breath is a nice easy pace about 60% (or less) of maximum effort and I can go at that for quite a while without any trouble. In fact, I could go like that for 2 hours if I wanted. I don’t see any point in long, slow, distance (LSD) training like that for me now – and so I don’t do 4/4 breathing for any length of time, just for ten minutes of warm-up and to see how I feel before I go harder.

I know that 3/3 – three strides for an in-breath and three strides during an out-breath is medium effort but still on the low end. I’m at about 70-75% of max when I’m at that breathing rate.

When I hit 2/2 breathing that’s a pretty big range of effort considering it can be 75-100% of maximum.

I do hit 1/1 occasionally, but it doesn’t last long. It is very difficult to keep that up for more than a few minutes.

I usually have to tweak the mind a bit when I get into the 2/2 range – and especially at anything over 85% of maximum effort.

There are some days though that I am “flowing”… it appears as if there is no mind and I am only “The Body”. The Body is flowing without the mind – and there is no thought really, just an unfathomable concentration on what the body is doing. The focus is totally on the present and it’s not a form of zoning out – it’s a form of just zoning IN and being entirely present with what the body is doing – without the mind at all except a feeling of smoothness or fluidity. It’s an incredible state that happens when it wants, there’s no making it happen consistently.

But you know what?

I know some of you know this state. It happens to great athletes quite a bit. They have practiced their movements during whatever it is that they’re doing – so that it becomes second nature… they get into the flow quite a bit and have these incredible peak experiences that most of us dream about. Their peak experiences are the top in the world, but that doesn’t mean as mortal men and women we can’t have some darn good ones too!

Here’s a secret…

There IS a way to make it happen sometimes.

More about that in a minute.

There are a couple of little mind tweaks I might implement over the course of a run. Actually, I sometimes start before the run. Mind tweaks are nothing more than little Jedi Mind Tricks that fool me into something.

Say it’s before the scheduled run. The E-Mind might be whining about something. It doesn’t want to go running. It knows already there is no question about whether running is going to take place today. It IS going to happen. Yet, the whining emotional mind continues with small reminders that it’s not really with the plan. It might bring up some alternatives to running that sound quite attractive. Pizza dinner. Writing more articles for Crank101. Sex!

Crazy things, it can pull out all the stops.

Usually, I focus on something else on the agenda that I must do and E-mind sort of disappears quietly into the background. I don’t give any more attention to the emotional mind. As long as I don’t pay it any attention, it won’t come back until we’re at the park to run.

So, that’s Mind Tweak #1. Ignore any protests from the E-mind by refocusing on something else. The subject you choose to focus on can be just about anything if the protests are weak.

Or, you might play hard ball. Once you realize the E-Mind is going to try to trick you into not running, you could start getting your shoes on immediately – upping the ante. Maybe you planned on going at 5:30 p.m. but since the E-mind is whining already you’re going to go an hour earlier because you really don’t want to be dealing with it for a whole hour while you try to get other things done. That’s a good way to shut it up the next time, and I actually found that the mind does very little of this type of mild protest whining before we go running anymore. In fact, usually, there is nothing at all.

Many people have doubts about running or exercise before they go, and the E-mind ends up talking them out of the activity! I can’t let that happen! Neither can you, apply Mind Tweak #1 or #2 quickly.

The emotional mind must understand that it’s NEVER in control when it comes to things that matter. Running matters. Running is a logical thing. It’s emotional only when winning a race or doing especially well – and that’s at the end of the race when some emotion pours forth – spontaneously.

And how cool is that?

There’s nothing coming out of the E-Mind that I’m going to listen to before a run unless it deals with The Body complaining that it isn’t 100%.

I do listen to that. After many years of running I have a good idea what an injury feels like before it happens. I usually know when I can take some tylenol or coffee and run though it. I usually know about how much to push myself during a run in which The Body isn’t 100%. I usually know how much time I can exercise without pulling something. I also know the signs of an impending injury, like when the pain increases at a greater rate than it was up until that point.

If you’re a runner or other athlete that regularly pushes your body, you will probably also have a good sense for how “The Body” feels and when it’s a good idea to listen to it. Some people never get a good handle on it – and they continue to push when they shouldn’t. They’re often injured because their logical mind doesn’t listen to “The Body” or the E-Mind – which will kick in too, and loudly once it realizes there WILL be an injury unless the exercise is halted immediately.

So, always listen to various parts of the mind if they’re talking about “The Body” and evaluate. Err on the side of caution and over-protection so you keep yourself from getting injured.

I know, it’s easy to say that right? When you’re motivated to run and accomplish your fitness goals, it can be quite a hard thing to listen to the E-Mind telling you “Um, bro? ‘The Body’ is not 100%”. Because when I hear that, the first thing I responded with in the past was, “You’re NEVER 100%, now let’s pull it together and do this!”.

However, that isn’t the first thing I say anymore because I used to get injured too much.

These days I take a good look at the pain. If I’m exercising, I might stop and see what makes it worse. Does it go away when I stop? Does it feel like a tightening? A knot? A sharp pain? Sharp pains rarely get better if you continue. Dull pains of some sort just go away as you loosen up. Calf muscles are like this. Sometimes I sit for twelve hours at a computer, and then ten the next day before I go running. My legs have atrophied from doing absolutely nothing but trips to the restroom some days!

Calves are still an area where I pull something every now and then. Groin too. I tend to have a longer stride when I run fast – perhaps too long, and that pulls something occasionally.

So, moving on. The next mind tweak I’ll describe is put into play as I’m running.

Let’s say I’m at a 3/3 breathing level. Three steps as I breathe in and three as I breathe out. I have slowly ramped up from a 4/4 and now I’ve been at 3/3 for about fifteen minutes or so.

I notice that The Body wants to go faster. I feel strong, the breathing is good.  The Body wants to go into the 2/2 range. This is also the range where the L-Mind and E-Mind start getting revved up because now we’re doing some speed. There’s something to be proud of at this point. This is what control and power is all about when I run. I love to feel that – all systems are go and we just kicked the body into a hardcore workout. This is a great state to be in and the one that I try to keep the body in for as long as possible before dropping back down to a 3/3.

Though the E-Mind is excited and should savor the bliss of the experience, it is more fearful. It will question the logic of increasing speed. “Does the body REALLY feel that good?”

It asks. “Is it safe to push that hard right now? How is the heart? Pulse? Breathing? Calves? Toes? Are the shoes snug enough?  Are your socks too wet – will you get a blister? Is it too hot? Could heatstroke happen? Did you sleep enough last night?”

And so it goes through all these questions. Sometimes the L-Mind, in an attempt to appease the E-Mind will just patiently answer all the questions. Once they’re all satisfactorily answered the L-mind gives the order to “The Body” to go full after-burners.

So, that was Mind Tweak #2. Exhaust all questions about whether “we’re” ready to increase speed and go hard. By exhaustively answering the questions, the L-mind gets the green light because the E-Mind has nothing left to ask and shuts up. This is a good tweak to use if there really might be a possibility that it isn’t a good idea to crank hard at the present time.

Mind Tweak #3 can be implemented during the same kind of run… going from 3/3 to a 2/2 level. The emotional mind starts to build the list of questions… the logical mind, being so in-tuned to the body, KNOWS that all systems are go – and it’s time to take it to the next level. At this point the L-Mind will just ignore all questions from the E-Mind and instantly increase the effort to max, effectively killing all questions from the E-Mind.

Ignoring all the questions in Mind Tweak #3 tends to put the mind in a state of quiet. As the body goes into the high-speed 2/2 mode the mind is watching all systems like a virus scanner watches the computer. It’s watching to see if there is any serious problem with anything in the system. There is usually not much thought at ALL at this point.

This is the experience of “being” the exercise. It’s like there is no mind present. There aren’t any thoughts of yesterday, tomorrow, or your spouse. You literally ARE the exercise. You ARE running. You are only that. You are focused entirely on the doing and there is nothing else.

When this happens it’s a good thing – needless to say. This is sometimes referred to as being in the flow – but to me, there is more to being in the flow than just this. For me, this state of being the exercise occurs during nearly every run or intense exercise. The Flow does not. It happens occasionally. For me, true flow happens one or two times per week, and only a big handful of times each month.

I found recently that I can initiate the flow to some degree.

When I do it, I call it “Pseudo-Flow.” I’m not sure how close it is to the original, or how valid it is since it’s kind of manipulation of mind to get there – but, it is a flow of some sort that I can’t distinguish from regular flow in terms of performance. However, the factors that brought it on are different (forced) and the feelings or lack of them are different during the experience.

I’ll try to explain.

First a little bit about natural flow.

The natural flow happens on its own. There is almost no thought if I’m running and in the true flow. Sometimes it even kind of starts before I even start running. During a run where flow is present, there is a natural slow buildup to speed and an easy, effortless switch into high gear that is blissful and not painful or negative in any way. It is pure experience and yet it’s experience at a very high level – the body is functioning in a way that feels effortless. There may be numbness to the body… and yet the eyes are taking in the speeds that are being reached, so though the eyes and logical mind know something incredible is happening, “The Body” and the E-mind are kind of subdued – they are almost numb too. It’s like dopamine numbing the mind and yet one is fully present and aware of all that’s happening.

It’s a state of bliss because there is no thought, only direct experience and amazingly efficient and fast exercise without realizing that it’s taking bodily or mental effort. There are some feelings that go along with true flow though. It’s a feeling of being in a peak experience. It’s a bliss or a feeling of great competence, of being a master of the activity. It’s like I feel as if I’m slippery through the water when I’m swimming, I’m making exactly the right strokes with my arms and my hands feel the water perfectly as I push it to propel me forward. Or, if running, it’s as if I’m so light on my feet and yet I’m flying really fast. I’m breathing fast and regularly but it’s a perfect state of existence during the run – my body is a perfect machine and there is no pain or negative that exists during it.

“Flow” can exist in many things. It exists with activity that requires thought – writing for instance. I might bang out a 10,000-word article straight through in 3 hours. It happens sometimes. I’m not sure what is going on – but there is such an efficiency achieved… a fluidity and an ease of producing great writing that it’s just about unexplainable.

Pianists talk of flow. Basketball players and golfers. Swimmers and football running backs.

Here’s how I initiate the pseudo-flow, as I call it.

Remember I told you about Vipassana meditation at the beginning of this article? Vipassana meditation can slow the mind down over time and one can actually reach a point where the mind can actually STOP. Well, it can stop all the thoughts in the mind. The mind becomes so at peace that thought ceases. It’s an incredible state that could never be explained with words, yet I often try to. If you are interested you can read the free e-book here and if you’re more interested you can try it for yourself. It may take months to reach a point where you’re able to reach a silent mind or a mind that has stopped all thought.

I think if you follow the steps I’ve outlined you CAN though. It happened to me in a short time of meditating. It wasn’t long before I could do it any time I chose. For instance, as I’m writing this I can stop the mind and though I can’t type I am fully aware of everything that is going on around me. I am just living pure experience without relying on memory or the mind chatter that asks me questions, names things, and accesses memory and fear about the future. It’s a great state to live from and it’s said that perhaps those that are enlightened live in this state 24 hours per day and 7 days per week.

I’m not sure about that, but I do know that it’s been an incredible tool to have over the years.

I use it to analyze anger, frustration, any emotion that pops up… any attachment that leads to disappointment. I use it to relax. It is incredibly relaxing in that state. Some claim to not need sleep if they just lie in bed in that state for a half-hour or so every few hours. I believe it, though I’ve not tried it much more than a few days – and yes, I felt great without sleeping. Perfectly fine really. Doing it long-term I’m not sure about – but I think it must be possible.

How I use this to reach the pseudo-flow is like this…

Anytime I’m feeling very good and yet the mind is too active with questions and concerns about running or maybe even concerns that have nothing to do with running. Maybe I’m worried that I’ve screwed something up on my website code that can’t easily be fixed… maybe I’m worried about a family member… it could be anything.

If I choose, I can stop all thoughts in the mind. I can shut off the thought.

When the thought shuts off – there is nothing that is distinguishing it from the true flow – except how I came about getting there and there is literally NO feeling about anything – no feeling of mastery or anything about feeling very efficient and competent. But there is no pain or fear either.

Later as one goes faster and faster without adding any more concerted effort, the feeling is one of bliss and yet it’s a little more moderated maybe. It’s a little less “feel good” because the mind is completely absent. There is a good feeling to be running… and there is no pain. There is no mental or physical effort that can be noticed, and yet one can run at maximum speed for a while before the breathing catches up and shuts the body down a bit – forcing a drop down to 90% effort for a few minutes before trying again if one wishes to.

There is less experience of “power” or “control” than with true flow because there aren’t thoughts to reinforce those feelings.

In a way it is nicer than pure flow because one is not happy or sad – just DOING. It is truly just doing, whereas “true flow” has some more recognition of the emotions that are present… Psychological needs are being fulfilled because one feels powerful, exuberant, in control, efficient, strong, balanced…

With pseudo-flow, there is none of that going on emotionally. There is balance. There is peace. There is effortless moving in a very efficient manner. There is a realization that this is “pseudo-flow” though there is no feeling of achievement for having done it – just a real zero-emotion state but one in which the body is operating at the same peak state as pure flow.

I should try some experiments on my own – but I think they’d be too subjective. I’d like to know – is there any difference in performance between the two types of flow. I think too hard to experiment with because the true flow just comes on when it wants and I’d not be able to tick off the distance or times and I probably wouldn’t even care to. Perhaps it would kick me out of the flow experience? Not sure.

I’ve not read of anyone else talking about this stuff and I’m surprised. Well, I am and I’m not. I’ve not met anyone else that can stop the mind at will, but I’m sure there are some. I’m SURE others can do it if they follow the steps in my e-book, though, to be honest, meditation is not such an easy thing to tackle. It’s hard work! It is very difficult to watch the mind time after time, watching thoughts, watching breath… to the point where the thought starts to slow and then stop.

Most people fuse religion with their meditation which heaps on expectations about the experiences one will have – this alters the whole process and actually puts more stumbling blocks in the way of the mind becoming quiet.

I’d like to hear from anyone that has tried this technique to compare thoughts and observations. Though it’s new to me and I think I’m the only one talking about it, on the other hand, I realize that SOMEONE else has done this – so maybe they’ve got it online.

I’ll Google it and see what I can find!

As a technique to overcome e-mind and “just do it” so to speak, I don’t think there could be anything better. But, there might be, and I’d love to hear about it if you want to tell it!

As always, send email (AimforAwesome ~ at ~ gmail) or leave comments if you have any questions or comments about this article!

Best of Life!

Find me at Twitter HERE >

4 thoughts on “Flow, Pseudo-flow, and Mind Tweaking during Exercise!

  • Pingback: Mindgames that keep me Running when I feel like Stopping | Aim for Awesome!

  • at 1:25 pm

    Dear “Aim for Awesome”: I came across you in my (desperate) search for TED LEYSON, the famous/infamous paparazzi who shot Garbo… Do you have any idea if he is dead or alive and/or (if alive) where he could be reached? He helped me a great deal on my “definitive” biography of Garbo (Alfred A. Knopf, 1995)… and trusted me with a batch of his slides… which are now sought after by a number of Garbo documentary-makers… and which I feel an obligation to give him the royalty fees for. ANY IDEA HOW TO REACH HIM? ANY KNOWLEDGE OF HIS EXISTENCE POST-1995? Thank you for any help you can provide.

    • at 5:14 am

      To Josie and Barry Paris:

      I am trying to get permission to use one of Ted Leyson’s Garbo pictures in an academic journal article about celebrity photography.

      Any tips or pointers? I am a London based college professor.



  • at 2:06 am

    To Mr. Barry Paris ( through Aim for Awesome )

    This is in reply for your search for Ted Leyson. You can reach him at 6714 Escondido Drive, Houston, Texas 77083 with
    Telephone no. 281 561- 0674.


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