“Sports, athletics, and movement in general provide a great way to break through the limitations of what a person and a body believe they can accomplish. Countless activities, including dancing, miming, acting, yoga, and the martial arts, rely on rhythmic or harmonious movements to transform the body into an instrument, a form of expression, and a source of enjoyment. “The popularity of charades as a parlor game is due to the fact that it allows people to shed for a time their customary identity, and act out different roles. Even the most silly and clumsy impersonation can provide an enjoyable relief from the limitations of everyday patterns of behavior, a glimpse into alternative modes of being.” (100). And the best part? It is something available to everyone! No matter how fit or unfit, every single person ALWAYS has room for a little improvement. You can only benefit from getting a little stronger, going a little faster, feeling a little healthier, and pushing yourself a little further.
“However unimportant an athletic goal may appear to the outsider, it becomes a serious affair when performed with the intent of demonstrating a perfection of skill.” (98) When looked at through this lens, even the simplest physical acts can be transformed into an enjoyable, flow experience. “The essential steps in the process are:
to set an overall goal, and as many subgoals as are realistically feasible;
to find ways of measuring progress in terms of the goals chosen;
to keep concentrating on what one is doing, and to keep making finer and finer distinctions in the challenges involved in the activity;
to develop the skills necessary to interact with the opportunities available; and
to keep raising the stakes if the activity becomes boring.
Take, for example, walking: It is one of the most trivial physical activities imaginable, yet it can be profoundly complex and enjoyable, almost an art form, if a person sets goals and takes control of the process.
A great number of different goals might be set for a walk. For instance, the choice of the itinerary: where one wishes to go, and by what route. Or developing a personal style, a way to move the body easily and efficiently. An economy of motion that maximizes physical well-being is another obvious goal. Within the overall route, some subgoals might be to select places to stop or landmarks to see.
For measuring progress, the feedback may include how fast and how easily the intended distance was covered; how many interesting sights one has seen; and how many new ideas or feelings were entertained along the way.
The challenges of the activity are what force us to concentrate. The challenges of a walk will vary greatly, depending on the environment. For those who live in large cities, flat sidewalks and right-angle layouts make the physical act of walking easy. Walking on a mountain trail is another thing altogether: for a skilled hiker each step presents a different challenge to be resolved with a choice of the most efficient foothold that will give the best leverage, simultaneously taking into account the momentum and the center of gravity of the body and the various surfaces--dirt, rocks, roots, grass, branches--on which the foot can land.
In the city the terrain itself is not challenging, but there are other opportunities for developing skills. The social stimulation of the crowds, the historical and architectural references of the urban milieu can add enormous variety to a walk. There are store windows to see, people to observe, patterns of human interaction to reflect on. Some walkers specialize in choosing the shortest routes, others the most interesting ones; some pride themselves in walking the same route with chronometric precision, others like to mix and match their itinerary. In winter some aim to walk as long as possible on the sunny stretches of the sidewalk, and to walk as much in the shad as possible in the summer. There are those who time their crossings exactly for when the traffic lights change to green.
Of course these chances for enjoyment must be cultivated; they don’t just happen automatically to those who do not control their itinerary. Unless one sets goals and develops skills, walking is just featureless drudgery. “ (97-98)
“Another simple way to cultivate more challenge in your life is to enter a competitive situation. Competition is a quick way to develop complexity, stimulation, and enjoyment. “What each person seeks is to actualize her potential, and this task is made easier when others force us to do our best. Of course, competition improves experience only as long as attention is focused primarily on the activity itself. If extrinsic goals--such as beating the opponent, wanting to impress an audience, or obtaining a big professional contract--are what one is concerned about, then competition is likely to become a distraction, rather than an incentive to focus consciousness on what is happening.” (73) When beating your opponent becomes more important than performing your best, enjoyment tends to disappear. “Competition is enjoyable only when it is a means to perfect one’s skills; when it becomes an end in itself, it ceases to be fun.” (50)
Keep in mind that NO activity is going to be enjoyable if you approach it with the bad attitude that you must do it because it is good for you, or fashionable, or because all your friends are doing it. So many people get burnt out on trying to get in shape because they feel it is what they have to do and then end up hating every second of it: “They have made the usual mistake of confounding form and substance, and assume that concrete actions and events are the only “reality” that determines what they experience. For such individuals, joining a fancy health club should be almost a guarantee that they will enjoy themselves. However, enjoyment, as we have seen does not depends on what you do, but rather on how you do it.” (99)
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