Interview with the author of “Be water, my friend: strategies to flow in sport and in life”.
Raúl Ballesta Barrera is a Sports and Organization Psychologist oriented towards Positive Psychology, a trend that focuses its attention on the potential of human beings.
Taking into account that in the sports world, attention management is a good part of what leads us to improve ourselves, it is normal that the state of Flow, a state of consciousness described for the first time in the 70s, generates interest. But Ballesta believes that knowing this psychological phenomenon and the methods to enter it can help us not only in sports, but in many other facets of life.
Strategies to enter Flow: the testimony of Raúl Ballesta
“Be water, my friend: strategies to flow in sport and in life”, written by Raúl Ballesta and his colleagues Marta Román, Juan Carlos Domínguez, Marta Ocaña and Juan Arza Mondelo, is the first book that deals with strategies to develop the state of Flow from the current of Positive Psychology, and counting on testimonies from elite athletes such as David Meca, Ruth Beitia or Jordi Villacampa.
Bertrand Regader: In your story highlights your experience as a swimmer. How do you think what you know about sports and life now fits in with what you knew in your years in the pool? I mean knowledge that appears in the book and that at that time you could know at a more intuitive level, for example.
Raúl Ballesta: As you say, when you compete, the learnings that you can have, especially at the mental level, are very intuitive. When I was swimming there were many things that I did not know and that if I had known them, they could have helped me overcome situations that at that time were very difficult for me. For example to overcome competitive anxiety, learn to focus attention and what is more important to learn to enter Flow.
Sometimes we think about what we need to know how to face challenges effectively and only accumulative resources come to mind that can help us: having more knowledge, more means, more money, more contacts … places great importance on something that escapes this cumulative logic: attention. How do you think this element affects our well-being?
Adequate control of care is a very powerful tool to improve our quality of life in any setting. You just have to become aware of our thoughts and how they affect us to realize the importance they have on our well-being and health in general. Controlling the automatic thoughts that we generate is a very important step to improve our emotional well-being and we can only achieve this by learning to focus our attention.
In the book there is a chapter on self-confidence. Do you think that is an aspect that we tend to underestimate when we think about solving problems from day to day?
It’s possible. Realistic self-confidence helps people be more successful in the projects they carry out. It has been shown that people with greater self-confidence have what we call “presence” and that it is in turn perceived by other people. They can express different points of view than expected, they are persistent in defending what they deeply believe in, they are determined people and capable of making decisions under pressure. People with high self-confidence believe that they can take the helm of their lives and surely for this reason they do so.
A good part of this work is also dedicated to talking about the importance of managing attention and, in general, states of consciousness. The Flow state, for example, involves both a special state of consciousness and an almost instinctive and natural form of problem solving. How would you briefly describe these experiences?
Entering Flow is an automatic thing that happens when the right circumstances arise. When you enter Flow you act without thinking, automatically feeling a special connection with the task you are carrying out and executing it in the best way that you are capable. When you enter Flow you give the best of yourself, of what you are capable of. The main problem is that only one of the aspects that make up the Flow state fails, entering Flow is impossible. Therefore, these aspects must be worked on previously and constantly so that it ends up happening instinctively. Something similar would be when you learn to drive. At first you have to think down to the smallest detail and focus your attention correctly on those aspects that are relevant to driving a car and not hitting the first lamppost. With constant practice (especially at the beginning) and time, the brain automates the correct steps and it becomes very easy to drive a car.
Managing expectations is also important. Between the pages of the book there is a point where the need to be realistic, to find a balance between what we want and what we can do is expressly discussed. Do you have any advice on how to get this kind of forecast right?
Finding a balance between the challenge and our abilities to face it deserves some time for prior reflection. The objective knowledge of oneself is key to know if we have these skills or if, on the contrary, we have to work first on some deficiency to face the challenge with guarantees. That said, you don’t have to be afraid of failure because you can learn a lot from mistake and defeat. When should you stop chasing him? When it is no longer exciting, try again.
It is interesting that the book has the participation of several elite athletes. Why do you think her perspective is inspiring to many non-sports people and what do you think they can teach us?
It is a way of capturing the reader’s attention on psychological aspects with which they will surely feel identified. I remember how goosebumps gave me when David Meca told me how the feeling of Flow invaded him while he made the journey swimming from Jativa to Ibiza. I understood that this moment had been very special for him and that for that alone it was worth all the effort.
The contributions of the other athletes are equally inspiring and teach you that behind success there are feelings that in many cases are more important to them than the medal itself. Perhaps we cannot aspire to win any Olympic medals but we can aspire to feel the same sensations of Flow that they have felt.
Between the pages of the book topics such as the relationship between the states of the mind and the states of the rest of the body are discussed. This is seen, for example, in the sections devoted to relaxation and breathing exercises. Do you think we tend to think of these two realms as if they were totally separate things?
It is very possible that it is so. We tend to compartmentalize everything because our Western thinking is focused on it, to break things down into their parts and work them separately. The mind-body concept tends to be more and more holistic as Eastern thought takes hold in our society. In India, for example, they have practiced meditation for more than two thousand years. The new trends in positive psychology and Mindfulness teach us that what we think has its physical effect on our body and affect the benefits in our emotional and physical health of the daily practice of meditation.