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Vladislav Ilijin

Experiencing Flow in Tennis Through Attention Control

ISBN: 978-3-96146-692-4

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Produktart: Buch
Verlag: Diplomica Verlag
Erscheinungsdatum: 02.2019
AuflagenNr.: 1
Seiten: 100
Abb.: 7
Sprache: Englisch
Einband: Paperback


The book, Experiencing Flow in Tennis Through Attention Control”, applies Mihály Csíkszentmihályi’s 1975 concept of flow to the sport of tennis. Systematic attention control and harnessing flow experiences can significantly improve results and enhance a players’ enjoyment of the game. This book addresses the individual components that constitute flow, illustrated with practical examples for better understanding. Thanks to modern media, readers can also consult numerous videos and internet links in addition to books and magazines, making the experience of flow readily accessible to players, trainers, and administrators.


Text sample: Chapter 2.2 Awareness – a self-governed system: According to Csíkszentmihályi, optimal experience and our happiness depend on how much we can control our awareness from one moment to the next. The energy of our psyche is directed at real objectives of our own choosing. When we direct our attention onto a task, our awareness is ordered, everything else is relegated to the background. The happiest moments of our lives are those when we are fully dedicated to achieving an objective we chose. This begs the question of what awareness really is. Csíkszentmihályi describes awareness as a self-organized and self-controlled system (CSÍKSZENTMIHÁLYI 1997, P. 49). The purpose of our awareness is to present information about our environment and our bodies with the help of extero- and interoceptors in such a way that the body can respond adequately. Sensations, perception, emotions and thoughts are organized, processed, put in relation, and prioritized (CSÍKSZENTMIHÁLYI, 1997, p. 50). The exteroceptors are the classic five senses, i.e. optical (seeing), acoustic (hearing), gustatory (tasting), tactile (touching) and olfactory (smelling) analyzers. Interoceptors help us sense the inner state of our body, our joint receptors, and our sense of strength. For more in this, consult: ‘Die Bewegung des Menschen – Entstehung und Organisation’ (SCHEWE, 1988). The complex capabilities of our awareness also include our ability to positively influence our own inner state. To do this, we must alter the contents of our awareness. One of the abilities of our awareness is reordering, reinterpreting, or reinventing information, for instance when we write poetry, tell lies, elaborate scientific theories, or define meaning (CSÍKSZENTMIHÁLYI 1997, P. 50). One capability of our awareness is significant when it comes to coping with stress: our ability to interpret situations in different ways. For instance, when we interpret a situation as a challenge and act accordingly, we will certainly be more curious and active than if we consider that same situation a threat (stress). In the latter case, we might feel exposed, resigned, and powerless, while in the first scenario, we feel active, alert, and motivated. There is a series of theories and models on awareness. In his ‘flow’ theory, Csíkszentmihályi prefers the phenomenological model of awareness”, which is based on information theory”. Phenomenology states that during a mental process, our direct experiences are understood best. This means that we can determine, or at least influence, the direction of our thoughts, feelings, and intentions (CSÍKSZENTMIHÁLYI, 1997, P. 53). The Latin word for awareness, consciencia, literally means co-knowledge, which is exactly what it means. Events only have meaning for us if they appear in our consciousness. Csíkszentmihályi uses the metaphor of a mirror to describe consciousness. What our senses perceive outside of the body (environment) and inside of the body becomes perceptible, or conscious. Yet we also overlook many things that are clearly there, but that we don’t perceive. What we perceive depends, among other factors, on what we focus on. This becomes clear in the YouTube video ‘Test Your Awareness: Do the Test’ (see VIDEO 1). Our reflection of reality is determined by what we perceive. According to Csíkszentmihályi, our intentions are the central force that bring order to our awareness. An intention is an action we plan to do. When we desire something, this information appears in our awareness and directs our focus on the limited amount of information or objects that are associated with this desire. Intentions are ranked hierarchically. This makes it possible to reflect prior to taking action, and control it based on our priorities. Intentions direct our focus onto objects, which gives order to our thoughts (CSÍKSZENTMIHÁLYI, 1997, P. 56). Conscious processing of information has ist limitations, however. From the wealth of information in our environment and our body, we can only consciously process 126 bits per second. We require 40 bits per second to maintain a conversation with another person and understand what they are saying (CSÍKSZENTMIHÁLYI, 1997, P. 57). G. A. Miller assumes that we can usually perceive no more than seven distinct objects at one glance (MILLER, 1956). Due to the limitations of our mental capacities, it makes sense to consciously process information. Selection enables effectiveness. 2.3 Attention In addition to intentions, Csíkszentmihályi also studies attention as another key element of our awareness. When we direct our attention to events inside or around us, we become aware of the information. We then relate the current events to material that is stored in our memory. Then we make decisions, for instance, what action to take. We must understand that our senses can only ingest and process a limited amount of information. We cannot absorb more information than we can process. This is an everyday experience. For instance, we cannot program our GPS while driving in chaotic traffic. We must direct our primary focus on driving, we can’t program the GPS at the same time. Skillful handling of information is a major prerequisite for experiencing ‘flow’. Certain individuals commit exactly the necessary amount of focus to a task, no more and no less. Csíkszentmihályi calls this mental process control over your awareness. It is the ability to deliberately dedicate focus to a task, to concentrate on it until it is done, without allowing oneself to be distracted. We can allot our limited resource of focus by bundling it, or we can squander it randomly. It is our inner attitude that determines much of our lives. Because any type of work, whether predominantly intellectual or physical, requires attention, it is easy to imagine focus as an actual force, a form of psychological energy. What happens in our awareness is determined by our attention. Csíkszentmihályi argues that if we manage to control this focus, as if shining light onto an object with a spotlight, we can cultivate the quality of our experiences (see also chapter VI ‘Attention and focus’). We create a new self by controlling and steering this energy (CSÍKSZENTMIHÁLYI, 1997, P. 59-63) 2.4 Interactions between psyche and attention According to Csíkszentmihályi, the highest instance, the captain of our consciousness, is the self. Everything we have experienced, our actions and desires, our pain and joy, as well as the hierarchy of our goals are part of our psyche, which makes it the most important element of our conscience. It never fully leaves the focus of our attention. There is a mutual interaction and causal relationship between the self, which directs our attention, and our attention, which impacts our self. These interactive processes between the two components become very clear when we observe what happens when our attention helps bring a new piece of information (bit) into our consciousness. Only then we can understand how we can control and optimize our experience (CSÍKSZENTMIHÁLYI, 1997, P. 63-66). 2.5 Chaos in our conscience Psychological chaos can negatively impact our awareness. It occurs when, for instance, our awareness receives new information which might conflict with our intentions or their implementation. This negative inner sensation has countless names, depending on how we perceive it: fear, anger, concern, worry, distrust etc. These undesired objects hijack our attention, rendering our psychological energy worthless. Each threat weakens and disorganizes the self. Csíkszentmihályi calls this psychological entropy. As an example for psychological entropy, Csíkszentmihályi cites the case of a factory worker, which he studied using ESM (CSÍKSZENTMIHÁLYI, 1997, P. 66). Generally, J. M.” performed his work at a conveyor belt joyfully and with serenity. He attached high priority to his work and was able to meet his goals. One day, though, welding did not go as smoothly as usual. His performance dropped his focus was off because he kept thinking about his flat tire. J. M. did not have the financial means to have it fixed right away. His next paycheck was still a few days away and his commute was several miles long. His mind kept ruminating the question: How do I get home how do I get to work?” The flat tire occupied part of his psychological energy. His predicament destabilized and disorganized his ‘self’. A disruption of the inner order of the self always follows the same pattern: Information that is diametrically opposed to our objectives pushes into our conscience. Our focus is mobilized to counter the threat. If J.M. had been in a comfortable financial situation, he would likely not have perceived the flat tire as a threat. He could have called a towing company, had his car towed to the nearest workshop, and get a new tire mounted. Each piece of information we process has different implications for our lives. Does a situation threaten our goals? Does it further them? Or is it neutral? (LAZARUS, 1966). Csíkszentmihályi says that if a piece of information furthers our goals, it releases more psychological energy. If it threatens our goals, however, it impairs our psychological energy. 2.6 Flow An optimal experience is the opposite of psychological entropy. When a piece of information that favors our goals and intentions enters our consciousness, psychological energy flows effortlessly. The positive feedback reinforces the self, reassuring it that All is well”. This releases even more energy (focus) to tackle the challenge. Csíkszentmihályi cites numerous examples of optimal experiences, which he gathered from interviews. A young lawyer, for instance, was in the fortunate position to prepare complex, challenging lawsuits in a firm (CSÍKSZENTMIHÁLYI 2010, P. 77). She spent a lot of time in libraries doing research and worked with such great focus that she even forgot to eat lunch. She also experienced frustration, but she was quick to determine the causes of her errors and was able to eliminate them. This example shows that an optimal experience, ‘flow’, is a situation in which focus can be directed freely in pursuit of a personal goal. There is no disorder that needs to be eliminated no threat to the person’s self that would require mobilizing ist defenses. Those who achieve this state of ‘flow’ develop a stronger sense of self because the attainment of their personal goals is a constructive use of their psychological energy, which in turn reinforces the self. Those who are willing and able to organize their consciousness in this way inevitably experience higher levels of well-being and of quality of life. It is possible to develop a habit of organizing one’s consciousness in this way. ‘Flow’ experiences can thus be summoned again and again. Csíkszentmihályi emphasizes that doing tasks or actions does not always have to be purely physical, because humans do not live in a purely physical world. Language, mythology, art, and philosophy are all forms of expression that use symbolism. When solving symbolic tasks (mathematics, composing, making music, writing poetry etc.) ‘flow’ also causes profound joy, because during such tasks, our consciousness is in order” (CSÍKSZENTMIHÁLYI, 1997, P. 70).

Über den Autor

Vladislav Ilijin was born in 1950 in Yugoslavia/Serbia. His coaching career began with the state exam in Novi-Sad, Serbia, in 1972. In 1986, he acquired a B-coaching-license for high-performance sports in Germany. The authors’ field of activity comprises foundations, advanced and high-performance training in WTB, DTB as well as practical coaching work with WTA players. For five years, he served as a project manager for talent scouting in tennis. His unpublished scientific work addresses tactics in tennis defining a competition as a typical stress situation. He states the hypothesis that optimal performance is attained in a stress-free state. He has been exploring the topic of flow experiences since 1977.

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