Flow, and Cycling

Tonight I read a post by Eldon, where (among other things) he says that he has learned how to lose himself in his ride. I’ve experienced that a number of times – I’m just riding, still paying attention to what’s going on, but not thinking about anything.

I’ve been thinking about how that relates to the flow state when programming. In my experience, it’s a lot easier to get into the flow state when programming than it is to get into the analogous state when riding. It may have to do with the degree to which you can shut out external input. In programming, it’s pretty easy – put on some appropriate music, and lose myself in the task. On the bike, it’s often not possible, since losing oneself can have some pretty bad consequences.

Thoughts? Are the two states analogous, or are they different things entirely?

Comments (6)

  1. David Ashwood says:

    I agree completely – I think it’s a sign of a good coder. Somebody who can have the radio on and not be distracted. They get into the zone and once there – all that exists is the zone 🙂

    Here in Italy many of the radio stations repeat the same set of songs in a day. My GF is puzzled that I don’t get annoyed with the repeats and finds it hard when I say I don’t actually listen it’s just a background humm.

    She’s tried to buy me a clock (Big Ben has a quieter ticking mechanism) so I can keep track of time better (which passes easily) but has found that the best way of getting me down for lunch/dinner is to bring up a glass of something alcoholic. This works for some reason.


    I have tried to suggest she wear something slinky without luck.

  2. Thomas Eyde says:

    The same thing happens to car driving. Each holiday I have to travel 500 km to visit my family. When I chose to drive, that means 7.5 hours of pure "fun".

    The first drives I was a real hazard after 4 hours, not to mention the final hour of driving; I could barely keep my eyes open.

    I discovered two things:

    Long distance driving is a skill. When I learned how to relax and disconnect during those hours, the driving became a lot easier and I am usually not tired at all when I arrive. I don’t think I drive sleepily, it’s more like I trade concentration for alertness. It’s so more energysaving to just react on whatever may happen, than concentrate on how to react on the same things.

    The other thing? Traveling by plane eliminates the problem all together:)

  3. Mark Wan says:

    I think I have more episodes of "flow" in programming than in cycling for sure. 🙂

    I guess I have experienced flow during cycling a few times, mostly during climbs and long flats. And yes I knew this only after the that rather than during.

    I think there is a third parallel with "flow" for a project team. Sometimes there is this feel that the whole team is pulling together, just like a peloton is just plowing through the road effortlessly.

    Ah, did I tell you that I like using cycling metaphors at work?

  4. Scot Boyd says:

    Sounds like a simple meditative state. I’ve had it both from programming and (much more often) from meditation. But you can do it literally any time if you want.

  5. Tim Madden says:

    I haven’t been in the cycling flow in many years, but I have the same experience with a good set of headphones. I am still surprised by the time that passes. I know some of my coworkers will don the headphones, kill email and IM to get to the flow.