When I was at my competitive peak, with an intense practice and tournament schedule, one thing I particularly loved was the very intensity of it all: pressure drills, court sprints, plyometrics, track workouts, squat thrusts with lots of weight on the bar, a really tough match or tournament weekend. The soreness of it all was “weakness leaving my body,” I believed, and acquiring the intensity that I lacked as a junior athlete definitely made me a more confident and steely competitor. I’ve written often in this blog about the virtue of hard work. But, for as fondly as I look back at that period, I also recognize that there was a certain energy that attended all that work, fueled by my love of the intensity of it: there was a kind of force. The force turned the intensity into a kind of do-or-die, black and white attitude to the work. I really pushed through workouts, and I really pushed through matches. At the time, I thought it was my saving grace, my superpower. But looking back, I see that it was all perhaps too intense. I was too intense in practice, with no time for fun, flair or spontaneity, and too intense in competition, too edgy, too perfectionistic, the lens of my gaze too narrow to enjoy it the experience to its core. I got hung up on bad calls, and I definitely got too judgmental with myself when I bunked a workout or lost a match that was within my grasp. While there’s much that could be said about this from a personality, or even maturity standpoint, today I’m focusing on the energetic nature of it, its quality of force. Force energy is the energy that wants to make it all happen, that thinks that pushing is the only way through difficulty. But, the flip side is that force energy has a certain violence to it, and as such, can have some serious negative consequences, as I’ll outline below. Of them all, the most detrimental aspect of force energy is that it actually impedes peak performance and peak experience. By pushing so hard, by having so narrow a focus, the richness of the experience is lost, and with it, the joy. I’m proud of my competitive record, but if I could do it again, I’d try to temper the force energy, and dip below it to find an ease within the effort, to find the eye of the storm.
To clarify more about the opposite of force energy, there is what Mihaly Csikszmentmihaly (1990)* has called “flow.” Flow energy isn’t lethargic, or isn’t associated with poor outcomes. It isn’t lazy or passive. Both force and flow are, indeed, goal directed, but the temperature of their focus different, with flow being a cooler, less harsh energy. The intensity is there, but the violence is gone. “Try easy,” is what my yoga teacher, Baron Baptiste, would say, in my first encounter of the concept. What a riddling thought, when you’re trying to contort yourself into one of those angular poses. Drop the efforting in the effort, he’s saying. Drop the grunting and the panting, the pedal-to-the-metaling. There are two critical areas of divergence between force and flow energy: the attention and the intention. Let’s look at it this way: