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Is "The Zone" dangerous?


Original Post
Tradiban · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2004 · Points: 11,485

Could being in "The Zone" or a "state of flow" cause rock climbers to ignore important hazards? Rock climbing is of course very physical but mental is extremely important for safety and it's likely that a state of flow could cause a disruption in recognizing threats. 

https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/wellness/its-great-to-be-in-the-zone--while-working-exercising-and-creating-art-heres-how-to-get-there/2019/04/08/e0cab972-555b-11e9-8ef3-fbd41a2ce4d5_story.html?utm_term=.c046f47e8301

Cory F · · San Francisco, CA · Joined Jun 2016 · Points: 25

I think it depends on the definition of "Flow".  

From Wiki: "In positive psychology, a flow state, also known colloquially as being in the zone, is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity."

I think being "fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement..." all lead to enhanced focus on climbing.  If in a state of flow you might be very aware/accurate at reading the route, movement, placing gear etc.  I'd argue this state would be better and safer than being exhausted/dehydrated/sore/etc which climbing.

Lena chita · · OH · Joined Mar 2011 · Points: 1,040

The state of flow could also cause heightened awareness of things that are related to the task at hand... so you could make a case that climbers “in the zone” would be more likely to detect and avoid hazards easily, because they are in the zone.

Of course, the real answer is that no one knows.

I have only experienced this flow feeling in context of single-pitch sport climbing, on fine hard-for-me redpoints. Objective hazards were rather minimal in the circumstances. 

Cory F · · San Francisco, CA · Joined Jun 2016 · Points: 25

Ask a Free Soloist?

Tradiban · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2004 · Points: 11,485
Cory F wrote: I think it depends on the definition of "Flow".  

From Wiki: "In positive psychology, a flow state, also known colloquially as being in the zone, is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity."

I think being "fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement..." all lead to enhanced focus on climbing.  If in a state of flow you might be very aware/accurate at reading the route, movement, placing gear etc.  I'd argue this state would be better and safer than being exhausted/dehydrated/sore/etc which climbing.

I should clarify that the "flow state" IS a mental focus but I think it may be focussed on the wrong things in climbing.

Don Juan Matus · · Volando por la sierra. · Joined 16 days ago · Points: 0

No, the flow does not indicate lack of awareness, it is awareness by its very nature, it does not preclude safety. It is not an altered state or a separated state, it is a heightened state. But that also means it is particular, so you focus is on that which your will is capable. If you can only juggle ten plates but the route calls for twelve then yes, you have to add two to climb the route safely.

Tradiban · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2004 · Points: 11,485
Don Juan Matus wrote: No, the flow does not indicate lack of awareness, it is awareness by its very nature, it does not preclude safety. It is not an altered state or a separated state, it is a heightened state. But that also means it is particular, so you focus is on that which your will is capable. If you can only juggle ten plates but the route calls for twelve then yes, you have to add two to climb the route safely.

https://newramblerreview.com/book-reviews/psychology/thethe-problem-with-seeking-flow

Perhaps this changes your mind?
Pnelson · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jan 2015 · Points: 436
Tradiban wrote: Could being in "The Zone" or a "state of flow" cause rock climbers to ignore important hazards? Rock climbing is of course very physical but mental is extremely important for safety and it's likely that a state of flow could cause a disruption in recognizing threats.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/wellness/its-great-to-be-in-the-zone--while-working-exercising-and-creating-art-heres-how-to-get-there/2019/04/08/e0cab972-555b-11e9-8ef3-fbd41a2ce4d5_story.html?utm_term=.c046f47e8301

I had a friend who got "in the zone," next thing you know he had gotten rid of his twin daisies, was toproping through opposed quickdraws instead of a quad, and even started lowering instead of rapping!  We need to really watch this kind of reckless behavior.

Hobo Greg · · My Van · Joined Mar 2016 · Points: 190

You’re running out of troll material, Tradiban.

Tradiban · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2004 · Points: 11,485
Hobo Greg wrote: You’re running out of troll material, Tradiban.

I know! It ain't easy to always be the best. Now that you're a suit I don't even have that!

Redyns · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2011 · Points: 90

i was in the flow state after eating some bad Jamaican food the other day.  

Bill Kirby · · San Francisco CA · Joined Jul 2012 · Points: 480
Paul Deger wrote:

This is not flow - this is poor judgment.

Is Irony the word I’m looking for?
Thumper ... · · Lawton, Ok · Joined Oct 2017 · Points: 150

Metal flow in bearings is usually caused by insufficient lubrication

James Schroeder · · Sauk County, WI · Joined May 2002 · Points: 3,128

I'm not sure about the zone, but I know Maverick is dangerous.


Tradiban · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2004 · Points: 11,485
Paul Deger wrote:

Flow state is the opposite of what you are describing - we become hyper-aware without hyper-vigilance. Rather than distracted by the mental chatter that impairs awareness of threats, we not only are more aware of threats, but more skillful in response, usually sooner before the threat may even be evident to someone not in flow. 

You are misunderstanding that the "mental" aspect of the flow state is about the physical task, not the mental tasks surrounding the flow state.

To put it simply, a runner in flow state is so focused on the mental state of running that they miss the oncoming dump truck.
Jaren Watson · · Idaho · Joined May 2010 · Points: 2,450
Paul Deger wrote:

Do I take the bait - fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.



Ryan Pfleger · · North Lake Tahoe, CA · Joined Sep 2014 · Points: 20
Tradiban wrote: Could being in "The Zone" or a "state of flow" cause rock climbers to ignore important hazards? Rock climbing is of course very physical but mental is extremely important for safety and it's likely that a state of flow could cause a disruption in recognizing threats.

Alright, I'll bite. I'm gonna go with "maybe" on this one. And it probably depends on what your particular flow state encompasses. I can think of a couple times of having been in a "flow state" and done something possibly dangerous because I was so hyper focused that I wasn't monitoring things that seemed extraneous. 

Once, in the first few months after having started climbing, I got on a route that was well within my physical abilites, but because everything was so new, still seemed scary. It was steep for the area, and I think mid 5.10ish. But this time it wasn't scary at all, and it didn't feel difficult although it was within a  letter or two of my hardest outdoor route. I was focused on the movement, body tension, footwork. I easily pulled the crux moves through a roof... And then a bolt hanger came into view and I realized that I had unintentionally skipped the previous bolt, maybe the previous two. I was likely already in groundfall territory, and if I had skipped this one and fallen, I would have been looking at decking from way up. And then it all fell apart and I was freaking out a little bit despite it being easy climbing from there to the anchors. I still get into a flow state while climbing sometimes, especially moving fast on moderate ground, but now this state also includes a mental awareness of my protection. 

Another instance occurred last fall while trail running. I was towards the end of a mid distance run, on pretty flat to slightly downhill terrain. I was a bit tired, but still moving fast... probably around a 6 minute mile, which for me is cookin' at the end of a decent run. Since I was running fast on single track, I was extremely aware of foot placement, keeping a high cadence, breath control, how far I had left to go. I was not aware of the 300ish pound black bear staring at me from the side of the trail until I was almost even with him, and he was probably 20 feet away. Bears aren't usually frightening to me, and they're pretty common in the Tahoe area. But I still didn't want to run right past one at full tilt, and have this large predator decide that if something was running  he should chase it.

Anyway, did my awareness of these situations before I got hurt mean that my flow state was unconsciously taking into account these factors and warning my conscious mind of the danger just in the nick of time? Maybe. But I also sort of think that noticing both the bolt and the bear when I did was just a bit of luck. It is super unlikely that I would have fallen in the first instance. But if I had, it would have been grim. Incidentally, when I noticed the bolt I shouted something to my belayer about skipping the previous couple and he was all... "yeah, I wondered if you were going to clip that one". Would have loved it if he had said something earlier, but he was as new as I was. Maybe he thought I was being rad, when I was really just oblivious. In the running incident, I'm not sure what would have happened if I had run by the bear. They are pretty habituated to people around here, so don't really have much fear, but maybe also associate people with providing food, but not necessarily BEING food. It was fall, so this guy was definitely hyperphagic, eating anything and everything around. Not sure if running by might have triggered something with him. I am guessing not, but who knows.
that guy named seb · · Britland · Joined Oct 2015 · Points: 210
flow has gotten me to forget to place gear but this is only on really easy shit. 
Don Juan Matus · · Volando por la sierra. · Joined 16 days ago · Points: 0

Mr. Tradiban,

The phenomenon cannot be explained that way. To quote Christopher Hitchens, you do not possess a body you are a body. Flow is an experience, we appreciate it because the things we want to do seem instinctive; we can attribute flow to practice, memory and processing power. When a person climbs a persons body is seen in good style, their mind is managing what is necessary to accomplish the task, the brain really. What we call mind in flow is all the little cells working optimally to do.

My guess is accidents happen when the human processor is overloaded, lacks what is necessary to finish the task at hand. Or has not practiced or lacks the memory to apply what is necessary to the present stimulus, feed slack, crimp, drop knee, capture an option or other. Hope this helps, I welcome anything you have to offer, I must admit, am a devotee of the subject.

Paul above has a nice description.

Cory F · · San Francisco, CA · Joined Jun 2016 · Points: 25

Tradiban is stepping into the danger zone as flow is being lost

Ryan Pfleger · · North Lake Tahoe, CA · Joined Sep 2014 · Points: 20

Hey, Paul. So each item on your list applied in my situations, except to some extent #2. Does this mean I wasn't in a flow state? Or just that my "goal at hand" didn't include black bears and run outs? If you're in a flow state and are focused on your mountain bike ride but have tuned out certain extraneous details that do not pertain to your goals is it still a flow state? For example, there are mushrooms growing by the side of the trail. You have knowledge of the mushrooms in the area and would know if these were edible if you thought about it and looked at them, however mushrooms and their culinary relevance are not part of your current awareness. Does this then nullify the "full awareness of your surroundings"? Can you be something other than a master at your particular activity and still enter a flow state? If Honnold were charging up a solo this spring, grabbed a hold he had grabbed 100 times before, but didn't notice that the freeze thaw cycles of the winter had loosened it until it was too late, and then fell to his death, does that mean he wasn't in a flow state, even if all the other aspects you listed fully applied? 

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

General Climbing
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