Table Tennis and Flow

23:54 Wed 20 Jun 2007. Updated: 12:37 21 Jun 2007
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I love table tennis. It’s a fantastic game, and one that I’ve loved for years. I played it a fair amount in college, which is when I became good enough at it to really enjoy it. Since then I’ve played it very little, but Metaweb has a table, and that’s reminded me how great it is.

There’s no other activity I can think of that puts me into a flow state as quickly and as consistently. I lose track of time, and I’m not thinking about other things much. Tennis isn’t as consistent or as quick because it’s more difficult, and because you generally have to spend more time between points. Additionally, I’m not good enough at tennis to have a lot of long rallies, which takes away from it somewhat.

As compared to MTG, table tennis wins because it holds my attention better, and this is partly because my actions always matter. Unlike in MTG, where there are stretches of the game where you don’t have control over it. My attention tends to wander a little during those stretches (which is one of the reasons I’m not that good at MTG).

Playing the CPMA Quake 3 mod brings me into that flow state fairly quickly too, but the fact that it’s not truly a physical activity mitigates against it somehow. Also, the skill differential between my skill and the skill of my friends at CPMA is quite extreme—whereas table tennis is a much more widely played game.

Just looking over these activities, there’s a striking connection: they probably rank table tennis, tennis, CPMA, MTG, in terms of how much I love playing them while I’m playing them. But the time I’ve spent at them over the last several years ranks in the exact reverse: MTG, CPMA, tennis, table tennis. That might start to change now that there’s a table at work, but even so, that seems perverse.

Is this a function of how humans are bad at remembering/predicting what makes them happy? Or is it merely a sign of my not having my priorities right? Or simply moving down the path of least resistance?

But I should stop doing that now. I know that I really enjoy this activity, and therefore I should do it more. The Chinatown YMCA seemed like an ideal place to start, but sadly it’s closed for renovations until 2008. I should be able to find alternatives. Flow and physical activity are both extremely healthy, so an activity that I love doing that combines both is worth pursuing (obviously enough).

3 Responses to “Table Tennis and Flow”

  1. Helen Says:

    Physical activity is a curious one, though, isn’t it? it’s a sure-fire mood enhancer and really good for its effects on the rest of one’s life, and yet it’s so easy to forget that, and view it as just too… difficult, in favour of more sedentary activities. It’s a strange psychological block.

  2. Tadhg Says:

    Agreed, and one I find quiet maddening because the block appears opaque from both sides—when I’m on the active side I have a lot of difficulty understanding why I would ever have been so inactive, and when I’m on the inactive side significant physical exertion seems extraordinarily distant and I have no understanding of how it ever seemed closer…

  3. Sam Says:

    Ahhh, decisions! We all do this especially with our exercise. I find one of the most difficult things to do is create a balance in life. I play a lot of table tennis (love it and live it :-) so I’ve got the physical aspect covered. Where I then suffer is in trying to balance the physical with work, with family time.

    I agree with your statements on feeling “in the flow” when playing table tennis. I experience the same thing with table tennis and with (as different as it may be) swimming. I’ve been doing both so regularly now that they are “habits” that I miss dearly when I stop.

    There are many things in our life that feel like a choice… I think it all comes down to prioritizing and then rolling forward. That feeling of flow is a great and important one to have and hold onto. Table tennis does it for me… so I keep playing.

    Thanks for a great post and a very good blog.


    Sam the table tennis man

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