Integrating models of self-regulation and optimal experiences: A qualitative study into flow and clutch states in recreational distance running

Objective
In this study, we aimed to understand the self-regulatory processes facilitating optimal experiences in running by integrating models of self-regulation with flow and clutch states.

Method
Using an event-focused approach, we interviewed 16 runners less than one day on average after recreational running activities (M = 22.17 hours later, range = 3–46) they described as positive, rewarding experiences. Our analysis drew on principles for thematic and connecting analyses.

Results
We structured our analysis of the self-regulatory processes facilitating flow and clutch states into three overarching themes: forethought; monitoring; and control. Flow was facilitated by intrinsic experiential motives and non-specific goals, whereas clutch states involved an intrinsic motive to accomplish specific goals. The perceived ease and pleasure during flow motivated runners to continue this experience, which appeared to be aided by active and involuntary distraction. Conversely, clutch states were described as more effortful and less pleasant during the run, with active self-regulation strategies used to exert control over cognition and manage feelings of difficulty. Attending to specific outward or internal sensory stimuli appeared to initiate changes that contributed to the disruption of flow, although many runners described transitioning into a clutch state after flow disruption. No runner reported transitioning from a clutch state into flow.

Conclusions
Our study offers novel insights into optimal experiences in running by integrating models of self-regulation with flow and clutch states. We discuss how these insights can inform research and applied practice seeking to develop interventions for promoting optimal experiences during running.


University of Lincoln, College of Social Science Research

Trish Jackman, University of Lincoln, School of Sport and Exercise Sciences

Rebecca Hawkins, University of Lincoln, School of Sport and Exercise Sciences

Amy E. Whitehead, Liverpool John Moores University, School of Sport and Exercise Sciences

Noel E. Brick, Ulster University, Department of Psychology