USA Today columnist Mike Lopresti called Keith Smart to ask him what he remembered about his last-second shot to beat Syracuse in the 1987 National Championship game in the New Orleans Superdome. Smart’s description of the moment is a great example of the psychological experience referred to as flow.
“What does he remember 26 years later? The silence. Syracuse led 73-72, and there was one chance left, and the crowd in the New Orleans Superdome was 64,959. He had just scored 10 of his team’s last 13 points to keep the Hoosiers afloat. Yet all he heard was silence. ‘The game seemed to have slowed down for me,’ Smart said. ‘Players talk about how they get into a zone. You don’t get that very often. That zone is when you have all the time in the world to make a shot. I didn’t hear anything in the arena. I didn’t see anything. It was like I was playing basketball by myself. I didn’t hear noise again, until the shot went in.’
In his seminal work Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes the phenonomen as follows: “One of the most common descriptions of optimal experience is that time no longer seems to pass the way it ordinarily does. The objective, external duration we measure with reference to outside events like night and day, or the orderly progression of clocks, is rendered irrelevant by the rhythms dictated by the activity. Often hours seemed to pass by in minutes; in general, most people report that time seems to pass much faster.” The safest generalization to make about this phenomenon is to say that during the flow experience the sense of time bears little relation to the passage of time as measured by the absolute convention of the clock.”
The subject of flow is fascinating and I highly recommend Csikszentmihalyi’s book.