THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF F.L.O.W (and how can it make such a difference to our lives):
by Jan Cavelle
FLOW is the state of peak performance originally identified by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. a Hungarian psychologist. He identified that we are happiest when we are in FLOW, which is a state of consciousness where time distorts because we are so fully absorbed in whatever we are doing, that we are oblivious to distractions and lose all fear of failure. The milkman can ring, the kids can scream, but all of it passes us by.
All of us have experienced this moment, when we are so deeply involved in what we are doing, we forget the time, or completely fail to hear someone come up behind us. We lose sight of ourselves altogether in this state yet at the same time are in total control of the activity.
He first identified FLOW in artists and creatives who became lost in their work to the point of being unaware of their surroundings. He then set out to research exactly what elements enabled someone to transition into this. Csikszentmihalyi identified certain conditions as being essential to FLOW. One was that whatever the person had set as a goal and the path towards it be clearly defined, that this involved a balance between skills and challenges. Some form of real time feedback was involved to enable that path to be adjusted without delaying progress. Above all, the individual had belief in their ability to succeed.
Csikszentmihalyi found that people were happiest when they have unwittingly achieved this state of consciousness, so that they are totally absorbed and in effortless control of what he describes as an “optimal experience”. He believes we should all work toward developing these experiences in order to find happiness. To do this we have to learn to control our own consciousness rather than being blown about by external forces. With control, we can focus our psychic energies into achieving our goals. Subjective feelings and general interference from the mind ceases because of the levels of absorption.
In FLOW, Csikszentmihalyi maintains that people will continue to do an activity even at high personal cost because of the level of enjoyment. While mindfulness and Yoga can all be considered examples of people working towards being in FLOW but Csikszentmihalyi found it possible to be in FLOW, where our actions and awareness have merged, in everyday tasks from cooking, reading, eating or even talking.
Whatever we are working towards, being in FLOW as much as possible means we can get there further, faster, and reach higher. McKinsey & Co., the global management consultants, carried out a ten year study of top executives and found them to achieve literally five times as much in FLOW, the equivalent of an entire working week done by the end of Monday.
The scientific explanation for this lies in five neurochemicals, norepinephrine, dopamine, endorphins, anandamide, and serotonin. Between them, they tighten focus, block pain and outside distractions, prompt lateral connections, enable us to acquire new skills and knowledge faster and make us feel good. When in FLOW, the brain produces all five, simultaneously. Not surprisingly, it is a hugely pleasurable experience.
The state of FLOW does not come from organizing ourselves well but from us being totally emotionally engaged. Risk-taking is also an essential component of FLOW so we have to have the confidence and determination in ourselves to take those risks, or for the organizations we work in to create cultures where we feel safe to fail. The challenge has to be hard enough for us to run the risk but not so impossible that we cannot rise to it. Oddly, it has been found that high achievers are prone to choosing challenges that are too hard, both too frightening and more likely to fail at, to enable them to achieve the state of FLOW.
Identify your own F.L.O.W. experiences, look back at the things that have been really important to you in your life and identify what you have been doing when you have reached a FLOW state. You will almost certainly have been emotionally connected to your purpose or vision at that time, even if it was not consciously so. The link between our genuine emotional beliefs in what we are doing and our success rates is very strong.
Roger Hamilton, social entrepreneur and founder of i-genius, believes one should have different physical spaces for the different activities in our lives in order to promote ourselves into being into FLOW. He advises we create a space for creativity, where social media, phones, and other distractions and interruptions are all banned. We should have a calm, grounded space, where we can sit with our team and to think about service to others while doing the small scale, people related activities relating to care. There should also be a “who” place, where social interaction takes place, from one to one conversation, to phone calls and emails. He suggests we not only have people’s contact details in this space, and records of past interactions but also their photographs and to stay in focus with the interactions whenever we are here. We should have a space for organized detail. This should also be free of people, phones and emails and allow us to concentrate on planning, finances, and working out “how” we achieve our next steps. Finally, he suggests we have an inspirational place where we can reflect on our purpose and connect with our higher spirit in whatever way we find appropriate. He advises starting and ending your day with our Spirit connection and dividing the rest of the week up by spending a day on each area, working from a Wednesday start, in which ever area you are most suited. In other words, if organizing is your thing, start by having your Wednesday as your organizing day.
The initial steps in FLOW aim to achieve openness to seeing our own strengths and weaknesses and a resulting commitment to change by working on the weaknesses to become the optimum with ourselves that we can. The principle is roughly summed up in the famous Frank Outlaw quote “ Thoughts become words, words become actions, actions become habits, habits become your character and character becomes your destiny”. It is a question of being in the right place, doing the right thing for you, to achieve effortless results and maximise your success.
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