A little word on finding your Flow this morning. I have been very blessed all my life to be attuned to a natural flow state inside myself. It is something that has come and gone depending on my life circumstances, the task at hand and the environment I am in. It is a precious state that I have vigorously pursued to manifest more fully in my Life. I feel very fortunate that today I live most of the time in a natural flow state. There are many words for this state across cultures and traditions- the zone, chi, bliss, zen, grace, being, the now, transcendence, a deeper dimension, etc.
What is the Flow State?
“being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”
“It’s like opening a door that’s floating in the middle of nowhere and all you have to do is go and turn the handle and open it and let yourself sink into it. You can’t particularly force yourself through it. You just have to float. If there’s any gravitational pull, it’s from the outside world trying to keep you back from the door.”
According to Csikszentmihalyi, flow is completely focused motivation. It is a single-minded immersion and represents perhaps the ultimate experience in harnessing the emotions in the service of performing and learning. In flow, the emotions are not just contained and channeled, but positive, energized, and aligned with the task at hand. The hallmark of flow is a feeling of spontaneous joy, even rapture, while performing a task although flow is also described (below) as a deep focus on nothing but the activity – not even oneself or one’s emotions.
Csíkszentmihályi identifies the following ten factors as accompanying an experience of flow:
- Clear goals (expectations and rules are discernible and goals are attainable and align appropriately with one’s skill set and abilities). Moreover, the challenge level and skill level should both be high.
- Concentrating, a high degree of concentration on a limited field of attention (a person engaged in the activity will have the opportunity to focus and to delve deeply into it).
- A loss of the feeling of self-consciousness, the merging of action and awareness.
- Distorted sense of time, one’s subjective experience of time is altered.
- Direct and immediate feedback (successes and failures in the course of the activity are apparent, so that behavior can be adjusted as needed).
- Balance between ability level and challenge(the activity is neither too easy nor too difficult).
- A sense of personal control over the situation or activity.
- The activity is intrinsically rewarding, so there is an effortlessness of action.
- A lack of awareness of bodily needs (to the extent that one can reach a point of great hunger or fatigue without realizing it)
- People become absorbed in their activity, and focus of awareness is narrowed down to the activity itself, action awareness merging.
Interestingly enough, the idea of flow came into being as result of research on happiness. Researchers began asking themselves: “What makes us happy?” and “When are we most happy”? As a result of this research psychologists realized that being able to enter the flow state–which is a very enjoyable experience–is a key component of happiness.
In business, flow shows up everywhere as well, but is most commonly associated with startups. This has to do with the fact that entrepreneurial environments are packed with flow triggers. More importantly, the state also appears to one of the major dividing lines between business success and failure. “Because entrepreneurship is about the non-stop navigation of uncertainty,” says former Yahoo head of innovation turned Singularity University global ambassador, Salim Ismail, “being in flow is a critical aspect of success. Flow states allow an entrepreneur to stay open and alert to possibilities, which could exist in any partnership, product insight or customer interaction. The more flow created by a startup team, the higher the chance of success. In fact, if your startup team is not in a near constant group flow state, you will not succeed. Peripheral vision gets lost and insights don’t follow.”
MC argues persuasively that the benefits of flow outweigh the risks. For one, flow does not only tranquilize the ego, it thereby also avoids the happiness-reducing effects of habituation, invidious social comparisons, and unrealistic expectations. “The rewards of flow,” MC writes, “are open-ended and inexhaustible” (1999, p. 826). Perhaps most importantly, flow keeps the mind firmly on task and thereby neutralizes any instrumental or material mindset. An engineer in a flow state is consumed by the solvable problem she faces, not by thoughts of the money the patent might bring, or, worse yet, thoughts of fame.