“Only direct control of experience, the ability to derive moment-by-moment enjoyment from everything we do, can overcome the obstacles to fulfillment.”
-Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (Godfather of Flow State)
The flow state is awesome. No outside distractions, barely any conscious thought, just pure zone. Hours pass as though they are minutes. Time not only stands still but becomes irrelevant. In fact, everything becomes irrelevant except for the activity we are immersed in. Maybe it’s an amazing conversation, a great pickup game of basketball, or, if you are truly lucky, your job. Crazy thing is you can’t even recognize what it is while in it! It’s not only something we rarely reach but at its core it’s damn near an emotionless emotion. We do it, but we didn’t know we were doing it. We weren’t even trying. Instead we got out of the way and let it happen.
What is this thing called flow state? And how do we reach it?
Flow state is quite simply when you are so fully immersed in an activity such that you are performing at your highest level. Everything is working for you. You can do no wrong. In basketball, you can’t miss a shot (think Steve Nash at the free throw line). In conversation, the other person is hanging on your every word and likewise you on theirs. At your job, you make every task look easy and effortless and in fact that’s how it feels for you.
This all sounds great right!? So how do we get there?
There are elements that must exist for us to find flow. The first is a clearly defined goal. A goal must exist because it puts our mind into a clear and focused place. Our focus is on whatever activity we must engage in to reach our goal. Games often times put us in flow because they have clearly defined rules we must follow in order to reach the goal of winning. Secondly, we must have a high skill level in the activity. Without the proper skills, we cannot reach the goal. As soon as we fall off track in our quest to reach the goal, we lose our laser like flow state focus due to frustration. Likewise, if we find the activity too easy (our skills are above the challenge of the activity), we will grow bored and lose flow state. If we were to rate the challenge level for an activity from 1-10 (1 being the easiest and 10 being the hardest), we would want to be functioning at a 7 or 8. The activity requires a high level of skill but it is not so challenging that it is above our skill set. Lastly, we must enjoy the activity. It has been found that people most often reach flow when doing their favorite activity, yet at the same time people report reaching flow at work even when they are not bowled over with happiness while at the office. This can be attributed to the defined set of rules and increased concentration that the office calls for.
Now check this out; free time is NOT typically more conducive to us finding flow than work. Our nervous systems are tuned to attend to external dangers and signals. We have not adapted to being able to handle long periods of time without obstacles and danger. Unless you have learned how to effectively use your leisure time, having more free time will NOT improve your quality of life. Based on numbers reported by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his seminal book “Finding Flow”, US teenagers reach flow 13% of the time while they watch TV, 34% of the time they are engaged in a hobby, and 44% of the time they are involved in sports or games. Moral of the story: In your free time, find a hobby, sport, or game you love. This will improve your quality of life AND get you into the flow state more often.
Now let’s get into the personality type that gets into flow more often.
In my blog on Sexual Charisma (coming soon!) I talked about the godfather of Flow Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (who, for ease of reading, I’ll refer to as MC). In his book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, MC not only defines Flow but also goes on to define the personality type associated with those who most easily reach the Flow State.
MC hypothesized that people with several very specific personality traits may be better able to achieve flow more often than the average person. These personality traits include curiosity, persistence, low self-centeredness, and a high rate of performing activities for intrinsic reasons only. People with most of these personality traits are said to have an autotelic personality.
Autotelic is used to describe people who are internally driven, and as such may exhibit a sense of purpose and curiosity. This determination is an exclusive difference from being externally driven, where things such as comfort, money, power, or fame are the motivating force.
In a society that values capitalism, outward appearances, and materialism, this concept of developing some of the traits of the autotelic becomes more relevant than ever. Imagine getting past what others think and changing your mindset to find those things that you fully enjoy and can lose yourself in. What would that mean for your work? Going to work not because you have to pay the bills but because you ACTUALLY want to be there. Leaving with a paycheck and not being astounded that you are getting paid for something you would do for free. To many, I’m sure it sounds unattainable, but it’s not. It may take time to get this point, but it starts with your mindset. Many of us grow up thinking everything is about responsibility. Do what we are supposed to do. Don’t ruffle any feathers. But there is a problem with this approach. We never actually learn what WE want and as a result severely stunt our own growth. The autotelic personality is one that goes against the grain externally but at the same time ACTUALLY goes WITH the grain of their own desires and strives to learn what makes them tick to design their lifestyle based around their own self discovery.
“An autotelic person needs few material possessions and little entertainment, comfort, power, or fame because so much of what he or she does is already rewarding. Because such persons experience flow in work, in family life, when interacting with people, when eating, even when alone with nothing to do, they are less dependent on the external rewards that keep others motivated to go on with a life composed of routines. They are more autonomous and independent because they cannot be as easily manipulated with threats or rewards from the outside. At the same time, they are more involved with everything around them because they are fully immersed in the current of life.” -Wikipedia
One researcher did find that people with an autotelic personality have a greater preference for “high-action-opportunity, high-skills situations that stimulate them and encourage growth” than those without an autotelic personality. It is in such high-challenge, high-skills situations that people are most likely to enter the flow state.
Here is a great visual graph to illustrate this:
To summarize, here is a simple 5 step process for reaching flow state:
1. Have a clear goal
2. Enjoy the activity involved to reach the goal
3. The activity requires a high level of skill
4. You posses this high level of skill
5. Eliminate all other distractions to ensure full immersion
To dive even deeper, check out the godfather of Flow's book:
Here is a quick intro to a very important concept. What I have below is a portion directly from Wikipedia. I really like the intro from Wikipedia:
Personal boundaries are guidelines, rules or limits that a person creates to identify for him- or herself what are reasonable, safe and permissible ways for other people to behave around him or her and how he or she will respond when someone steps outside those limits.
Types of personal boundaries
‘Personal boundaries include physical, mental, and spiritual boundaries’ – (for physical boundaries see personal space and proxemics). ‘Mental boundaries pertain to beliefs, emotion, and intuition…Spiritual boundaries pertain to self-esteem [&] sense of identity’. Together they constitute “psychological boundaries”.
According to Nina Brown, there are four types of psychological boundary:
For a much more in depth explanation check out Dr. Paul and David DeAngelo. Although a few years old, their program called "Deep Inner Game" is outstanding in the area of Personal Boundary...
For my take on Personal Boundary as it pertains to women, read my blog on Strength of Frame.
Ahhhhh! Make the Donald stop growing!
“If we’re growing, then we’re always going to be out of our comfort zone.”
In this post I’m going to be talking about an overall philosophy that I do my best to live on a daily basis. If you didn’t already figure out what it is from the title, I call it the “Growth Mentality.” The Growth Mentality is very simple and it can and should be applied to every aspect of your life. I define it as: constantly moving forward and looking for progress at all times. In other words, setting goals and resetting them as we approach them. What I normally see are people setting goals and then allowing them to become limits for their lives. When they reach a goal they either plateau and stay at that plateau or actually regress. I see this often with weight loss. A person sets a goal to be at a certain weight at a certain time (think a bride to be losing weight to fit into a specific sized wedding dress here) and upon hitting that weight they regress back to their old habits and gain all the weight back quicker than the amount of time it took them to lose it. In my opinion this just plain sucks…So let’s move pass this situation and make change!
To do so we need to first examine why we fail to live by this philosophy and how we can change and adapt so that the Growth Mentality becomes a part of us.
Why we fail; To illustrate this, I’m going to refer to one of the core teachings from my favorite master in human relations Dale Carnegie; the “Comfort Zone.”
Comfort Zone is defined in Wikipedia by Alasdair A. K. White as the following;
'The comfort zone is a behavioral state within which a person operates in an anxiety-neutral condition, using a limited set of behaviors to deliver a steady level of performance, usually without a sense of risk (White 2009). A person’s personality can be described by his or her comfort zones. Highly successful persons may routinely step outside their comfort zones, to accomplish what they wish. A comfort zone is a type of mental conditioning that causes a person to create and operate mental boundaries. Such boundaries create an unfounded sense of security. Like inertia, a person who has established a comfort zone in a particular axis of his or her life, will tend to stay within that zone without stepping outside of it. To step outside a person’s comfort zone, they must experiment with new and different behaviors, and then experience the new and different responses that then occur within their environment.'
I really like this definition. Notice that a comfort zone is described as a “mental conditioning” which means it exists within us and not outside of us. Anything that exists within us we have the power to change…Wait…Let me repeat that…Anything that exists within us we have the power to change. That’s exciting news! So let’s delve deeper. If we have the power to change, then why don’t we change?
To step out of the comfort zone raises the anxiety level engendering a stress response, the result of which is an enhanced level of concentration and focus. White (2009) refers to this as the Optimal Performance Zone – a zone in which the performance of a person can be enhanced and in which their skills can be optimized. However, White (2009) also observes that if the work of Robert Yerkes (1907) is considered in which he reported ‘Anxiety improves performance…
So according to White and Yerkes, stepping out of our comfort zone raises performance. Wow! I still can’t imagine why on earth we wouldn’t always operate outside of our comfort zone!?…Oh wait, there’s more to this story.
(Continued from above)…until a certain optimum level of arousal has been reached. Beyond that point, performance deteriorates as higher levels of anxiety are attained’, if a person steps beyond the optimum performance zone they enter a “danger zone” in which performance will decline rapidly as higher levels of anxiety or discomfort occur.'
In terms of performance management or development, the objective of the trainer or manager is to cause the person to enter the optimum performance zone for a sufficient period of time so that new skills and performance can be achieved and become embedded. The same reasoning is used with goal setting: change the anxiety level and the performance will change. (However, in performance terms, the term incentive is used to describe the process of changing the anxiety level – an incentive being anything that causes a change in behaviour.)
Ahhhh yes now we see the truth. When we step out of comfort zone too much or overcompensate, we experience too much anxiety and perform worse. Or, as we typically define it, we FAIL (AHHHH! What a scary word! Ha!).
So in order to maximize this mentality we must learn to find the balance and enable ourselves to figure out how to take BABY STEPS out of our comfort zone towards our goals. Here are some action steps you can take to work on this yourself.
1. Define the goal or behavior you are trying to reach/change
2. Identify why it is causes you anxiety to take action
3. Identify what will happen if you NEVER take action
4. Identify the WORST possible result of taking the action
5. Identify if you can live with the worst happening (if it’s anything other than death, guess what, you can probably live with it!)
6. Identify the BEST possible result of taking the action
7. List out the BABY STEPS to reach the goal/change the behavior
8. TAKE ACTION!
Hope this helps guys!
“To maximize our potential, we must become comfortable with being uncomfortable.”
To learn more about Comfort Zone and to read a book that should be an ABSOLUTE MUST READ for every human being on the planet, check out: