I want to tell you about one of my heroes. His name is Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi (pronounced chick-sent-me-high-ee). He became a cult figure in the creative world when he published a book called Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. The book came out in 1990 and writers, artists, others who need to be creative still tell others about it.
Everyone experiences flow. We call it being “in the zone.” What you might not know is why and how it happens or that you can make it happen more often.
What Is Flow?
Professor C. and his team of researchers did years of study to find that people are most happy when they are totally engaged in what they doing, when they’re in state he name “flow,” “in the zone,” when the world has moved out of their way. Wikipedia adds this to the description . . .
a Zen-like state of total oneness with the activity at hand and the situation [see Flow (psychology)]. The idea of flow is identical to the feeling of being in the zone or in the groove. The flow state is an optimal state of intrinsic motivation, where the person is fully immersed in what he or she is doing. This is a feeling everyone has at times, characterized by a feeling of great freedom, enjoyment, fulfillment, and skill–and during which temporal concerns (time, food, ego-self, etc.) are typically ignored.
In an interview with Wired magazine, Csikszentmihalyi . . . described flow as “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.”
So How Do You Get There?
Flow is a concept that is important to business people, managers, and folks who wish to progress up the ladder — to anyone who wants to improve productivity and wants to enjoy work and life to the fullest.
Before you read on, think about the games that you find most addictive, they probably challenge you just to the point where you are fully engaged, but not ready to give up. That’s because the challenge is matched to your skill set.
At it’s most basic level, flow works like this.
- Every person has a discrete skill set.
- Every task has a level of complexity that requires a skill level to complete it successully.
- How the two are matched will decide the experience of the person attempting the task.
A task too challenging for the skill set = anxiety.
A task not challenging enough for the skill set = boredom.
A task that challenges the skill set enough to push the learner to grow gradually will keep the learner’s attention focused on the task only. He or she will zone in and become part of the task in order to master the skill.
Flow is about total engagement.
Why Talk about This?
Since I was small, I’ve understood that work should be fun. I do my best work when I’m enjoying myself. In flow, all parts of me work together to reach the same goal. How could it be any better. My brain, hands, and heart are finely tuned to solve the problem with no distractions by time or the enviroment.
Teaching others becomes easier because I adjust tasks to their skill set so that they also learn at their flow rate. Learning in the zone, means they’re engaged, happier, and more successful. We both are more productive.
Who wouldn’t want to be “in the zone” as much as we can be? Imagine if we that engagement when we’re writing, talking to customers, interacting with clients. Flow is a tool for business promotion and branding. It enhances our big idea. It makes us stronger, deeper, better.
Had an optimal experience lately? Think you might make one happen?
–ME “Liz” Strauss
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