In elementary school, it was tennis. I had so much love for the game of tennis, that I was absorbed in it. I was eager to get on the tennis courts every day in the summer and played against anyone who was willing. I remember crying if it rained! If no one was around, I could spend hours hitting against the backboard or serving baskets of balls. I would lose track of time that 10 hours being at the tennis courts would feel like seconds.
Talk about being in the FLOW!
Being in the flow is a mental state of being so immersed in the task that you lose your sense of time and space. Experiencing a state of flow is being in true enjoyment with an optimum sense of fulfillment.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi popularized the term in his 1990 book Finding Flow, the mental state of flow involves “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.”
The easiest way to describe flow is “being in the zone.” Being in a state of flow is when two factors collide with one another each at their optimum level: (1) the activity’s degree of challenge and (2) how skilled someone is at it performing the activity.
I’ve experienced being in the flow with other interests since childhood, such as rollerblading, cooking, and writing. While it’s not about being the best in the world in any of these activities, there’s a definite sense of challenge and skill combined to complete the task which occurs with pleasure and anticipation throughout the process.
Being in the flow is not the same as going with the flow. It’s not about letting something happen to you against your will. It’s not about passively letting outside forces compel you one way or another. It’s about being in a proactive state of mind and a feeling that is purposeful and focused.
The goal in leadership, and my focus for 2020, will be to create the environmental factors of flow in other areas of my life. The purpose is not only to seek success but also design experiences which allow for the same positive energy I experienced in tennis with other areas. If you’d like to follow me and be in your own flow this year, consider these:
3 Environmental Factors for Flow Success:
Flow Factor 1: Aim for the sweet spot. The notion of pressure isn’t all bad. In managing the risk vs. reward through a task, the reward becomes greater when some pressure is involved. You might create your own deadlines or blocks of time for the task to be worked on and completed. But, be careful in not allowing the pressure be so great that it becomes a strain. For me, writing blogs started as enjoyment until I set goals that became unrealistic. In trying to meet a goal of writing each week, it became a chore and the enjoyment disappeared. Make sure to keep your goal in the right frame of reference and give yourself grace to maintain a proper flow state.
Flow Factor 2: Silence the Noise. Proactively remove distractions. Find the right physical location and time of day/week that allows you to be in the best state of flow. I’ve found that working at home or late at night is not good for me. I have found that a coffee shop early on a Saturday morning works best for me when I write. I also created a playlist with music from Lauren Daigle, Hillsong United, and even Skillet! I also find the need to put my phone away and close the tabs to my social media accounts.
While it’s good to take breaks, give yourself time to enter a state of flow. Use the 90/20 rule: set a timer to focus on a task for 90 minutes. Then, give yourself a 20 minute break. Studies have shown that the brain uses up most of its glucose (sugar) in 60-90 minute intervals. So, it’s also okay for you to have a piece of chocolate during your break – it’s research-based!
Flow Factor 3: Take care of yourself. You can’t be in a proper state of flow if you are not your best physically, spiritually, and mentally. More than just a New Year’s Resolution, I plan to stay fit. While I exercise a few times per week, my hope is to decrease the amount of fast food this year. I plan to also continue being actively involved in church while reading my devotionals more. And, I looking to “unplug” more from social media to connect more with people face-to-face.
Just as the Heath brothers taught me that moments can be made, I plan to proactively create environments in 2020 that help me to enter a state of Flow. It’s easy to let the distractions of life get in the way, but I am committing to building flow moments!
What’s an area you flow in now and one you would like to flow in 2020?