Posts Tagged ‘Performance’

Addicted to Flow

Wednesday, March 26th, 2008

I have a problem. I’m addicted to “flow.” I am someone whom others would describe as lucky, for I’ve known for almost all my life what I’ve wanted to do. I’ve had goals from the time I was 5 or 6, and I spent the next 45 years or so “working” towards them. Actually, I should say “flowing” towards them…

I have a problem. I’m addicted to “flow.” I am someone whom others would describe as lucky, for I’ve known for almost all my life what I’ve wanted to do. I’ve had goals from the time I was 5 or 6, and I spent the next 45 years or so “working” towards them. Actually, I should say “flowing” towards them.

Flow In his book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes flow as that state where you are doing something – anything, any activity – without consciously thinking about it. You are totally into this activity, and enjoying it moment by moment – you are “lost in the activity.”

Have you ever experienced this state? I’ll bet you have. My problem is that I’ve experienced it too often – in racing, playing sports, and doing business.

Csikszentmihalyi believes flow is at the core of happiness, and that for most people, they are most happy when they are in the flow.

That certainly is the case for me. To me, there is nothing better than being lost in an activity. Unfortunately, when I’m not in the flow, I’m not completely happy.

I wonder how many other people are like me?

Like any “addiction,” the more I’ve been in the flow, the more I want it again. As I’ve been racing cars less over the past few years, my overall level of happiness has reduced. I need a fix of flow. Fortunately, I’ve been able to find it in areas other than racing.

What activities readily trigger flow for me? Well, driving, of course. Coaching, writing, certain business activities, figuring out problems, times with my family, learning, reading, and presenting workshops.

This past weekend I conducted an 8-hour workshop. Presenting to a group of 30-plus people, and making sure the energy level stayed up and the participants were learning for 8 hours can be a challenge. I was able to stay in the flow for at least 6 of those 8 hours. Every now and then I’d find myself slipping out of it – often when I recognized I was in the flow, I’d pop out of it. That’s the way it works – the second you realize you’re in the flow, you begin to think with your conscious mind, and that kicks you out of the flow. But then I’d relax and just trust myself to do what I do best in that situation, and I’d be back again. What fun!

It’s in those moments of flow where it seems I could keep going and going forever. That happens when I’m really into a fun work project – I could work non-stop, for days on end without coming up for air! I’ve been accused of being a workaholic, but I just think of it as doing what I love, and getting lost in the flow of my work.

I wonder if the definition of a workaholic should be “someone who gets in the flow when working”? Maybe we could look at workaholics (check out Workaholics Anonymous) differently – in a more positive light?

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Challenge + Belief = Performance

Wednesday, February 27th, 2008

If I was your manager – the manager of a team that you’re part of – and we had just won a big contract, there are a couple of ways I could present the contracted project to you and the team.

First, I could say something along the lines of, “Congratulations, team. We won the bid – we got the project! So, here you go. You’ve seen the project bid. Get at it.”

Another approach would be something like…

If I was your manager – the manager of a team that you’re part of – and we had just won a big contract, there are a couple of ways I could present the contracted project to you and the team.

First, I could say something along the lines of, “Congratulations, team. We won the bid – we got the project! So, here you go. You’ve seen the project bid. Get at it.”

Another approach would be something like, “Wow, we won the bid! This is going to be a tough project – lots of challenges with this one. But this team has shown in the past that it can step up and handle the tough ones. Let’s go.”

Which approach do you think would be best? While neither is perfect (and yes, there would typically be more discussion than just this), the second approach provides one significant advantage over the first: It’s more likely to trigger the team to get “in the flow.”

If you read the research on the state of flow – that magic time when you perform at your best, when you get lost in the moment performing the activity, when things just seem to happen, when the sense of time changes, and it all seems somewhat effortless (but not easy) – by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (see his book, Flow), you would understand why. (You also get bonus points for pronouncing his name correctly!)

When you are faced with a task that appears to be easy, with no challenge, you almost become bored with it. Your effort will not be there. And, if you believe you are not up to handling a task, your confidence level will be down, and you will likely feel anxiety.

But when you are faced with a task that you know will be challenging, and yet you believe deep down inside that you have the ability to handle it, you are more likely to perform at your peak, and in the flow. When you feel stretched, and yet have confidence in your ability to deal with it… ahhh, that magic time.

As simple as it seems, as the manager of your team, I can play a big role in how likely it is for you and your teammates to perform in the flow. It’s all in how I present a project or task to you, and how I follow up on it. With every conversation about the project, I should be reinforcing the fact that you’re faced with a very challenging task, and yet you have the ability to step up and handle it. It will not be easy, but if you use every bit of your talent and skills, you can do it.

Challenge, plus belief, equals flow – and that means a great performance. I’d love to hear about an experience you’ve had that relates to this.

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