In the 1970s, Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi asked people around the world about the times in their life when they felt their best and performed their best.
He interviewed chess players, surgeons, dancers, Italian farmers, Navaho sheep herders, Chicago assembly line workers, elderly Korean women, Japanese teenage motorcycle gang members and many many other ‘types’ of people.
Everyone he spoke to, regardless of cultural and social background, said that they felt and performed their best when they were experiencing ‘Flow'. Csikszentmihalyi chose this term because, when interviewing research subjects, flow was the word that kept emerging. In flow state, every action, every decision, led seamlessly, fluidly to the next. In other words, flow actually feels flooooowy.
45 years since Csiksgentmihalyi coined the term, athletes and entrepreneurs are using the word flow or ‘in the zone' to describe peak performance. It’s now so talked about that people have come up with fancy terms such as ‘Bio-hacking’, which defines processes for unlocking the potential of the body and the brain to access flow more regularly. There are people that proclaim that solutions like bulletproof coffee and wearable technologies can help us achieve these states of pure alertness and productivity all the time.
But is this addiction to recreating flow states causing us to repel the actual thing we are seeking? And have we confused flow for productivity? Productivity is not flow but flow can feel productive when we allow it to happen.
The idea of ‘hacking’ flow disturbs me somewhat. This is because I believe that authentic flow is about ‘being’ as much as it is about ‘doing’. Like a breath or tide moving in and out, things just work when we allow them to. Nature works in cycles, seasons and rhythms. Yet, when it comes to the world of work we try and block these natural laws of change by being in one state all the time: constantly busy and productive.
We try to push hard against prevailing conditions, desperate to maintain ‘progress’ no matter what, which causes us to burn out and create more stress rather than less. When we try and force flow (or 'hack' it) like productivity on steroids, we actually diminish the other amazing states of being. And this creates resistance to the juicy state of connection we are ultimately looking for.
I know first hand what it is like to be caught on the social entrepreneurship treadmill, racing to get stuff done, focusing on growing things quicker, faster, better and wondering why I can’t do it like everyone else. But now I allow myself to accept the foggyness, the doubt and the need to rest, even when all I want is to access that flowy experience.
We have taken on an innovating, industrious mindset when it comes to flow, rather than an inner-vating one that is based on letting go and leaning into our inner nature to see patterns that arise in our approach to work (I describe some of these patterns in Part 2 of this blog).
During summer, the trees are flourishing and productive but during winter they aren’t putting their energy towards growth. This is because nothing in nature blooms all year. When a caterpillar hibernates in it’s cocoon, do we stay “stop resting!”? No we say, wow, a transformation is on it’s way. There is an acceptance of seeing change around us, yet we resist it in ourselves. This stops us from embracing the possibilities inherent in deep resting, deep listening and deep seeing.
Ride the ebb as well as the Flow.
In Part 2, I will be exploring the other underrated states between the flow, how I discovered my entrepreneurial flow cycle and tips to finding yours.
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