Have you ever had those moments when you are involved in an activity and time just seems to have flown by? Maybe it was sitting at the piano, painting, a challenging chess match, or reading a really good book. Maybe you were playing a sport and everything was working—every pass you made, every shot you took, or every stroke of the golf club—you just couldn’t miss. Athletes call this being in the zone. It is also called “flow”.
Psychologists, and specifically those in the Positive Psychology movement, define “flow” as “the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity” (Wikipedia). Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who spent two decades studying it and who is recognized for discovering this, described it 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” (I love the jazz metaphor). When we are a flow state, we are completely absorbed in what we are doing, and this produces a feeling of energized focus and enjoyment. Tapping into flow is a powerful way to increase our own productivity, and the productivity of our teams. We are most likely to achieve flow when we are engaged in a task to which our skills are well matched – another reason to identify the capabilities of each person on a team (see my posts on teambuilding). Flow is also achieved more easily when we have clear goals and can focus on the process rather than the end product. And as I alluded to in my post last week, one of the most important keys to achieving flow is to minimize interruptions when you are working.
In Search Inside Yourself (Harper One), Chade-MengTan stated that “Flow” is another way of looking at passion. He uses the example of Tony Hsieh of Zappos who saw passion as one of the three types of happiness. That passion (flow) is “where peak performance meets peak engagement, and time flies by”.
In the work world, when we find the flow state, time seems to pass quickly without our noticing. We are also more likely to create high quality work with fewer errors. Because we are totally focused on what we are doing, a flow state may be a key aspect of mastering a new set of skills – stretching your skill set and cultivating flow can be a great tool for professional development and that’s why it is an important part of the personal management soft skill set.
John Whitehead, MA, CEC, coaches individuals and organizations in becoming more effective by helping them improve their interpersonal communications, emotional intelligence and resiliency.
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