Contrary to popular impressions, flow is not going with the path of least resistance. Flow is being totally engaged with an activity that challenges us to use every ounce of our creativity, skill, and awareness. It neither provokes anxiety (too much challenge, too little skill) nor boredom (too little challenge, too much skill). It rather calls out the best we have to offer in life and work. If you would like to have more flow moments, then read on. This Provision can assist you to make it so.
Bob: Flow is a defining image when it comes to coaching in general and LifeTrek Coaching in particular. Our job, as coaches, is to assist people to get into flow as often as possible. There’s no way to stay there continuously, but it is possible to increase both the frequency and duration of flow moments in life and work. That’s our commitment and calling as coaches.
The subject of flow is near and dear to my heart. I have spent a lot of time in the past year researching and writing about the dynamics of flow as they relate to the principles and practices of coaching. Last November I presented a paper on relational flow, together with four other authors, at the International Coach Federation’s Coaching Research Symposium in San Jose, California. Since that time I have participated in teleclasses as well as an entire conference on flow in Orlando, Florida. You can view this material and listen to the teleclasses by going towww.LifeTrekCoaching.com/flow.
In this Provision, my LifeTrek Coaching colleagues have beautifully captured some of the nuances and dimensions of flow. If you haven’t been in the flow zone for a while, then these stories will guide and inspire you to get there. If extra attention is called for, we encourage you to contact us for coaching Click.
Mike: Last week we considered how clearing clutter and designing environments can set us up to be energized and ready to move forward. But what if there is still a little doubt, or a little something that’s missing? I have found that getting into the zone might be finding that little something.
For me, being out of the zone is feeling doubt and anxiety that weigh me down on the task at hand. I lose my sense of fun, humour, and possibility; sometimes I even lose my sense of reality.
A friend of mine was feeling this way during a golf tournament. It was a stormy and extremely wet morning. By the third hole we were all soaked to the skin. It was an individual event, so we were all competing on our own. As my friend teed off, his new driver slipped out of his wet hands and flew 30 yards toward the lake in front. We lost sight of it, and after the shock passed he cursed the conditions and said among other colourful things, “How are we expected to compete in torrential rain?”
Listening to him, I realised that he seriously doubted he would hit any good shots, let alone be competitive. His doubt was high and his sense of fun was very low. I said to him, “The interesting thing about today is that the whole field of golfers must play under the same conditions. It’s a level playing field if we treat it as such.” My observation wasn’t rocket science but it did produce a shift in him. His sense of reality changed and he shifted into the zone.
The ultimate example of someone who does this is Tiger Woods. The statistics show that Tiger almost always recovers from a bad shot with an amazing one. Why? Because he gets himself into the zone. His doubt is low and his hope is high. He believes in the possibility before him. But then, he has always had a great coach along the way whether it was his father or golf coach!
Coaches work with people to uncover possibility. We sometimes ask our clients, “Why not?” when their logic seems self-limiting. This creates a bridge-like belief in the possibility becoming a reality. This is the X-Factor that enhances our physical and mental capabilities. Tiger has it. Sure he is physically skilled and mentally tough, but he also has the X-Factor that has and will separate him from the rest of the field.
So what happened to my friend? Well, he didn’t win but he did go on to play the best game of golf he had played that year. And back in the warm, dry clubhouse, he laughed about almost drowning his driver in the lake, and he relished some of the amazing shots he played that day. The zone is a fun place to be. Helping clients get there is just as fun.
Christina: Think back to a time in your life when you thought to yourself or even said out loud, “I’m in the groove,” or “I’m going with the flow,” or “I’m in the zone!” It is during these times that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, positive psychologist and well-known author on the concept of “flow,” says people are happiest because they are in a state of full engagement with the activity they are currently embracing. Being in a state of flow requires the involvement of our complete being, as if we are in an orchestra with every note falling gracefully and inevitably into place.
Csikszentmihalyi, pronounced “chicks-sent-me-high-ee,” writes in his book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, that “when you experience flow, you’re at an optimal state of intrinsic motivation and totally engrossed in what you’re doing.” I describe the feeling of flow as the Mt. Everest of harmonic fulfillment, allowing total freedom. During flow our worries and fears are set aside because the troubled mind is taking a nap. Flow happens when we achieve the perfect marriage between the challenge of a task and the strength or skill to meet that challenge. Then we enjoy rising to our full potential.
One of my coaching clients, Brandon, reports experiencing flow 3-5 times each week during the warm months, as he cycles through the breathtaking, winding countryside of the North Eastern United States. As flow begins, Brandon’s focused attention shifts away from pushing down and pulling up on the pedals of his cycle to becoming one with his cycle, the road beneath him, and the awe-inspiring environment around him. He describes the focused attention he exerts during his flow cycling experiences as freeing, motivational, harmonic and yoga-like. For Brandon, flow creates a surge of energy and endorphins that enable him to strike the perfect balance between the task of hill climbing and the capacities of his body.
Alice Domar, author of Self-Nurture, writes about how we can bring flow into our lives by practicing forms of relaxation. It is important to note that the forms of relaxation should reduce our anxiety, allow us to observe rather than be victimized by negative thoughts, and help us to connect with our unconscious impulses.
So how do we get ourselves into flow? Csikszentmihalyi and Domar suggest practicing yoga and meditation, where we set aside the troubled mind and sit quietly enjoying the stillness. Then we can pick up the challenges and develop the skills that will bring us ever more fully into flow.
Erika: In my work with clients, I’ve seen flow expressed in various ways.
When we uncover a passion or talent, the state of flow can be identified through feelings of exhilaration and joy. When Aaron came to coaching, he was looking to identify methods for increasing business and productivity. Even after several coaching conversations, his business output clearly reflected that he was out of the “groove” and lacking inspiration. But, when our conversations turned away from business and toward his love for the arts, the lights came on. We had tapped into a source of joy. As his goals became more and more focused on the arts, his output reflected the emotional shift. Tasks were taken on with joyous energy and, consequently, success came with greater ease.
When we are energized by learning a new skill, flow can be experienced as challenging and intense. Some clients, like Jane, are predisposed to get “in the flow” just at the prospect of learning a new skill or increasing the level of challenge.
Jane sought coaching because she was feeling bored and flat-lined. She had mastered her job, hit a plateau with her physical well-being, and was generally gliding through life with the same routine, day after day. Through conversation, she got in touch with her intrinsic desire to step out of her comfort zone. Jane began to relentlessly seek out new opportunities to experiment with new behaviors, to learn, and even to fail. Soon, she was reignited and felt back “in the game. ”
Unfortunately, the state of flow can be elusive when we have lost appreciation for ourselves. When we talk down to ourselves, apologize for who we are, and stop recognizing the value of our skills we can become disjointed. As a result, we may shy away from challenge and become apathetic.
This was the mode in which Beth was operating when we began our coaching relationship. She granted herself no credit for successes and lived from a self-limiting perspective. For Beth, getting back into flow required the slow and gentle process of shining a light on the negative self-talk, uncovering its deceptions, and replacing the messages with new truths about herself. In this case, we learned that flow can also be experienced quietly and reflectively.
Kate: When I think about people being in the “zone,” I picture people releasing their bonds and levitating above ground • sort of raising themselves out of their norms, their usual thoughts and practices, and operating at a “higher” level. In my mind, this is a liberating and exciting place to be, with nothing to hold you back and everything to support your enthusiasm and direction.
Being in the zone has to do with truly going for the gusto and having great faith that we are capable of our dreams and ambition. Many times we find the zone when we are engaged in using our strongest gifts, and when we follow where our energy leads us. It is more of an intuitive path than a logical one. In fact, it works best to follow the flow of the moment.
I have noticed and felt one of my own zone experiences when playing drums in my high school’s marching band, feeling the crisp autumn air, the exhilaration from performing to the crowd, and the beating drumsticks pounding out the cadence as we marched onto the field. I have noticed and felt it when volleying a tennis ball back and forth, not for the competition of the point, but to enjoy the motion, power, and speed. I have also noticed being in the zone when talking to people about their career direction, and looking for ways to make it come alive for them, exploring, processing, dreaming. It is truly a great place to be, and when it happens, things just seem to come together. There is no planning or thinking, just flow.
Look to your passions to find your flow. If the action is fun, then the energy of the moment builds naturally. That is why it is so effective for clients to start with their passions and desires when looking to expand their satisfaction, livelihood, relationships, and overall well-being.
I have had a client build her future by walking away from a corporate career to embrace the hum of a motorcycle retail shop. She was in flow when talking bikes and planning road trips. Another client found flow by leaving his consulting work to act in a senior position within his desired industry, coaching hotel managers and building a strong and capable team. A third client created a nurturing environment for flow by feeding his marriage, keeping fit and socially engaged with regular trips to the gym, mellowing out with his cats, and beginning a dedicated meditation practice.
Flow comes in many wonderful ways, and we are each capable of finding it in the various areas of our lives. Look to your passion, and let your intuition take over. It’s a wonderful ride.
Coaching Inquiries: When was the last time that you experienced a flow moment? What were the conditions that allowed you to experience flow? Who was involved? How could you experience flow more often in life and work?
To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form on the Web for a complimentary coaching session.
LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)
Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob..
I really loved your last Provision on getting uncluttered Click. It got me inspired.
Almost by accident, I printed out your last Provision and had the opportunity to read it carefully after the rest of the family had gone to bed. What an inspiration! Thanks for the encouragement to find such uncluttered space and time!
Your Provisions are a real blessing to me. One recent one in particular gave me a new lease on life. It was the one where you talked about Running Your Own Race Click. Being overweight and 67 years old, there are things you have to deal with. The idea that I am not competing with anyone really spoke to me. I’ve read that Provision through several times and keep coming back to it. It has helped me a lot.
Since you used to be a pastor, perhaps you can answer a question for me. I am a Christian, and deal with stress/life through bible study and prayer. However, I’m feeling conflicted with the meditation thing. My coaching buddies rely heavily on yoga and mediation. I understand mediation focuses on self. Should I educate myself in this area because it is a popular modality, or stay clear? I would appreciate any resource or comment you can offer. (Ed. Note: Not all meditation is self-focused; in fact, there are strong Christian traditions of meditation and body work. I would encourage you to see how these traditions could be part of your Christian journey.)
May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC
President, LifeTrek Coaching International, www.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformation, www.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coaching, www.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time, Online Retailers
Address: 121 Will Scarlet Lane, Williamsburg, VA 23185-5043
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Skype: LifeTrek • Twitter: @LifeTrekBob
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