We all know when we are “in the zone” – where we find ourselves intensely productive, where we are in a state of absolute concentration, when the best ideas flow. It is as if we have shut ourselves from the outside world, and there is no distraction to our thinking. The thoughts and actions just “flow.”
For me, there are two times when I am in flow. First, the early morning time. Sitting in a chair after I wake up near a window staring into the darkness outside and listening to the silence, I let the ideas come. The mind plays back the previous day, I go through my notes, and tap into my sixth sense to consider the points that stood out or the ones I missed. Dots are joined, the pieces of the jigsaw start to form a whole. The second time is when I am on long flights – especially if the journey has begun during the morning, when I am much more fresh. Sitting in the airline seat with my notebook knowing that there are many hours before I will physically move frees my mind to think in ways which are not possible while sitting on a computer with notifications on!
Flow was named by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. As he describes it in his book: “The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times . . . The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”
Positive Psychology lists the 8 characteristics of flow:
- Complete concentration on the task;
- Clarity of goals and reward in mind and immediate feedback;
- Transformation of time (speeding up/slowing down);
- The experience is intrinsically rewarding;
- Effortlessness and ease;
- There is a balance between challenge and skills;
- Actions and awareness are merged, losing self-conscious rumination;
- There is a feeling of control over the task.
Here is more from Wikipedia:
In any given moment, there is a great deal of information made available to each individual. Psychologists have found that one’s mind can attend to only a certain amount of information at a time. According to Csikszentmihályi’s 2004 TED talk, that number is about “110 bits of information per second”. That may seem like a lot of information, but simple daily tasks take quite a lot of information. Just decoding speech takes about 60 bits of information per second. That is why when having a conversation one cannot focus as much attention on other things.
For the most part (except for basic bodily feelings like hunger and pain, which are innate), people are able to decide what they want to focus their attention on. However, when one is in the flow state, they are completely engrossed with the one task at hand and, without making the conscious decision to do so, lose awareness of all other things: time, people, distractions, and even basic bodily needs. According to Csikszentmihályi, this occurs because all of the attention of the person in the flow state is on the task at hand; there is no more attention to be allocated.
The flow state has been described by Csikszentmihályi as the “optimal experience” in that one gets to a level of high gratification from the experience. Achieving this experience is considered to be personal and “depends on the ability” of the individual. One’s capacity and desire to overcome challenges in order to achieve their ultimate goals not only leads to the optimal experience, but also to a sense of life satisfaction overall.
The state of “flow” is very important for all of us, and especially for entrepreneurs. Faced with multiple challenges and an array of choices at all times, it is important to winnow down the options and make the right decisions – especially those that are consequential and irreversible. This needs absolute focus and self-awareness. Each one of us needs to create this space for flow – be it sitting, meditating, running, or anything else that works. It is in these moments that entrepreneurs can imagine and create the future.
Tomorrow: Part 57