Flow is that mental state when you are “in the zone.” You are energized and focused. Time seems to disappear. You make meaningful progress in that activity and, if someone were to ask how you felt during that activity, you would describe it as quite enjoyable. During flow, any of the factors that cause you to procrastinate are gone such as self-doubt or time pressure. In fact, traction may be one of the most defining elements of flow. You find your footing, make tangible progress and have an innate desire to keep going. You have a sense of personal control over the situation, and your talents, knowledge and skills come together.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced: Me-high Cheek-sent-me-high) in his book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience popularized the concept of flow in psychology.
Flow situations have three defining qualities:
1. You get immediate feedback on your progress. Not necessarily feedback from other people, but feedback from the task itself. You know immediately when something is working or not. Feedback in this sense is like that feeling you get when you snap a puzzle piece right into place, or when you realize the piece doesn’t fit and you move right on to finding another place for the piece.
2. You have an unspoken sense that you have the potential to succeed. You don’t question if you can do the task because you are so focused on the act of doing it. It’s like when you start on a task that perhaps you weren’t looking forward to. But, within a few moments of starting, you experience a sense of scaffolding upward, accruing an incremental sense of progress.
3. You feel so engrossed in the experience that other needs become negligible. You might feel a faint sense of thirst, but you don’t break your concentration to go get a drink. You might notice a text message came through but you don’t look at it.
Who wouldn’t want more flow in their life? The connection between strengths-theory and flow is as vital as it is natural. Every StrengthsFinder theme has a flow trigger to it—something that ignites the theme and allows it to begin gripping onto the task at hand. (Take a look at our quick sheet called “What Energizes Each Theme”). Using our themes to engage the flow state is one of the most powerful and practical ways to leverage the knowledge of your top themes of talent.
It’s clear that my flow state occurs when I bring together my top themes. The more of the themes that come into play, the greater the sense of flow. For example, as I write, my Strategic theme is thinking through the different ways I can get my point across. My Individualization theme is thinking through specific flow experiences I have had and what flow would look like for people I know well. My Ideation theme is looking for examples to bring in to illustrate the points, and allows me to see the connection between flow and strength-theory so readily. My Intellection theme is having a great time delving more deeply into the concept of flow and drawing deeper insights (and perhaps making this a little more wordy than an average blog should be). My Input theme is thinking of what information is most useful to you.
Here are some practices to leverage your themes to produce a flow state:
1. Understand what energizes each of your themes. Here’s a link to a quick sheet we created to help give you ideas for what ignites your themes: Theme Energizers . Use it as a guide, but you know yourself best so clarify what energizes your themes for yourself.
2. Realize that it’s not just about accessing your themes. You also need to access your knowledge related to that activity and the skills of performing the activity. Flow can’t be accessed if the activity is too far beyond your skills, for example. However, the feeling of stretching your skills is absolutely part of the flow state. The distinction here is that you should look for micro-struggles in the activity. If you have to struggle a little in order to grow your skill, it can be quite pleasurable. But, tasks that are major struggles for your current skill level will be difficult. This leads to the next point.
3. Identify a worthy purpose and reasonable outcomes for the activity. For example, the purpose of writing a blog on this topic is meaningful to me. I want to understand this topic for myself and in the process I want to help others have more flow. The outcome is that I want a blog that is useful and substantive. Writing this stretches my thinking, but it’s also manageable. It’s hard to experience flow when the purpose is unclear and the outcomes are too ambitious.
4. Minimize your availability to distractions. This is a huge factor for me. My #6 theme is Adaptability and it loves knowing what’s going on around me at any given time. I often set up a gauntlet of distractions, daring the world to pique my interest with something going on in the moment.
5. Focus on the process, not the end state. Even though I just said that setting outcomes is important before beginning the activity, once the activity starts it’s time to focus on the activity itself. For example, some people find that setting a timer helps them get things done (i.e. Pomodoro technique). But if you constantly watch the timer and focus on how much time is left then the timer works against your flow state. So, either set the timer and forget about it until it beeps, or skip the timer.
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