A Deeper Look at Positive Psychology’s term Flow
In the Academic Life Coaching Sport and in the 2.0 Coach Training Program, we cover the Cycle of Engagement, which is based on the Core Motivation tool. The chart above shows the cycle that most people go through quickly, daily without realizing it. The key that makes this cycle work is that you are able to consciously know where you are on the cycle.
The Beauty of Flow & Engagement
Engagement is the state of being completely absorbed in the present moment. It occurs when your action aligns with your purpose. Engagement leads to a state of Flow, a powerful state of being focused on the present moment when challenges match skill level.
Engaged people are more capable of overcoming challenges as well as cultivating creativity and increasing skill to face even harder problems. Growth requires problems to guide learning. Such learning occurs most quickly when student-athletes actively seek after a goal while also paying attention to the present moment.
The Cycle of Engagement describes the process people go through when faced with challenges. Each stage in the process has its characteristics, and learning how you go through your own cycle, helps you guide others through the cycle as well.
Meet Resistance, Your New Best Friend
One of my favorite books on the idea of Resistance is Do the Work by Stephen Pressfield. I even asked Stephen if he would take a look at my book to see if he could recommend it. He wrote back. He politely declined the invitation. Nevertheless, I was so happy to get a response! But alas, I met Resistance from the author of the book about Resistance. Fitting, is it not?
Resistance – something that trips us up – is bound to happen at some point. It is an inevitable part of life, and it is insidious. It is tratorious. It makes life hard. And it’s supposed to make life hard. Resistance is a built-in part of the human experience. Human beings are designed to put themselves in tricky, tough situations because those are the situations in which we grow the most, then we fret about being in those situations because we might fail. This is because we are loss averse. We do that because fearing that we might fail is actually a great way to squeeze out as much motivation from ourselves as we possibly can.
If you are looking at the chart of flow (Cycle of Engagement) then you are trying to seek out challenges because doing something hard is the only way to experience intense flow. I do believe that you can experience milder states of flow when you are reading a book or engaged in a lovely conversation – but to get to that hardcore I’m-having-the-time-of-my-life experience, having a handy challenge to work off of is necessary.
The problem with problems is that we make having a problem a problem. Instead, it is useful to think of problems as a gateway to flow.
When you are in a Growth Mindset, a problem is an opportunity to increase the intensity of your Flow.
The 3 Places to Find Flow
1) When you are engaged
When things are in place and you are rocking life, flow follows. The other place is when you meet resistance, and you have a choice. Are you going to stay in the present moment? Are you going to keep your focus at the problem at hand, your sensations, your thoughts, and stay mindful?
Or are you going to imagine some future worry? Bring up some past regret? Allow your attention to stray to something else? Doing so isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It also isn’t even necessarily a useless thing to do. Getting disconnected is a way to take a break. Take a step back. Give you brain and heart a breather until you’re ready to jump back in, recover, and get down to business.
2) Recovering from Flow to Flow
This is the ideal. You’re in flow. Things are going smooth. Resistance rears its ugly head. But instead of disconnecting and going to a different place, you stay mindful. You stay Engaged. You use the experience of Resistance to increase the intensity of Flow.
Pulling off more resistance is a beautiful experience. It is when you are facing a problem that you don’t think you can handle, but you stick with it. Miraculously, a breakthrough happens. The problem dissolves. You are back in flow and enjoying the rush of dopamine from the exhilaration of the experience.
3) The Journey from Disconnect back to Flow
This process can be quick, or it feels like a warm-up to getting back in the process of Flow. The journey back to Flow can take a minute or a week. The problem is trying to get to a spot where you know that you can recover quickly.
This journey happens naturally all the time. You have a good night’s sleep. You eat a good meal or have a great workout. Something good happens that gets you feeling great and back on top of things.
Other times, you have to work for it. You’ve got to put in the work to get back to being in Flow without the advantage of some tailwind easing the journey. This kind of work is the remarkable work, and the stuff that Grit is made of. It is the process of coming back to that place where you are in a state of Flow again even when previously you were disconnected.