Monday 18th January 2010
The ebb and flow of daily activities take over my days, one after the other, in a steady rhythmic movement that does not allow much room for dreaming. As I focus on the present moment, the only moment there is, I do question whether there is something more - some deeper experience that will enrich my life. How can I find some value in the more mundane, routine things of daily existence? Like a boring commute or doing the dishes, or filing or the endless typing cvs? How do I find joy in doing the things that don't excite me but must be done again and again? Is there some way that I can structure these routine activities so that I can achieve 'optimal experiences' even from the most inane tasks?
Yes there is and I found it. It is called 'Flow', the concept discovered by Csikszentmihalyi in his groundbreaking book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (Harper & Row Publishers Inc., 1990), This is a book that is life changing because to know how to get into the 'flow' which happens when I'm fascinated and invested in what I am doing, gives me the tools to create a more productive and satisfying work experience and hence a better life. When I am in high flow I never miss a day. I never get sick. I never wreck my car. My life just works better and I am much more creative, which is essential in this innovation-centric world.
When I am in the flow, I am engaged so completely in what I am doing that I lose track of time. Hours pass in minutes. All sense of self recedes. At the same time, I push beyond my limits and develop new abilities. Indeed, my best moments usually occur when my body and mind are stretched to capacity, that's why I like walking so much. I emerge from each flow experience more complex and become more self-confident, capable, and sensitive. The experience becomes its own reward and improves my life by improving the quality of the experience.
One of the chief advantages of flow is that it enables me to escape the three states of entropy - distraction, depression, and dispiritedness - that constantly threaten me. However there are serveral preconditions before I can get into the flow. These include having clear goals and a reasonable expectation of completing the task at hand. I also need to pratice concentration for longer and longer periods. Because I need to receive regular feedback on my progress, I am constantly invite feedback and try to accept it without defending my actions - quite difficult to do but once you get the hang of it it becomes easier. And finally I am constantly improving my skills so that I have the neccessary ability for that type of work.
The best way to get to flow is to draw up a "performance contract" with myself that includes an assessment of my strengths and weaknesses and a set out,very specific action plan that includes skills upgrade and practice (10,000 hours to become world class. It all sounds pretty standard, but there is a kicker: I need to monitor my progress constantly, at least once a week. I also have a mentor, actually I have more than one, to talk me through my 'stuck' stages.
Flow is great - it has become the centre of everything I'm doing - it synchronise every aspect of my life and it gives me purpose and meaning - espcially when I am working on goals to better society. And South Africa offers me so many avenues to better society - it is a country that is hungry for improvement..... I am at the right place and time to do the most good.