Have you ever heard a presentation so engaging, you forgot where you were?
As if they were speaking straight to you, they captured your attention with their commanding presence. They artfully wove through relatable stories, deeper realizations and easy transitions. Put simply, they flowed.
The the concept of flow was introduced by Hungarian-American psychologist Mihali Csikszentmihalyi in his 1990 book Flow. Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of flow is surprisingly simple: a person enters flow when they are totally absorbed in their task, joyful and creative. When they reach “optimal experience” through complete engagement with a thing they love to do.
The “flow” state was first observed among artists.
In the process of creating, these artists and musicians seemed to enter a trance-like state while maintaining total focused on their work. They found deep meaning not only in the outcome, but in the process of their work. And, their art flowed from them as if a natural extension of self.
As Csikszentmihalyi points out, flow is not just for artists. It an intangible quality that differentiates the best speakers from those who are merely good. It’s palpable in it’s magnetism and enthusiasm. It is the quality that envelops it’s audience, and makes you forget where you are as you listen.
So, how can you find your flow?
Flow is the result of challenge meeting skill
Without skill, flow cannot be maintained. This means that honing your skills through practice is essential. They weren’t kidding when they said practice makes perfect. Whether it’s running a marathon or presenting a new strategy to your boss, practice, practice, and practice some more. Give your presentation in the shower. Give your presentation in the car on the way to work. Give your presentation to your dog. By practicing enough to increase your skill level, you’ll ensure you’re ready to meet the challenge. And, you’ll be more likely to achieve flow when the challenge presents itself.
Challenge without skill produces stress, skill without challenge produces boredom
Flow state is dependent on skillfulness. Without skillfulness, flow cannot be achieved when a challenge arises. Instead, you’ll end up stressed out and anxious, unequipped to meet the task at hand and unable to produce the desired results.
Flow state is also dependent on true challenge. When met with a task that is not truly challenging, flow state cannot be achieved as you’re not actually engaged. And without being absorbed in a challenging task, there is no opportunity to utilize skill, and boredom creeps in.
Find your flow by building skills, and addressing challenges
When discussing flow in his research, Csikszentmihalyi describes those he interviewed as in a state “of ecstasy”. What these ecstatic
individuals had in common is that they honed their skills into expertise, and applied their advanced skill set towards a complex challenge. After practicing and developing your skills, the next step is to challenge yourself. Don’t be afraid to push yourself towards challenge! Present your new strategy to your boss, sign up for a marathon, and provide yourself with a platform to test your new skills. After so much practice, tackling a challenge will provide a platform for flow to happen.
So if you find yourself bored, or sinking under a stressful challenge, ask yourself which piece of flow is missing? By mastering your skills and seeking out challenges, you’ll allow yourself to reach a state of happiness and find your flow.