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Finding your Flow

Over the past few weeks, many of you will have enjoyed some great performances at the London Olympics.  Similarly, golfers among you will have appreciated Rory McIlroy’s towering and flawless final day performance at the U.S. PGA golf tournament last weekend.

In order to achieve their success, these top athletes are likely to have found a way to get themselves into a state of ‘Flow‘ (as termed by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi) which allowed them to perform to the peak of their ability.

Susan Jackson is credited with being the individual most responsible for applying the Flow principles in sport.  She describes Flow as ‘a state of optimal experiencing involving total absorption in a task, and creating a state of consciousness where optimal levels of functioning often occur’.

Jackson identified a number of elements that either facilitate or prevent Flow.  These include:

Facilitators: Positive mental attitude; maintaining appropriate attentional focus; physical readiness (feeling prepared).

Preventers: Experiencing physical problems and mistakes; inability to maintain appropriate focus; negative mental attitude.

However Flow doesn’t just occur in sport.  When the conditions are right it can also occur in work and other parts of our lives.

At a practical level it’s those moments where you are totally engrossed in a task or activity which seems ‘easy’ but fulfilling, and almost takes care of itself without you really thinking about it.

How great would it be to find Flow in your day-to-day leadership or work situations!

Looking at the elements identified by Jackson may start to give us some clues about what we can do to establish conditions that are most likely to allow us to achieve Flow moments more often:

  • Noticing whether we tend to adopt a positive or negative mindset – and checking ourselves if we find that we are getting too negative about things.  Having strategies that allow us to focus more on the positive; what’s going well as opposed to what’s not going so well; taking a strengths-based approach.
  • Deciding what needs our attention and then giving ourselves permission to focus on this for an appropriate time and avoid the temptation to wander off and get involved in other things.  Building strategies that let us maintain our focus – whether that’s working in a quiet area; blocking out a defined time in the diary; switching off email alerts etc.
  • Doing whatever we each need to do to feel ready and prepared for the activity we are involved in – whether that is making a presentation; writing a report; making a sales pitch etc.  We will each have different things that allow us to feel prepared.

Working out what works for us in the above areas, and doing as much as possible to create the appropriate conditions, will offer the best chance of achieving that sense of Flow.

Here’s the rub though. Chances are that when you are in it (Flow) you won’t realise, and noticing we are in Flow will immediately take us out of the state.  It’s difficult, in the moment, to be able to recognise the state and then to analyse what helped us to get into it.

So, to get clearer about what works for you, take a moment every few days to reflect back on recent activities and situations.  Notice whether you felt that at any time you were in Flow, and look to identify what caused conditions to be ‘right’.  Then look to replicate these on a regular basis to create that elusive Flow effect more often.



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