On Flow States, Peak Performance, and The Pursuit of Fulfilling Work

How the technology era has set the stage for helping us hack our flow

“The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times . . . The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile”.

So let’s explore what flow is, and how it can help each of us individually lead better lives.

What is “flow”?

Flow is a state of mind in which an individual becomes fully immersed in an activity. Flow is characterized by a sense of being so engrossed in the activity at hand that one loses one’s sense of time and space. In a flow state, things like the outcome of the task become irrelevant. Instead, the practice of “doing” the task is what makes it flow. Flow states allow individuals and teams to enter states of “peak performance”. The Navy SEALs and extreme adventure sports enthusiasts are well known for being able to achieve peak performance by tapping into the power of flow.

“The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost”.

A flow state occurs when your skill level and the challenge at hand are equal. It’s what happens when people are “in the zone”.

The Existing Problem That Flow Can Help Solve

According to Gallup Polls, only 38% of workers in the United States are engaged — i.e., highly enthusiastic about and committed to their work in the workplace. The remaining 62% are either entirely actively disengaged or not engaged.

Flow provides “order to consciousness”.

Most of us spend most of our days drowning in worry, anxiety and preoccupied with daily trivial concerns. This is because, in many ways, our minds have not evolved to deal with a life of comfort and abundance. For most of human history, we spent our time in the pursuit of our basic survival — searching for food, water, and shelter.

The conditions of flow

In his seminal book on “flow”, Mihaly writes that there are some people who naturally have what is known as an autotelic personality. Those with an autotelic personality tend to engage in an activity for its own sake. Autos, meaning “self,” and telos, “goal” (Di Domenico & Ryan, 2017). Autotelic’s feel most fulfilled and motivated in high-skill, high-challenge situations and are least motivated in low-skill, low-challenge situations. People with such personalities may be better at inducing flow in their daily lives and bringing order to everyday consciousness.

1. A challenging activity that requires skills

We may assume that something like watching a soap opera can induce a flow state. After all, we lose our sense of selves as we engage in the lives of our favorite TV characters. We may not even realize how much time has passed.

2. Goals and Feedback

In order to achieve a flow state, the goals have to be clear and feedback has to be regular.

2. Concentration on the task at hand

When one is in flow, one is completely involved in the task at hand. One way of identifying a flow state is to recognize the feeling of a loss of sense of time and place.

Flow and Meaning of Life

We all ask ourselves, at some point in time, what the meaning of life is.

I work @VMware. Philosophy, Psychology, Technology, Ethics, Policy

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