Have you ever been… in the zone … in the pipe … in the groove … with your head in the game … on the ball … lost in concentration … in hackmode?
Hearing about the ‘experiencing self’ from the post on Daniel Kahneman’s TED talk, made me think of the concept of Flow developed by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi (apparently pronounced Me-high-ee Cheek-sent-me-high-ee). When watching artists and composers as part of his research he would often see them so intent on their work that they were oblivious to the outside world. I can remember that feeling from times in the past when I did a lot of painting. Sometimes I would start soon after I woke up and when I finished it would be dark outside and I’d be stiff, starving and desperate for a pee. I hadn’t noticed anything apart from what I was creating.More recently, I tend to experience flow moments when I’m training or working with clients.
Csíkszentmihályi talks about Flow happening at times when you are working on something highly challenging but for which you have developed a high level of skill through constant practice. Different levels of skill and challenge produce different experiences. Mihály (I can’t face typing his surname again!) suggests that we might be able to access flow experiences by concentrating on the adjacent zones. Arousal occurs when we are engaged in something that stretches our abilities and we feel a little out of our depth. Practising the necessary skills might lead to Flow. Control occurs when we are using high level skills on something that is only mildly challenging. Flow might come from consciously increasing the level of challenge.
I think this is could be a really useful tool to use with clients, getting them to think not just about the skills they think they have but also to think about the types of challenging situations they enjoy using those skills in. I can imagine clients thinking about their past experiences and placing them on the chart. We could then talk about whether it would be possible and/or preferable to move that activity into a different region.
Since coming across the idea of Flow, I have started asking questions such as:
- Can you think of situations in which you have completely lost track of time because you were really engaged in what you were doing?
- What sort of activities prevent you noticing time passing?
Some questions for you…
- When have you experienced Flow?
- Do you think that this is a useful concept in helping people to think about their career choices?
- How else could you use this idea with clients?
For those of you who liked the TED talk in the recent post, here’s another one from Mihály himself.
Also see these interesting blog post: