I've noticed just recently that in all my ramblings regarding cognitive psychology & how does it impact my own private & professional life, I've somehow omitted one of terms I personally value very high & find truly important - "Flow".

The Flow

What's the Flow?

"Flow, also known as the zone, is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does."

Wikipedia (link)

In other words - it's a state of hyper-focus & hyper-productivity when you enter some sort of nearly-trance that enables you to solve the problems / produce something in a way that:

  • brings you subliminal, somatic, basic satisfaction
  • breaks the borders: of difficulty, of quality, of time
  • barely costs you any effort

Hard problems magically get easier, unmatched obstacles mysteriously get more achievable, barriers break with the slightest touch, while in the same time: the outside world remains suppressed far behind, all distractions melt down hell knows where, perception of time gets totally distorted. The only what matters is your current activity & the automation that somehow guides your next moves: effortlessly, precisely, right to the point.

Full immersion. Fuck yeah.

At least as long as no-one interrupts it abruptly ... That's why sometimes I have a devil in my pupils when someone disturbs me :>

Getting there

Sounds familiar? Hopefully it does, as it's:

  • a state of body and mind that can really make a difference (slight reference to 10x dev considerations ...)
  • a clear proof that you're doing stuff that is a great match for you

Flow is no magic, neither it can be invoked freely for anything. It's an achieved state, not an ability, psychological attitude or deliberate practice. It manifests itself for highly motivated individuals who do what they like (a lot! practice is crucial here), strive to learn & improve themselves, give deep consideration to what they do & how they do. Motivation itself is extremely important, far more than activity's uniqueness or diversity - there are people who achieve the state of Flow for highly repetitive tasks that are usually perceived as boring & tedious (by majority, BUT NOT by these particular individuals!).

Flow can happen if goal is clear & achievable, all the ingredients are in place (even if initially it's not perfectly clear how to mix them & make work together) and (at last but not least) it's immediately clear for the person performing the activity whether it goes in a right direction or not (instant feedback).

If you want to learn more, I recommend a great book written by the person who has coined this term (Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi) - Flow: The Psychology of Happiness. You can also watch his TED talk, but don't be fooled - it's definitely not an equivalent substitute.

And you should care, because?

But why do I even mention Flow now? Why this blog post at all?

For myself Flow (how often I get into it, when I get into it, etc.) was always a clear indicator whether I'm going in the right direction. Is the stuff I do really bringing me (still) satisfaction or am I fooling myself right now? Do I get close (unconsciously) to the dangerous state of burning out? Are the goals I set for myself clear enough to make progress & be rewarding or am I just fooling around? Did I sink in my grit so stubbornly and relentlessly that I tend not to see that it's not fun nor use anymore?

And I believe the same can apply for anyone else, especially crafters (like software developers - I know many who have admitted that they get to the state of Flow), artisans & artists, so I believe it's worth it to ask yourself from time to time:

  • do I still get into Flow? as often as in the past?
  • what makes me achieve Flow these days?
  • what doesn't anymore? and why?
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