Have You Got The Time?

Have you ever looked at your watch or in our current day, more appropriately your wrist device, phone or computer screen (no one over 40 wears a watch anymore) and say to yourself “where has the time gone”?  It might be a movie; in my case it is usually a good book. It could be a day of golf or skiing, or shopping or drinking. In the latter case, time really disappears, doesn’t it. In fact, back in college time disappeared all the time. 

Time is weird construct. Google the question, “What is the definition of time?” and you get “the indefinite continued progress of existence and events in the past, present, and future regarded as a whole.” Now that is a definition that I need, ahem, time to think about.  

I have a habit of reading in the morning for at least 30 to 40 minutes. I have done this for the past two to three years and I’ve noticed that even though I may deeply ensconced in a book, there is a moment in time when I think to myself, “time should be up right about now”. If I check my timer on my phone which I have previously set, indeed I have hit it right about on the nose. I believe my inner sense of time has been honed to know when time is up, yet I have been fully engaged, perhaps in flow while reading. 

This lost in time feeling is the seventh characteristic of flow that Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi’s wrote about in his book,  Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (1990). He says, time disappears. A sense of time, hours and minutes is set aside. What may take seconds, sometimes appears to take minutes, but it is enjoyable and present versus being conscious of time. 

I think this is also what people mean when they say, “Time flies by when you are having fun”. Time is inconsequential when there is something you can focus on and that task or thing is exhibiting all the other characteristics of flow. Time really does get set aside in these situations, and the truth is, because you just went through a fun or exhilarating experience, you usually don’t care.

Triggering flow means being present in the moment. It means concentrating and being “all-in” for the task at hand. It means getting immediate feedback and being acutely aware of where you are, receiving immediate feedback, and knowing failure is not an option. It would be great if we could be in this state of consciousness more often than not. 

“Unplug it, wait a few seconds, plug it back in”

The ego is a funny thing. Most of us don’t think of the ego, what it does, why it exists, or the fact that it actually does exist. What is the ego and what does it have to do with this series on flow. We often see someone who boasts, thinks highly of themselves and talks about it and we say, “They have a big ego.” But we all have an ego off some type. The ego is what gets us out of bed each morning and allows us to accomplish the tiniest of tasks. It helps us accomplish the big things and it also can get us into trouble too.

.” But we all have an ego off some type. The ego is what gets us out of bed each morning and allows us to accomplish the tiniest of tasks. It helps us accomplish the big things and it also can get us into trouble too.

Sometimes when we talk about ego it is used interchangeably with the word “subconscious.” So, what is the subconscious? Now, if you are a psychologist or PhD in neurobiology or simply heads and shoulders smarter than me you can email me privately, but here is my simple explanation of how the ego or subconscious work:

Think of the subconscious as your random-access memory (RAM) on your computer. RAM is the part of the computer that stores the directions needed to function. It takes temporary information and files it and uses it again if needed. It builds the narrative of the computer operations. As you create files, you take that temporary information and put into your hard drive or the conscious part of your brain. This where things can go awry.

The ego or RAM has no ability to make decisions. It simply takes instructions and places no value on it. It can receive poor information and over time place it in your hard drive to the point it becomes part of your belief system. If that belief is a limiting belief or a belief that causes harm, too bad for you. For example, to get attention as a child you throw a tantrum, scream and yell and put up a fuss. Mom and Dad cave into your demands; do it all the time and your RAM starts programming this belief system (throwing a fit gets me what I want) into you and eventually storing it into your hard drive. Pretty soon as a young adult, or even later in life, you can’t understand why people think you are toxic, stay away from you or avoid you (it’s your volatile personality, dummy).

Perhaps you have suppressed this behavior enough times that you have risen into a position of leadership but are often saddled with this volatile behavior and consistently never quite get to the top. Your ego has done you in, my friend.

This limiting belief can be changed, but it takes some work. The ego is filled with all types of narratives, good and bad that have programmed us and have either created a monster, a loving well-balanced individual of amazing empathy and compassion, or for most of us something in between. There is likely a little monster in each of us, isn’t’ there?

The ego is the part of our “Self” that protects us. Think of it as the actuator when it comes to survival. It is the part of us that wants to defend us when attacked. When we lived in caves on the plains, it protected us against tigers and other things that would and could eat us. Today it protects us mostly from psychic attack. 

So how does this fit into flow?

When one is in flowCsikszentmihalyi the father of FLOW says, “the ego diminishes, and self-consciousness disappears. The ego, wanting to protect you is absent and any thought of self-consciousness, or how we appear to others is gone. One does not care about what the ego is saying as the burden carrying its load is diminished or deleted. You are one with the universe and the challenge before you.”

Sounds pretty cool doesn’t it? The ego diminishes, it other words when in flow you don’t listen very carefully to the inner voice, the ego, the subconscious telling you, “You can’t do this,” or “remember how you screwed this up last time?” Because all the other characteristics are pressing up into your mind, the ego is suppressed, and you are excelling at what you are doing. 

Again, we have all been there. Whether sports, or musical performance, the big presentation, or the entrepreneurial pitch, we have all performed at an optimal level of flow. We have suppressed the inner voice and we really don’t care what the world around us thinks. The endorphins and all the pleasing brain chemical are firing, and you are one with the universe. 

Triggering this takes practice. The greatest skill to trigger flow and push down or kill the ego is to be acutely aware of the subconscious. Everyone talks about being present, being in the now, being in the present moment. But practice makes it happen. 

Practice this by engaging in the thing you are best at. Is it a creative outlet, maybe its cooking, or even reading? Performing in a play, a musical recital, playing in the bar band. Triggering flow with the things you are most passionate about will trigger flows in other areas of your life. We all have had the computer technician tell us to unplug the computer for a few minutes and then plug it back in to fix it. It often works. Once it powers up it works like a charm. They can’t tell you why it works, but it does. If you unplug your ego, your subconscious and then plug back in, you too well operate at a higher level, at a level of flow.

Mapping it out

Growing up I loved maps. In fact, I told my father that I wanted to be a cartographer when I grew up. That would be someone who makes maps, in case you were not familiar with that long-lost job. He thought I said photographer and told me there was no future in it. He was somewhat right in that it seems everyone is a photographer these days as long as they are carrying a smart device. 

Notice I didn’t call it a smart phone. It’s a camera. “Excuse me while I call my mother on my camera,” you never heard anyone say. 

A map can help you tell you where you need to go. Growing up, whenever we went on a family vacation, my Father would send away to the Amoco Oil Motor Club (he was member) our vacation destination and we would receive in the mail several weeks later an full blown atlas with a highlighted route taking us to where we needed to go. The map would have mileage between points on the map, numbered exits, and all the landmarks one would need to get where they needed to go. Easy.

I learned how to read a map that way and it helped pass the time in our 1966 Chevy Impala which did NOT have video screen in the back seat or in the ceiling. It was not an option in 1966.

Those cartographer dreams quickly passed but I attribute my early map adoption and reading with my impeccable sense of direction (ask my wife or kids, they will attest). 

Today mapping out a plan to get somewhere is much easier. Just punch the address into your camera, ahem, phone, better yet, smart device and it will get you there with your choice of female or mail voice mispronouncing Sacandaga Road. 

Yet, we still need maps to achieve our goals in this day and age. Your device might get you to the hottest restaurant, but it won’t get you to the future. The discipline of Strategic Foresight is the mapping system of the future, for the future. Ancient sailors used maps of dubious accuracy to get them across seas of which they had never ventured. Strategic Foresight is like that too. It can get you to where you need to go, even when the path is not clear. 

We all agree that no we can’t predict the future. But with amazing accuracy and ability we can map out a future we want. We can pull ourselves to the future rather than have the future happen to us. That is what democratizing the future is all about. 

In economic development we can use Strategic Foresight as a tool to plan the future prosperity of our communities. Waiting for government or private market forces to simply impact us is irresponsible and will result in unintended consequences. 

At the IEDC Conference here in Indianapolis I have been able to talk about Futures Thinking and Strategic Foresight with a number of younger economic development professionals in the Young Professionals Mentorship Program. Young upcoming leaders like Ryan Dickison a senior at DePauw University,Lindsey Hahn from the Greater Phoenix Economic Development CouncilTyler Lashfrom Jobs OhioEmma Kelly from the Anchorage Economic Development Council and Danielle King from the Development Corporation in Plattsburgh, New York all listened intently as I described how Futures Thinking could be used in economic development strategic planning. Whether they buy my idea is yet to be seen.

I still love maps. Going into an old map store or looking at an old atlas still stirs me. Maybe that is why futures thinking excites me. Futures Thinking gets me excited about what and how we can impact the future of our communities and the future of our profession. Let’s map it out together.