Seize your Flow

Carpe Diem is a phrase on a t-shirt. It’s a line in a movie. It’s a Latin aphorism which literally means “pluck the day (as it is ripe)—that is enjoy the moment”. Enjoy the moment, now. Don’t think about the future, or the past, simply “pluck” the very moment you are in. Be in flow.

In his book Flow, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi talks about the characteristics of being in flow. Remember flow is this state of consciousness where you are getting things done at a very high level of concentration and performance. My previous blogpost from last week talks about the overall concept of flow works and how to achieve it. This blog post will explore the first of those characteristics and the triggers associated with getting into flow.

Remember, flow is a level of consciousness that allows you to achieve. And we all want to be achievers. No matter what we do, whether it is at work or at home we want to be in a state of flow; a state of consciousness that gives us achievement, but more importantly ultimate fulfillment. 

Do you wake up and ask yourself “What do I need to get done today?” If you do, you have issues. First of all, you need to spend some time doing some goal-setting, journaling, or priority organizational habits. There are all types of systems and programs out there to help you. When you arise after a good night sleep you must be very clear on your literal next steps will be to be an achiever that day. Without it you will wander the proverbial wilderness. For the purposes of this post, I am going to assume you have already done this and are already in the habit of making sure you are prepared to meet the day, or more appropriately, “Carpe Diem.”

When someone is in state of flow, according to Csikszentmihalyi,  The goals and the deliverables are very clear.”  There is no question as to what you need to achieve or complete. The race or challenge has a clear and desirable goal and outcome. A very simple example is a road or running race. It is very clear what needs to occur to participate in a 10K race or marathon. Even more definable is what has to happen to win. 

In order to get into a state of flow you must be very sure of the goals that need to be achieved. How clear are you of your goals? Of course, you have made you “to-do” list for the day or week, but is this enough? 

I could argue that you are not really setting goals by making a to-do list. I think most of you who are reading this would agree. A goal must be built and be all encompassing andhave emotion tied to it.  The best goals and the ones that are most likely to be delivered, are ones that have a deep emotional attachment. If your goal is to lose weight to get into the outfit or dress to wear to your cousin’s wedding, there is enough motivation to get you to that deliverable, but you will likely regain the weight or lose your motivation by the time the wedding cake is getting cut and served. And after the wedding…back to the same old patterns.

A goal is clear when you have a specific and emotional purpose attached to it. If you goal is too loose weight, your purpose might be to “be healthy enough that I can have stamina to do all the things I want to do, including sports, hiking, and playing with my children” this is a purpose to which a goal has real attachment. Creating these emotional attachments helps clarify the goal and make it even more important. Without emotional attachment, you might as well put it on your to-do list.

Another way to make this goal even more real, if the above tactic is not strong enough, and for some it may not be, is to determine what would happen if you did not reach that goal. What would happen, for example if you went in the opposite direction? A popular method for clarifying goals and making them emotionally salient is called the Dicken’s method.  In the familiar Dicken’s classic tale Christmas Carol, of which we all know, Scrooge encounters the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future, and has an epiphany. He determines the path he is on is not sustainable and will bring him great discomfort and pain. Using the Dickens method forces one to look at a habit (or a series of activities related to achieving a goal) and helps one review its impact. 

The Dicken’s method is really another way to bring visualization and emotion to the goal setting process. During the process one looks at what outcomes might be if present activities, habits or practices have brought us in the past. What were the outcomes? Were they desirable? It then looks at the present day. Are what you are doing helping you achieve your goals? Is it time to change? Finally, the method force one to look at the future. If you continue with these activities will you achieve what you really want?  What will be the negative consequences of doing what you are doing? As you may recall the Ghost of Christmas future was not the most charismatic of fellows and Scrooge’s future was dim indeed. 

The Dickens’ method is one way of changing behavior and helps clarify your goals, it puts a hard emotional attachment to it. Of course, one could use a more positive approach. In my career I have often used the Press Release method to help clarify goals and objectives. This method very simply requires one to write a “future” press release or news story about the goal you want to achieve. Even if your project or goal does not rise to a level of a news story, any project or goal could be the subject of a human-interest story or interview and could be written in a fun, sarcastic or humorous manner, which again brings a level of emotion to the goal setting process. 

The process entails simply writing the story as if the event has occurred, or the project was completed. You can include quotes, and interviews as to the obstacles faced in reaching the goal and how great the leadership was in getting the job done. Give yourself a lot of credit, make it big and heap a lot of praise on yourself. As the “reporter” let everyone know how amazing and epic your project or accomplishment is.

But writing it is not enough. Take a long look at what you wrote and now put yourself in the position of the casual reader of the story. As the reader, ask questions like, “How in the world did this get accomplished?” or remark as the reader, “What did he have to do to accomplish this impossible task?” Start listing the steps that needed be taken working backwards. Pretty soon you will have the steps required to complete the task and you will become ever clearer on what your goals should be. 

The last step is to look at this document often. I suggest at least once a week, or more. When you get stuck, unmotivated or perhaps obstacles are thrown in your way, pick up the “future press release” and give it a read. Be familiar and clear about what you need to do to get the job done.

There are other methods of creating clear goals to achieve success in whatever endeavor you are wishing to complete. Of course, if you are simply hoping to get the car washed this afternoon you might not need these tactics. 

Get clear on your goals and deliverables. Spend some time each day making sure that you are clear on your goals. It is the very first step in being in Flow.  

Go and carpe diem…seize your flow. 

Can I have it now?

In my very first real job as a busboy in an Italian restaurant in my hometown, I was told how to do the basics, what time to get to work, and what to wear (black dress pants, white shirt, black tie, comfortable shoes. What ultimately made me one of the best busboys in the restaurant, was my willingness to figure out how to do every single task a little better and little faster than the other guy. 

Vito Grisanzio in Flow.

The waitresses tipped me well and I loved the positive attention from Dom and Vito, the owners. What made me different was my interest in knowing how each task could be done more efficiently and with the least amount of effort. The feedback I received was immediate. I knew that night whether I did a good job or not. 

I carried this attitude with me as I progressed through different jobs in my career, usually with great success. The reason I knew I was on track was I usually received immediate feedback from my work. Initially, a clean table free of dirty dishes and reset with new silverware meant success. An extra dollar or two and a wink from the cute older waitress was also a sign I was on the right track. 

If you read a previous post about being in flow, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi the person who first quantified this characteristic of human performance said that one aspect of being in flow is that immediate feedback is available. When I think about working hard at the restaurant, I was certainly in flow considering the first two elements needed. The goals and deliverables were very clear, and feedback was immediate and available. 

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi indicates that the second element of being in flow is that“Immediate feedback is available. You know the steps taken to reach your goal are being reached because you can feel the pavement under your feet and the distance to complete the race is shorter and shorter. 

Ambiguous goals and deliverables or those that are ever changing make it difficult to get into flow. When your goals and deliverables are muddled you will forever stumble. Does your superior or boss have ever changing goals and objectives causing you to be unclear about what it is you are to deliver on a daily basis? This doesn’t have to be an obstacle to getting onto flow. 

Think of the small habits and activities that you do every day. Developing and forming any habit is matter of repetition. Good or bad, habits are formed, and your brain tells you this is “what I do”. A good habit, like exercise or a good nutrition discipline builds on a strong and healthy life. Drinking and eating to excess will likely result in the opposite. But each habit starts with one small step…one tiny step towards success. 

Immediate feedback is good and when you are in flow you are getting that feedback in droves. The small habits you form layer on top of each other and ultimately give you the feedback you are seeking. You feel good, this begets more success and you are feeling it know. You want that flow and you want it now.