Experiencing Flow and Being in the Zone

The older I become, the clearer I become about one thing. Life is all about flow.  And the current modern madness that we see in society is mainly due to us being “out of the flow” and not “in the zone”.

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What do I mean?

Last week, a friend asked me to act as a witness at a local planning enquiry.  It was no normal planning enquiry.  It lasted five days and had barristers for the prosecution (the district council) and the defence (my friend).  It was more like the hearing of a legal case in a court of law.

I was asked to turn up as a witness on the final day last Friday.  Having just come off a week’s training in presentation skills, I thought I would put them to the test.  I knew I had a very short slot (10 minutes maximum).  I decided to take up five.  I wanted to create maximum impact.  How should I go about it?

A bit more context.  My friend and his wife allow me to put my eight hives on their land.  Their land is an oasis of natural flora and fauna – itself nestled in an ancient woodland in area of outstanding natural beauty.  It is so unique, it has been designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (or SSI).

My friend and his wife live onsite to manage the woodlands.  They also allow me to keep eight hives on their land.  They were merely seeking permission to extend their project for another three years.  They live off-grid practicing the most sustainable living of any family I know.  To be applauded and copied, you would think, – particularly in this modern era of climate change and sustainable living.  But no.  The establishment was not happy.  My friends might set a precedent.  We might have hundreds of woodland owners taking to living in the woods and becoming feral.  And that is not a good thing, apparently.

The previous four days of inquiry and inquisition had been hell for all involved.  An important stand against the erosion of some law written somewhere or a total waste of precious government money?  Not for me to decide, but I tend to believe it was the latter.  The final day was for supporters to give evidence.  Throughout the whole week, no one turned up to oppose the proposal.

I arrived at 09.30 and got the first speaking slot for the day.  I did not speak on behalf of myself. I petitioned on account of the bees that I keep!  Everyone knows that bees are under threat.  I described the project as a colony of bees might.  Appreciating my friends generosity allowing them to have the bees on their land and at their gallant efforts to protect and conserve the nature in these ancient woodlands.  At the end of the short talk, I stood up and offered everyone in the room a pot of this year’s honey.  The courtroom melted.  I was so in the flow or “in the zone”.  It was a deeply moving experience.  It was brilliant!

From Wikipedia:  In positive psychology, flow, also known as the zone  It 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.

Named by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, the concept has been widely referenced across a variety of fields (and has an especially extensive recognition in Occupational Therapy), though has existed for thousands of years under other guises, notably in some Eastern religions.   Achieving flow is often colloquially referred to as “being in the zone”.

Jeanne Nakamura and Csíkszentmihályi identify the following six factors as encompassing an experience of flow.

1. Intense and focused concentration on the present moment

2. Merging of action and awareness

3. A loss of reflective self-consciousness

4. A sense of personal control or agency over the situation or activity

5. A distortion of temporal experience, one’s subjective experience of time is altered

6. Experience of the activity as intrinsically rewarding, also referred to as autotelic experience

Earlier this week I took on two new mentees.  Folk who have been washed-out of the corporate system.  “Over fifty and out”.  Both trying to face the new uncertain world for post-corporate man.  Again, faced with a challenge to know the right thing to do, I constructed a short course in realignment.  Before plunging into the more standard questions that treat individuals like 20th century companies – like “what is your personal mission statement”, I reflected back on what had worked for me in the past when I was a mentored twenty years ago.  The first step in the process was to write six to eight stories (or vignettes) where I felt good about something I had achieved.  Each story took about a page to write-up.  The common theme for me was that at some stage in all stories across I was “in the flow” or “in the zone”.

In the run-up to 2016, I am going to use the weekly Thursday Thoughts slot to build on the idea of filling our lives with events where we are truly “in the zone”.
If you are interested in exploring these ideas in the last few weeks of 2015 and launch yourself into 2016 with new energy and enthusiasm, then as an exercise, I suggest that you write down six to eight events in your life that you were “in the zone” and achieved something extraordinary for yourself or others.

  • What was the context?
  • How did you feel?
  • What were you experiencing when “in the zone”?
  • Who were you in service to at the time?

If you feel inclined, please pick the best story and share your experiences with us!

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The Hidden Treasure

The Creator gathered all of creation and said,

“I want to hide something from the humans until they are ready for it.

It is the realisation that they create their own reality.”

The eagle said, “Give it to me, I will take it to the moon.”

The Creator said, “No.  One day they will go there and find it.”

The salmon said, “I will hid it on the bottom of the ocean floor.”

“No.  They will go there too.”

The buffalo said, “I will bury it on the great plains.”

The Creator said, “They will cut the skin of the earth and find it even there.” ….

Then Grandmother Mole…. who has no physical eyes but sees with spiritual eyes,

said, “Put it inside them” [for that is the last place they will look.]

The Creator said, “it is done.”

An old Sioux Indian Fable from “Somebody Should Have Told Us! (Simple Truths for Living Well) by Jack Pransky

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Streep, Einstein and Mouse

I was recently sent this quote:

“I no longer have patience for certain things, not because I’ve become arrogant, but simply because I reached a point in my life where I do not want to waste more time with what displeases me or hurts me. I have no patience for cynicism, excessive criticism and demands of any nature. I lost the will to please those who do not like me, to love those who do not love me and to smile at those who do not want to smile at me.

I no longer spend a single minute on those who lie or want to manipulate. I decided not to coexist anymore with pretense, hypocrisy, dishonesty and cheap praise. I do not tolerate selective erudition nor academic arrogance. I do not adjust either to popular gossiping. I hate conflict and comparisons. I believe in a world of opposites and that’s why I avoid people with rigid and inflexible personalities. In friendship I dislike the lack of loyalty and betrayal. I do not get along with those who do not know how to give a compliment or a word of encouragement. Exaggerations bore me and I have difficulty accepting those who do not like animals. And on top of everything I have no patience for anyone who does not deserve my patience.”

It was attributed to Meryl Streep.  On a bit of further research, it appeared that the original quote was not by Meryl Streep at all – but by a Portuguese self-help author/life coach José Micard Teixeira.

 

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The research (and subsequent discovery of a mis-attribution) reminded me of another quote, supposedly by Einstein:

“If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, then man would have only four years of life left.  No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man.”

No one has found evidence that Einstein was the source.

And so it is.  There are great quotes and famous people.  Many times, famous people say great things.  But with the internet, great quotes can go viral – particularly when attributed to a famous person who is likely to have said it.

Makes you think.  The power of great thoughts that go viral by being mis-attributed to famous people might actually be a good thing – particularly if they spread those great thoughts further than if they were attributed to a Portuguese self-help author that no one has heard of.

Famous people come and go.  But great quotes and great thoughts live on forever.  Even before the Internet, how many great quotes remain in current parlance having been written by the famous Anon E. Mouse!

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The Heart’s Intuitive Intelligence

Last Thursday, I had a meeting with a business colleague.  We had only met once before – but somehow the energy felt really good between us.  Conversation flowed.  Ideas bubbled to the surface.  Creative spirit abounded.

During the conversation, it became apparent that I had talked in our previous meeting about intuition.  I had forgotten this – but it  is something I have recently become very interested in.  In summary, it’s the idea that the world is far too “mental” and that many have lost touch with their intuitive guidance system – based around the heart.  I’m also a strong believer in the idea that everything is connected.

And so it was, just by chance (as happens when browsing the internet) I came across this video below:

I don’t know too much about the organisation behind the video – but just love the overall theme, messages and visuals.  It somehow helps us to remember things we have forgotten or lost – so we can get back into the life-force and remember who we are.

Sit back and enjoy!

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At the end of the break: Remember – and this is very important ……

It is over six months since my last post.  Much has happened in my life – as I presume it has to those who are reading this.  I had not intended to have such a long break.  I had not intended to have a break at all.  The end of the last break was, in fact, the start of the longest break in my writing this blog.  However, this is the end of that particular break.  I am renewed with energy after the long break.

During the break, I have been doing a lot of research on various projects.  I have also gone back to studying.  Studying some of the great thinkers that have created ideas and concepts that have helped shift consciousness.  And so it was, I came across the concept of “The Three Principles” by Syd Banks.

Here is a quote from Syd:

Remember – and this is very important –

you’re only one thought away from happiness,

you’re only one thought away from sadness.

The secret lies in Thought.

It’s the missing link that everybody in this world is looking for…

It’s a gift that we were given to have the freedom to walk through life and see what we want to see.

How much better than that can you get?

That you have the freedom to walk through life and see as a free thinker,

that is the greatest gift ever, to be a free thinker.

Quotation from: Syd Banks (*)

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Syd was born in Edinburgh in 1931 where he grew up in a working class family in Edinburgh’s Old Town. He left school at 15 without formal qualification and in due course trained as a welder. In 1957, aged 26 he emigrated to the West coast of Canada and his association with Salt Spring Island, later to become his permanent home, began. He worked as a welder, married and had 2 children and experienced many of life’s normal challenges.

In 1973 he attended an encounter weekend with his wife. Unimpressed by the encouragement to experience and express anger he went for a walk with another delegate. Syd described to his companion the insecurity he often felt. The companion retorted, You’re not insecure Syd, you just think you are.’

This throwaway remark sparked a remarkable insight in Syd, enabling him to grasp at a profound level that his emotional experience was always created by his own thinking, rather than by external circumstances. Over the next few days he experienced what has been described as an enlightenment experience which completely changed his personality.

Of course some people around him thought he had had a sort of breakdown. But his clarity and inner certainty prevailed, along with his awareness that he could help others. Some of the people he shared his insights with experienced very profound improvements in mental or physical health. Even those whose initial problems were less serious, experienced an exponential improvement in wellbeing. Just by listening to Syd talk in an apparently unstructured way they got in touch with their own innate health and wisdom.
In his thinly disguised novels that he wrote as a series called “The Enlightened Gardener”., an unlettered British groundskeeper named Andy serves as Banks’s fictional stand-in — teaching a group of amazed American psychologists about the true nature of the universe.  For Banks, space, matter and time were an illusion, a dream. The only three things that are real are what he calls Mind (“the source of all intelligence”), Consciousness(“which allows us to be aware”) and Thought (“which guide us through the world as free-thinking agents”).

As word of Syd’s work spread people came to the island to experience for themselves the wellbeing he was able to point them to. In time these included psychologists and social workers who began working with their clients and achieving similar extraordinary results. Work began in communities such as Modello and Coliseum Gardens, both in the USA, where incomparable turnarounds were achieved. In the decades that followed what became know as the 3Principles, was utilised in schools, prisons, therapy, relationship counselling and business. In each arena the outcomes far exceeded any other approach.

Syd died on 25th May 2009.  His official website is here: http://www.sydneybanks.org

[To read more of Syd’s life and work the books of his colleague, Elsie Spittle are recommended. Perfect Misfortune by Allan Flood is an account of how one man tapped into the power behind the principles in living with MS. Jack Pransky has written a number of books on the success of this approach with both communities and individuals. All authors can be found on Amazon.]

Text of Syd’s story from: http://www.threeprinciplesscotland.org.uk/sydney-banks/ 

(Until 2 or 3 years ago there was almost nothing known of this approach in Syd’s native Scotland. Three Principles Scotland is committed to changing that and bringing the benefits of Syd’s work home to his home country.)

Initial quote from Syd reproduced in:  Neill, Michael (2013-05-06). The Inside-Out Revolution: The Only Thing You Need to Know to Change Your Life Forever (p. 23). Hay House UK Ltd. Kindle Edition.

Photo and more videos at: http://thethreeprinciples.blogspot.co.uk

 

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How to Thrive in All Times

As we hear the conflicting messages of the US and UK stock market reaching all-time highs, but the British Pound losing its creditworthiness and predictions of the currency on a long-term slide into goodness knows where, the uncertainties about the world trigger a search for a model that can understand what is going on – and what one should do about  it.  More importantly, it makes us think more about what is important in life  so we can make the hard choices to navigate a fruitful future for ourselves and those who are important to us.

It was therefore a coincidence that yesterday, I turned to a set of cards of wise sayings that I was given a few years ago,  The cards summarise the ideas of Abraham-Hicks (more details at the bottom of this post).

March 6th

The text says:

Those who are

mostly observers thrive

in good times but suffer in bad

times because what they are observing

is already vibrating, and as they observe it,

they include it in their vibrational countenance;

and as they include it, the Universe accepts that as

their point of attraction – and gives them more 

of the essence of it.  So for an observer

the better it gets, the better it gets;

 or the worse it gets, the worse

it gets. However, one who 

is a visionary thrives

in all times.

For those new to Abraham-Hicks, words like “vibrational countenance” and “point of attraction” might seem a bit strange.  But for me, having read deeper into their work for a few years, I have found the Abraham-Hicks way of looking at the world to be extraordinarily powerful, interesting and helpful.

A simple message, shines through the more esoteric phrases: have a vision and hold it through good times and bad and you will find it is easier to take the ups and downs in life than if you just sit back as an observer and let life happen around you.

Food for thought.  I would love to hear from any readers who have thoughts on these ideas.  Please post them below!

More information on the Abraham-Hicks publications at:

http://www.abraham-hicks.com/lawofattractionsource/index.php

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Shaving, Saving ….. and Laughing

Once in a while you see a viral video that makes you laugh so much you want to cry!

It is also BRILLIANT marketing!

My thought for this Thursday is:

Could you create a short video with with such simplicity and humour?

Doubt it!  Go on, surprise me!

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Become What You Are

I pulled off a book from my bookshelf the other night with the title of this post. The book is a collection of writings, including nine chapters never before published in book form by Alan Watts. Watts was a British pilosopher, lecturer and author who interpreted Eastern thought for Westerners. He was born close to where I live in Chiselhurst, Kent in 1915 and died in California in 1973. Other more famous titles of his include “The Way of Zen” and “The Book”.

I have copied the article below – which has the same title as the book – which gives a good insight into Watts’ writing – as well as a piece to ponder on this Thursday:

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Become What You Are

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It has been said that the highest wisdom lies in detachment, or, in the words of Chuang-tzu: “The perfect man employs his mind as a mirror; it grasps nothing; it refuses nothing; it receives, but does not keep.”  Detachment means to have neither regrets for the past nor fears for the future; to let life take its course without attempting to interfere with its movement and change, neither trying to prolong the stay of things pleasant nor hasten the departure of things unpleasant.  To do this is to move in time with life, to be in perfect accord with its changing music, and this is called Enlightenment. 

In short, it is to be detached from both past and future and to live in the eternal Now.  For in truth neither past nor future have any existence apart  from this Now; by themsleves they are illusions.  Life exists only at this very moment, and in this moment it is infinite and eternal.  For the present moment is infinitely small; before we can measure it, it has gone, and yet it persists for ever.  This movement and change has been called Tao by the Chinese, yet in fact there is no movement, for the moment is the only reality and there is nothing beside it in relation to which it can be said to move.  Thus it can be called at once the eternally moving and eternally resting.

How can we bring ourselves into accord with this Tao?  A sage has said that if we try to accord with it, we shall get away from it.  But he was not altogether right.  For the curious thing is that you cannot get out of accord with it even if you want to.  Though your thoughts may run into the past or future, then cannot escape the present moment.  However far back or forward they try to escape, they can never be separated from the moment.  For those thoughts are themselves of the moment; just as much as anything else they partake of and indeed, are the movement of life which is Tao.

You may believe yourself out of harmony with life and its eternal Now; but you cannot be, for you are life and exist Now – otherwise you would not be here.  Hence the infinite Tao is something which you can neither escape by flight nor catch by pursuit; there is no coming toward it or going away from it; it is, and you are it.  So become what you are.

Source: Become What You Are – pp10-11 from the book with the same title by Alan Watts – (c) Shambhala Press 2003

More on Alan Watts: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Watts

Podcasts at: http://www.alanwatts.org/

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Everything will be All Right in the End…..

Susie, my wife, booked us to go and see a film on Sunday evening – “The best exotic Marigold Hotel”.   A very funny film and well worth watching!  You can’t leave the film and not remember the line that one of the leading characters, Sonny, keeps saying throughout the film:

“Everything will be all right in the end; if it’s not alright then it’s not the end.”

Apparently this is a quote of the Brazilian writer Fernando Sabino: “No fim tudo dá certo, e se não deu certo é porque ainda não chegou ao fim” – but I am not sure if he really was the originator or not.  Doesn’t matter.  It is a great quote.  Actually, Susie has often quoted the first bit at me and it is strange, but somehow, everything always does work out in the end….

Anyway, it got me thinking back to the Thursday Thoughts theme two weeks ago about optimism – and the Optimist’s Creed.

And so it was that last night I got to Chapter 24 in Daniel Kahneman’s Book “Thinking, fast and slow” (which I started to review last week) only to find that  this chapter – entitled “The Engine of Capitalism” is all about optimism too!  Or perhaps, more accurately, over-optimism.  Coincidence or what?

Kahneman summarises in a section entitled COMPETITION NEGLECT:

“It is tempting to explain entrepreneurial optimism by wishful thinking, but emotion is only part of the story.  Cognitive biases play an important role, notably the System 1 WYSIATI (What you see is all there is):

  • We focus on our goal, anchor on our plan, and neglect relevant base rates, exposing ourselves to the planning fallacy.
  • We focus on what we want to do and can do, neglecting the plans and skills of others
  • Both in explaining the past and in predicting the future, we focus on the causal role of skill and neglect the role of luck.  we are therefore prone to an illusion of control.
  • We focus on what we know and neglect what we do not know, which makes us overly confident in our beliefs.

What was more extraordinary is that as I was reading this, a good friend and follower of this stream, David Brunnen wrote to me and  sent me this link: http://www.innovationpolicy.org/my-new-book-title-eh-the-future-will-be-okay   with the  comment: “Worth a read I think – partly because of his realistic assessment of US R&D funding and partly because Rob gets close to the tendency that has long-plagued the ICT world – eternal optimism and hype.” 

Even more coincidence.  Anyone else thinking about optimism, over-optimism and the way we think about the future?  Please join in the flow by commenting below!

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Thinking, Fast and Slow

I was browsing the bookshelves in a provincial airport lounge last month.  I really like browsing business books in these sorts of places (as opposed to ordering books from Amazon).  You find things you would not normally find and you can pick them up and read the gist of what the book is about in a very tactile way.  Something Kindle struggles with, I think.

Anyway, I came across a what looked like interesting title “Thinking, Fast and Slow”.  Being one always on the look-out for new Thursday Thoughts, I bought it and have started to read it…

The book is written by Daniel Kahneman who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2002 for his pioneering work, developed with Amos Tversky, on decision-making and uncertainty.

Interestingly, there is a quote on the front cover by Steven Pinker which says “(Kahneman is) certainly the most important psychologist alive today”  I thought the blend of economics and psychology would be interesting – and I have not been disappointed!

To begin with, Kahneman’s says that we all have two “systems” of thought.  He adopts terms originally proposed by the psychologists Keith Stanovich and Richard West referring to two systems in the mind: System 1 and System 2.  Thee labels of System 1 and System 2 are, apparently, widely used in psychology.  For those of you, like me, who are mere lay-folk in the art of psycho-babble, this was news!

Here is an extract from the introduction which outlines the two systems:

“When we think of ourselves, we identify with System 2, the conscious, reasoning self that has beliefs, makes choices and decides what to think about and what to do.  Although System 2 believes itself to be where the action is, the automatic System 1 is the hero of the book.”

Kahneman describes System 1 as: “effortlessly originating impressions and feelings that are the main sources of the explicit beliefs and deliberate choices of System 2”.

In rough order of complexity, he describes some examples of the automatic activities that are attributed to System 1:

  • Detect that one object is more distant than another
  • Orient to the source of a sudden sound
  • Complete the phrase “bread and…..”
  • Make a “disgust face” when shown a horrible picture
  • Detect hostility in a voice
  • Answer to 2 + 2 = ?
  • Read words on large billboards
  • Drive a car on an empty road
  • Find a strong move in chess (if you are a chess master)
  • Understand simple sentences
  • Recognise that a “meek and tidy soul with a passion for detail” resembles and occupational stereotype

The highly diverse operations of System 2 have one feature in common: the require attention and are disrupted when attention is drawn way.  Here are some examples:

  • Brace for the starter-gun in a race
  • Focus attention on the clowns in the circus
  • Focus on the voice of a particular person in a crowded and noisy room
  • Look for a woman with white hair
  • Search memory to identify a surprising sound
  • Maintain a faster walking speed than is natural for you
  • Monitor the appropriateness of your behaviour in a social situation
  • Count the occurrences of the letter  a in a page of text
  • Tell someone your phone number
  • Park in a narrow space (for oct people except garage attendants)
  • Campare two washing machines for overall value
  • Fill out a tax form
  • Check the validity of a complex logical argument

The interesting thing that I have learnt so far is that we use System 1 and System 2 interchangeably throughout the day – and each system performs very important and different functions.  Kahneman’s main thesis is that the intuitive (System 1) often arrives at a conclusion or judgement without the detailed logical evidence for that decision being through by System 2.  There are many examples he gives where this is so – and here is one of them from page 43 of the book:

“A disturbing demonstration of depletion effects in judgement was recently reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  The unwitting participants in the study were eight parole judges in Israel.  They spend entire days reviewing applications for parole.  The cases are presented in random order, and the judges spend little time on each one, an average of 6 minutes. (The default decision is denial of parole; only 35% of requests are approved.  The exact time of each decision is recorded, and the times of the judges’ three food breaks – morning break, lunch and afternoon break – during the day are recorded as well.)

The authors of the study plotted the proportion of approved requests against the time  since the last food break.  The proportion spikes after each meal, when about 65% of requests are granted.  During the two hours or so until the next feeding, the approval rate drops steadily, to about zero just before the meal.  As you might expect, this is an unwelcome result and the authors carefully checked many alternative explanations.  The best possible account of the data provides bad news: tired and hungry judges tend to fall back on the easier default position of denying requests for parole.  Both fatigue and hunger probably play a role.”

The book is certainly worth a read and I hope that even these small excerpts have make you think – even if only to understand we all have two systems of thinking that dance to the daily cycles of our more basic animal behaviours – and that, for all important decisions, gut-feel or intuition is not enough and that it is important to engage System 2.  An aspect of thinking I sometimes struggle with!  And it appears I am not alone – since the book highlights this as one of the main causes of human suffering in the world today.

Graphic from: http://www.flickr.com/photos/evalottchen/6352121909/in/photostream/

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