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!


3 Replies to “Experiencing Flow and Being in the Zone”

  1. Hi Lorne, I think Zachman had a point about being perpetually stuck in a doing or “manufacturing” mode at work, he discussed this at the EA conference. this leaves little time for finding flow.. Flow is achievable, but it means we have to stop and ask the sort of questions you pose to ourselfs, probably away from work and probably with a glass of wine, quiet reflection! And then be brave enough to change. The questions being asked are typical of appreciative inquiry facilitation, I love the switch from “what’s wrong with you” to “what’s right with you”. That’s a better place to start.

  2. So instead of writing a new version of this story, I am choosing on giving you the wording as I used it the day it happened. I was able to retrieve it from fab and it is a public post. This was when I felt amazingly in the zone. My life is a series of these strange moments. Where things come together to make my life seem like a grand orchestration of synchronicities.

    So I wake up wanting to wash my car because I have to teach later. So I am leaving the house, and some dude honks at me as I am getting out of the drive way, which makes me go a different way, and delays my ride for a few minutes of difference. (Maybe at the most though, 2.) So I am standing line in the bank to take out money out of an ATM, and there is a Publix close by. I’m waiting there for some guy taking forever, and I hear this old lady confused as to why she couldn’t move her cart. Seeing her struggle, I go over to help. She usually has a car, but today had wanted to go walking. She also has cart at home but she thought she could take the Publix carts. (I think these were the new kind cause Publix is sick of losing carts lol) so whatever, I offer to help her because it was like 7 bags and a 2liter of milk. No way this lady is gonna walk that. She tells me she lives right there, and I’ve got nothing until 6 tonight when I teach, so I didn’t care being veered off my path. In the car, she tells me she is a painter and wants to give me a painting, so if I would please come up. I’m thinking ok everyone says that, but I’m going along with it just to be nice. When I get to her apartment, she has these beautiful pieces. She tells me she spent her life traveling and painting what she saw. She tells me about her nephews and nieces and about all these adventures in Spain and Germany, but never about her daughter. So I inquire if she still sees her daughter — there was a painting of her the living room that she had pointed out when I first entered. And that’s when her true reason for inspiration came out. She had lost her daughter to cancer in 87 when the girl was just 38 yrs old (1 year younger than me) and her husband died of heart failure 2 years later. Wow. So she says she had to deal with the pain she started painting. Her energy was so happy and carefree that I couldn’t imagine how she had survived all that. She channeled her pain into memorializing her memories for her. She makes clothes, she has all these little small pieces of collages and all softs of art not just painting. She showed me her little studio. The notebook where she says she is writing the story of her life. Finally she gave me this painting, and told me that because I am like a free bird and the butterfly so I can keep learning to fly like her. I loved that the bird sits ONTOP of the golden cage. It was so symbolic to me. I teared up a bit but I wasn’t trying to go full bawl out so I just said thank you and hugged her.

    What a trip this life is. So the bird with the white eye was her version, but it was driving me crazy. So I painted in the eye to blue. I thought I had messed it up at first but I made it work. It is my part of the painting. I am seeing through my eye but the rest is hers. The whole thing was so crazy and magical. How one small moment made me see another world. If that car wouldn’t have honked, I would have missed her. Wild. By the way she was 88.

    Pictures of the paintings:

    1. Thanks, Tanya.

      A lovely story!

      However, I can’t make the link work.

      I’d love to see the painting!



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