What’s it to be in the zone?
What’s my favourite way to get lost in a simple activity—running chopping, vegetables, folding laundry whatever,
I heard this term for the first time in the Landmark education forum, and to tell you the truth I did not know what it meant.
Grout and Perrin, in their Mind Games express it as a strange feeling. It’s as if time slows down and you see everything so clearly. You just know that everything about your technique is spot it. It just feels so effortless it’s almost as if you are floating across the track. Every muscle every fibre, ever sinew is working in complete harmony and the end product is that you run fantastically well….. Well…. when did I experience this moment….
Steven Kotler in his book west of Jesus says surfing is being so involved in an activity that nothing else matters. The ego falls away, each thought follows inevitably from the previous one and time ceases to exist. Your whole being is involved in the moment and you are using your skills to the utmost. Self vanishes and the now swallows us whole. While we are riding a wave for those few fleeting moments we are utterly and completely awake……?
This kind of moment has at times popped up in life-like when I am immersed in a book, but then that is often called escapism, when I am writing many times these moments have popped, or when I am swimming. Yes times with my patient as I am in conversation with them.
What I understand is we are talking about the flow, a mental state of operation where the person is so immersed that there is a feeling of energized focus, full involvement and enjoyment in the activity.
The flow according to Csikszentmihalyi is completely focused motivation. It is a single-minded immersion and represents perhaps the ultimate experience in harnessing the emotions in the service of performing and learning. The emotions here are not just contained and channelled but positive energized and aligned with task at hand. To be caught in the ennui of depression or a state of agitation and anxiety is to be barred from the flow.
This would be a great way to define, in the moment, in the zone, in the groove, on fire, in tune, cantered or singularly focused.
Nakamura and Csikszentmihalyi identify six components of experiencing this.
- Intense and focused concentration on the present moment.
- Merging of action and awareness
- Loss of reflective self-consciousness
- A sense of personal control or agency over the situation or activity
- A distortion of temporal experience one’s subjective experience of time is altered.
- Experience of the activity is intrinsically rewarded this is referred to as autotelic experience.
Its only when these experiences come in combination does it become a flow.
Interesting the mind can attend to only certain amount of information at a time, something like 126 bits/sec. (study by Mihaly 1956) having a conversation involves something like 40 bits of information that is roughly about 1/3 the capacity. That makes having a conversation a little challenge.
Usually people decide what to focus on, however when in the zone or flow, the task at hand becomes so engrossing, that without taking a conscious decision, the individual looses other awareness, like time, people, distractions, various body function. This is essentially because there is no attention to be allocated as all of it is taken up by the task at hand.
To achieve being in the zone,
- One must be involved in an activity with a clear set of goals and progress. This adds direction and structure to the task.
- The task at hand must have a clear and immediate feedback. This helps the us to negotiate any changing demands and allows us to have adjust our performance to maintain the flow state
- We need to have a good balance between the perceived challenge of the task at hand and our own perceived skills. That is to say we need to be confident to handle the task at hand.
One could say that a perceived fit of skills, to the task demand can be identified as the central precondition of flow experience.
Challenges to stay in flow are states of apathy, boredom and anxiety. Apathy produces a lack of interest, boredom occurs when the skill level exceeds the challenge and finally anxiety occurs when the challenge is so high that there is distress and uneasiness.
Csikszentmaihalyi has an interesting take; he hypothesizes that people with several specific personality traits may be better to achieve flow more often than overage persons. These traits could be curiosity, persistence, low self centeredness and high rate of performing activities that motivated intrinsically. He called them autotelic personalities.
The application of this could be extrinsic like a group activity peak performance or intrinsic in areas like spirituality, performance improvement, and self-help. It is also applicable in areas like business, music, sport and computer
When being in the zone is defined as a state in which the challenges and skills are equally matched, then flow plays an important role at the work as it gets associated with achievement and development
This could be achieved by
- Clear goals
- Immediate feedback
- A balance between opportunity and capacity.
The time spent in being in the zone, makes our lives more happy and successful. It betters performance and provides a sense of satisfaction. On the flip side flow could foster addiction giving rise to risky behavior.