For several thousands of years it has been believed that when great leaders are faced with challenges, they retreat to a secretive place only known to them. The place is quiet with a zen-like feeling. No one speaks. Everything happens within the mind. In this secret place they have a wealth of knowledge and information readily accessible to them. They spend hours perusing through it without feeling hunger or thirst. They are immersed. They are determined to find a solution for the challenge they are facing and they are absolutely sure that this place will yield a solution. They don’t give up. If one solution does not work, they move onto the next. They stay there till they get what they want. They have been here before and they have never gone back empty handed. They believe in the powers of this place.
Have you heard of this place? Do you know what it is called? It is,
“The Wisdom Island”
Well, that was a bit too dramatic, right? Sorry, but I thank you for humoring me and I promise you, I will get to the point 🙂! The picture painted above is going to come in handy as you read on.
Well, as you might have already figured out, The Wisdom Island is not a physical place but more of a metaphor for the state of mind the great leaders leverage when needed. This state is called the state of flow.
Each one of us has visited this place at some point in our lives. Do you remember a time..
..when you were working on solving a problem and you lost track of time?
..watching a movie and you were part of it and not analyzing it?
..writing a document/working on a presentation and you were one with it?
..working on repairing your bike or car and forgetting to drink water or eat for hours?
..reading a book and becoming a bystander amongst the characters in their world?
..listening to a song and feeling every note of it?
..when you were writing a piece of code and was completely immersed till it was done?
If yes, this is the feeling of being in a state of flow. You were visiting Wisdom Island. While this is common across all walks of life, great leaders get into this state more than others. They develop the ability by practice to enter this state at will to generate ideas and find solutions to problems/challenges.
In one of my earlier posts, 3 Key Habits Of Successful Leaders I share a path leaders use to build wisdom. In a state of flow, they choose to apply this wisdom to come up with solutions and ideas which in turn continues to update their wisdom.
When you are in a state of flow, you are completely disconnected with everything around you. You are one with the task at hand. You are not tired or exhausted. You are engrossed in thought and subsequent action. And once you are out you are upgraded. You never return from Wisdom Island alone, there is usually a solution and a bit more wisdom that comes along with you.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the world renowned psychologist, also known as the “father of flow”, has written a book exploring the state of flow. In his book, Flow - The Psychology of Optimal Experience, defines flow as:
“a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience is so enjoyable that people will continue to do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.”
He also goes on to state that:
“The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile. Optimal experience is thus, something we make happen”
Visiting the Wisdom Island
So, how does one get into a state of flow? How to visit Wisdom Island at will?
There are many factors that contribute to getting you into the state of flow and it may be specific for individuals. Here are a few common actions great leaders take to improve their odds of entering the state of flow, that may help you as well:
Define your task clearly.
Approach the given task from aspects that are most interesting but challenging enough for you. To do this, break the task into many tiny tasks and hash them out one by one. Try to find part of the task that would be fun to solve. Gradually you will be tuning yourself to get into a state of flow.
Avoid taking up any new tasks when trying to work on the task at hand. Pause your notifications. Start with a clear goal that you will spend the next twenty minutes on this task. If you enter the state of flow twenty minutes will fly by without you even noticing.
Don’t think about what got you to do this task or what your next task will be. Be present. Everything before and after does not exist for you.
Don’t give up. Keep trying. When one approach does not work try another approach. Optimize for progress. If you are progressing you are going to get closer to the state of flow.
This, like many other things, comes with practice. When you learn about the factors that let you enter the state of flow try to make a note of it. Observe yourself. Reflect on the times and the factors that led you to be in a state of flow.
Visit Wisdom Island as often as you can, cause you know you will never return alone.
Flow - The Psychology of Optimal Experience - By Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
I would love to hear your experiences with the state of flow. Leave a comment below and let me know your thoughts!
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Yes, I can relate to this. I used to call it “The Zone”, when I get into the The Zone, I used to perform better and come up with solutions. I used to practice this every day at least to get into the zone for couple hours, that gives me 10x performance and gets a day worth of work done in the few hours spent in The Zone.