On Flow — 98

This post is part of Project: Inception, written ~8 years ago. It has been untouched from its original, pseudonymous, form. It is also part of the larger “farewell” tour and countdown as I turn-off this blog and head to the metaverse where I will live out the rest of my wonderful days. I hope to see you there!


Mihlay Czikszentmihalyi, a Hungarian psychologist, is world renown for what is known as positive psychology and has developed a theory around this idea of flow, which is where people can be be and feel completely optimal in their surroundings, environment, and the work at hand.

You’ve probably experienced this but may never have called it that explicitly – just think of some of the best times in your life when you’ve been “in the zone” with the things that you love doing. No, this is not you sitting on the beaches of Maui sipping on Pina Coladas with friends, Mihlay and I are talking about the work that you do.

He has broken the flow experience down into 8 specific dimensions:

  1. Clear goals and immediate feedback
  2. Equilibrium between the level of challenge and personal skill
  3. Merging of action and awareness
  4. Sense of potential control
  5. Focused concentration
  6. Sense of self-consciousness
  7. Time distortion
  8. Autotelic or self-rewarding experience

What Czikszentmihalyi is describing is that moment where you realize that you’re completely in love with what you’re doing and not just what you’re doing but also how and when and very importantly, why you’re doing it. It’s where you find yourself at total peace and harmony with the world and it all seems very, very right.

Many athletes can describe this feeling when they are in the moment during a game or match – they feel a part of it intimately and the convergence of their passion, their drive, their preparation and their skill meet the challenges and demands of their team, their coaches, and the opposing players in a raw test to win. Sometimes it can even feel as if time has slowed down and they may be able to see themselves as if in a third-person perspective as they just simply enjoy the moment.

I have had this experience. In fact, I have had it often. According to Czikszentmihalyi it’s quite possible to craft an environment and circumstance so that we can perform at our very best, in our utmost, and do our best work consistently. Unfortunately for most people this is not even in the remotest of possibilities as their current roles in their jobs are not even close to what is optimal for who they are and how their talents and gifts can be readily and liberally applied.

And I have seen it with my own eyes – not only have experienced in myself in previous job posts that I have held (and didn’t last, naturally) I have coached many others who have struggled to find their “fit” – I as began to realize that I saw the world very, very differently and began building my own career, one that only I could be the master of (and one that I couldn’t get fired from) I started, without even knowing it, crafting an environment that would suit me perfectly.

This doesn’t, and shouldn’t, sound like a surprise but it was at first as I began declaring my own work hours and the things that I wanted to do and the things that I didn’t want to do. In addition, there were simply things that I couldn’t do, especially because of my aspergers. I needed the right environment, the right responsibilities, the ability to be challenged and be in control. As someone who demands certain things to be a certain way this was of no shock to me and to those that know me the best.

But most of all I wanted to enjoy my work, find pleasure and relaxation in it at the exact same time. I wanted to be valued and to create value and be able to focus on the work I love and yes, even be compensated through it and by it at as well. I believe most of us believe that it’s possible and that most of us want it so badly because it simply makes getting up in the morning worth getting up for. It makes the work that we do deeply meaningful and full of purpose. It allows us to see the bigger picture and it’s worth fighting for.

I believe that aspies naturally move toward a place of flow as they find this in the activities and the behaviors that are built into us – we can’t always control what we love and what we obsess about but we demand that we achieve flow when we engage with them. We want to be (and are) completely involved and focused on the task at hand. We concentrate with all of who we are, sometimes forgetting the very biological things that are required to survive, such as eating and sleeping. We have a sense of ecstasy when we perform these tasks are have clarity around them.

In addition, we are motivated rightly – not because we’re trying to become millionaires with our interests but because we have an inner desire that sometimes escapes all logic. We know that the activities that we engage in are doable and that our skills are adequate and available on command. We aren’t bored or anxious or bound by our limitations. And when we’re deep in our interests it seems as if time stands still. We have achieved flow. The activity is the reward itself.

I love this feeling and I look for it daily. I believe that all people, aspie or not, are looking for it as well. I believe that aspies are so natural at finding it that we could teach others how as well. We maximize what we’ve been given and the world benefits. When work becomes as natural as play or rest it’s a very beautiful thing.

Here are some thoughts for you and for you NTs:

  1. Flow can happen naturally as you live and work and play. The goal is to have enough awareness to document the moments and time so as to be able to manufacture those environments for optimal productivity.
  2. Where are you when you hit Flow?
  3. Who is with you when you hit Flow?
  4. What activities are you doing when you hit Flow?
  5. What tools are you using when you hit Flow?
  6. What time of the day is it when you hit Flow?

All these things matter because if you can observe your patterns of flow and productivity then you have a better opportunity to be able to replicate it more often.

Do you know what that’s like? Have you experienced that for yourself? What types of organizational techniques or environment helps create this flow? Have you ever documented it so that it can be repeated for success?

Go and be awesome.