My word for the year is Flow, based on the work and writing of psychologist Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi. His book on Flow has been foundational to this effort: finding a center is key to his proposed concept of flow, as one seeks an ideal state between anxiety and boredom where we meet the moment with confidence and effortlessness.
As with Csikzentmihalyi’s writing, my own goals in engaging this word have included thinking less while trusting my ability, to achieve that natural effortless state or at least pursue something closer to it. And in my own practice and research, I’ve come up with a series of steps that to me seem necessary in getting to that point.
Not only do these steps build on one another, but I’ve managed to fit them into a gimmicky rhyme scheme that makes them easier to remember.
Show – The very first thing you need to do is show up. Show up to whatever it is that you wish to experience greater flow in doing. Show up to your workplace, or gym, or family situation, or spiritual space, and start engaging in the project or activity. At this stage it’s not about being perfect or even good. It’s just about consistently being where you need to be to start the process.
Slow – As mentioned in the previous step, you won’t be good at whatever you’re showing up for at first. Nor should you expect yourself to be good at the beginning. I recently read a quote from martial artist Chris Matakas saying that you earn a white belt because it signifies the courage to begin. So after that initial act of courage comes your earliest learning, which can take time and involves lots of awkwardness and mistakes. That’s to be expected, so take things slow and “embrace the suck.”
Grow – Continual practice eventually leads to greater proficiency and confidence. Activities that seemed difficult before are now much less so, to the point where they’ve become easy or routine. As one set of practices reaches this point, it’s time to move to others that will bring new challenges, capabilities, and learning. Continual practice leads to growth.
Flow – Finally, as you grow into greater competency, you’re more likely to be in a flow state when engaging that particular activity. The basics may seem too easy and even boring, the most advanced techniques still may bring too much anxiety and self-consciousness, but there is a sweet spot where you’re able to meet certain challenges with confidence because you’ve done the necessary work and continual practice that allows for it.
As these steps imply, a flow state is not a static place of being. The more you grow, the more that space between boredom and anxiety shifts. But this is a positive development, as it’s the natural result of continually showing up and growing out of where you began.