As the dark nights have crept in the days I work have become shorter. Usually I now finish at around 3.30pm as the sun is about to disappear through the bare trees on the horizon. Because the work is outside and in the northern hemisphere the days are cold too, sometimes as cold as it gets, for the uk at least. One or two degrees, but feeling colder in that Arctic wind that hits our small island.
I don’t mind the cold, it’s a good reason to work harder and faster. Working harder and faster is never a bad idea, it means two things, it means I’ll be healthier and it means I’ll be happier doing the work.
I read a book once called Flow, it was written by a guy whose name could easily be in the top 10 most difficult authors names to pronounce – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. He’d studied the complexities of what puts us in that mental state where time seems to stand still. Sometimes it gets referred to being on a roll with the task at hand. In sports they call it being in the zone. In Star Wars they call it using the force. Csikszentmihalyi called it a flow state because the people he interviewed for the book said their abilities seemed to flow out of them effortlessly. Being in a flow state is that place where the mind becomes so focused it stops thinking altogether and the subconscious takes over. A process called transient hypofrontality. Which in neurological terms means
that inner voice in your head shutting up for a while as you become completely present and in the moment a decrease in prefrontal cortex activity. Very similar to being on auto pilot in a transient headspace. Or in Csikszentmihalyi words, “It’s 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.”
The subconscious is much more powerful than the conscious mind, but when you combine the two and allow the conscious mind to be in the back seat playing cheerleader so that the subconscious is in control, then you can achieve amazing feats. It’s how professional athletes win tournaments and rock stars mesmerise crowds with their guitar playing. There’s also a wonderful bonus to being in a flow state. It feels amazing.
The 3 key components for a flow state
1. Having no distractions.
2. Pushing the limit of your abilities.
3. Total concentration.
As I worked I thought about the flow state, how about how I would dip in and out of it. Sometimes it would be while listening intently to music. Most times it would be whilst pushing myself to do the most effective work I could as quickly as I could. My focus would become lazer like and the subconscious would come into play. I thought about other occupations, postmen, firemen, factory workers and lawyers, men and woman, no matter what age, each and every one of them could make their jobs more joyous by using this state of flow. By challenging themselves to work to the best of their ability and as efficiently as possible.
“The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times . . . The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile” (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990).
I imagined the fireman running into the building saving as many people as possible, I imagined the lawyer giving his case to the jury, a rehearsed speech that he knew so well and embodied all the relevant highs and lows of vocal tone and gesticulation to perfection, I imagined the postman and the factory workers speeding up and counting their movements and steps to a fast rhythm. It doesn’t seem to matter what career path you choose, there is always a way to make the days more immersive and fun.