Flow, My Favorite Non-Feeling

Flow. It’s not just a character on a sitcom called Alice. It refers to the sense of getting totally absorbed and losing yourself in an activity.

It’s a great feeling to be in flow, but you’re strangely absent of emotion. Rather, you become one with your task. Make sense?

I’m not sure it makes great sense to me. It feels great, but I have no emotion. It’s not a physical sensation per se, but the physical is included because usually I’m energized while in flow.

Perhaps the emotion that might best describe being in flow is connection or engagement. I’m connected to my task in such a way that all my cylinders are firing and all of my attention is engaged in what I’m doing. Likely I’m using my strengths while in flow, and so probably I’m doing a great job as well.  That accomplishment feels good, but maybe only after the fact. Kind of like that tree falling in the forest – you may only see the after-effects of a dead tree.

I think there are degrees of flow too. For example, I love to write, but it’s a solitary activity and my communication strength is only moderate. So though I become absorbed in writing, and I love to write, I wouldn’t say that it’s where I necessarily do my best work.

In contrast, when I’m training or coaching, then I’m using most of my top strengths including my relational ones. Not only am I performing at my (relative) best, but I’m so energized, I feel like I’m buzzing. I’m using my strengths, so I know that even when I’m tired or not at my best, I will be able to do a good, if not respectable, job.

Energy. Accomplishment. Engagement. Losing track of time. Just because you’re not feeling them, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t notice them. These are the paths to your bliss. Follow them. Create them. Grow them. Pursue every opportunity to be at your best, and you’ll become even better. Imagine!

Your Life’s Purpose

What are you here to do on this earth?  Do you know?  Do you know what you are uniquely suited for?  Do you know where your talents, interests and values converge to create amazing, meaningful experiences?  Do you jump out of bed every day and think, “I can’t believe I get to do this today!!”

I thought not.

If you’re like most people you probably like or love what you do every day and like or love who you’re with every day.  And there are probably elements of your life that are filled with that purpose.  For me, being a Mom has always been that and always be that.  But I also never wanted to be a Mom full-time (defined as the 40+ hours/week type Mom) for my whole life.  Being a Mom makes me feel like there’s something higher, more important than myself.  That feeling of transcendence is what I’m referring to, and it’s something humans have searched and longed for through the ages.

These days it seems rare to find people searching for their life’s purpose.  We seem to search for a better car, house or phone.  We search for a better-looking mate, cooler friends, or fancier vacations.  At some point in our lives, we stop and realize that these material, superficial things are not what gives meaning and purpose to our lives.  They just make us feel like we want more and that what we have is not good enough.  Thus the mid-life crisis which happens, oh, about now.

What are we searching for?  Joseph Campbell (The Power of Myth), expert in comparative mythology, calls it our bliss.   He describes it as “being in accord with the grand symphony that this world is, to put the harmony of our own body in accord with that harmony.”  Martha Beck (Finding Your Own North Star) calls it our essential self  that forms before birth and consists of your desires, preferences, emotional reactions resulting in your identity. It’s distinct from the social self that is your essential self  buried under filters, restrictions and expectations from self and others.  Paul Coelho (The Alchemist) calls it your Personal Legend, or the thing you want to do, deep down inside, more than anything.

The essential self pursues her calling and in so doing, taps into her own flow and the flow of the universal energy (Spirituality, An Eye-Opening Endeavor).  When you tap into that universal energy, that energy can be shared with others, and in so doing, helps that other person also feel the universal energy and helps them tap their own.  That flow experience also builds positive emotion and success, so the more you pursue it, the more positive emotion and success you experience, and up you go into a positive spiral.  This is called Broaden and Build by psychologist Barbara Frederickson (Positivity: Groundbreaking Research Reveals How to Embrace the Hidden Strength of Positive Emotions, Overcome Negativity, and Thrive).

Sounds good in theory, right?  Yes, it’s hard to find your calling because of our social selves rule much of our time and attention.  We quit paying attention to the things we love because we’re told (either directly or indirectly) that other things are more important:  making big bucks, pursuing a prestigious job, getting good grades.  Pretty soon we forget the things that brought us joy.

Realizing that most of us are mostly living as our social rather than essential self is important to be able to rediscover that essential self (see Breadcrumbs on the Trail of Authenticity).  Once we shed those expectations of self and other, we can be more open to where our talents and interests lie.  We can discover the markers of flow and joy, even if we’ve taken them for granted our whole life.  We can find ways to apply them in a meaningful way and thus craft our Personal Legend.  I am also a firm believer that if you love and are excellent at what you do, then you will be able to be successful with its pursuit.  It may not enough to maintain a McMansion, but you may decide that McMansion is not as important as it once seemed especially when it compares to living your bliss.