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A ripple in the Flow

It’s the name our students struggle with the most – but his work has had a profound impact on their work and their lives and that is a great legacy for one man to claim.
Hungarian-American psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, died last month at the age of 87. His most famous work, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, was (and will continue to be) a game-changer for many people looking to get more from every facet of life, including work. While his surname was a mouthful, the psychological concept that he identified and named “Flow” is relatively easy for our Advanced Diploma students to wrap their mind around and it dovetails in with the many other concepts included in the course.
It is in a state of “flow” that people find satisfaction, enjoyment, creativity, and a total involvement of their life and work. Csikszentmihalyi once described flow as “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”
What we loved most about Csikszentmihalyi’s work was the practical application, allowing us to deliberately enter a flow state ourselves and help lead others through the same process. We engage more and concentrate better when we are in a state of flow, leading to higher levels of intrinsic motivation so it is a worthy and rewarding goal.
Motivation is an inside job
The nine components of a flow state Csikszentmihalyi identified were:

    Challenge-skill balance,
    Merging of action and awareness,
    Clarity of goals,
    Immediate and unambiguous feedback,
    Concentration on the task at hand,
    Paradox of control,
    Transformation of time,
    Loss of self-consciousness, and
    Autotelic experience

It is this last component, autotelic experience, that really supercharges our performance. Autotelic experience is something we find instrinsically motivating and people with an autotelic personality perform work because they find it rewarding within themselves, rather than for the external rewards like higher pay, perks, and bonuses.
If you run through the list of components, you’ll find there is a large chunk of “leader work” there – things that leaders can do to create a productive and internally rewarding environment. But Csikszentmihalyi, and Flow, is about much more than work satisfaction, productivity and creativity. It is about creating a happy life. One of his quotes laments the fact that happiness has largely been bypassed by progress:
“Why is it that, despite having achieved previously undreamed-of miracles of progress, we seem more helpless in facing life than our less privileged ancestors were? The answer seems clear: while humankind collectively has increased its material powers a thousandfold, it has not advanced very far in terms of improving the content of experience.”
Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi made those advances and the content of our experience is improved by his work. Vale a great psychologist and a great influencer.

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