Do you know when you are ‘in flow’? Actually, let’s start at the beginning; do you know what flow is?
It’s an amazing state that we can experience… some combination of effortless, engaged, confident, optimistic, stimulated, happy, satisfied, focused, fulfilled, calm.
Sound good? Read on to find out how you can get to experience your own personal state of flow.
It’s sometimes described as being in the zone. It’s a mental state when you feel fully immersed in what you are doing and you have no sense of time, or indeed anything going on around you. You are so engaged in what you are doing nothing else catches your attention.
Flow is different for everybody. For some people running elicits this deep sense of engagement where nothing else matters, for others it might be painting, playing a musical instrument, or doing a crossword. It can be anything from the mundane to the extraordinary that captures your attention and effort to the point where you are aware of nothing else.
You might be thinking what has running or doing crosswords got to do with succeeding as a leader, a founder or somebody that wants to make a difference in the world? Well I’m glad you asked…
Flow is associated with achievement, so it’s important in terms of success, satisfaction and accomplishment in your career and your business. It is also important for leading people, as understanding and creating the conditions for flow can ensure your team are engaged, happy and achieving their goals.
The conditions for flow are described as a state in which the challenge of the task is high and equally matched to the skills of the person performing that task. Mihály Csíkszentmihályi (pronounced Chick-sent-me-highly in case you were wondering), the Hungarian psychologist who recognised and named the concept of flow said;
“Enjoyment appears at the boundary between boredom and anxiety, when the challenges are just balanced with the person’s capacity to act.”
The image below shows challenge level plotted against skill level and eight resulting states you can find yourself in:
The Flow Model (Csíkszentmihályi, 1997)
In this image, you’ll probably identify four positive states; flow, control, relaxation and arousal. So, when you’re not in flow, you ideally want to be in one of the three other positive states; relaxation, control or arousal. Although there is research to suggest that being bored sometimes is a good thing, so it’s perhaps worth spending time there too.
You’ll notice it’s the skill level that is important for the positive states. So for relaxation you want to be doing something at which you are highly skilled but isn’t challenging for you. Elevating the challenge a little further but still doing something at which you are skilled results in the calm and collected state of being in control (how much time do you spend there?!). It’s important to note here that when we refer to highly skilled, that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a highly skilled task, it means something that you are highly skilled at.
The fourth positive state in this model is arousal - the state you are facing a high challenge but only have a medium skill level. This is an important state to spend time in because when you are faced with a challenge higher than your skill level you have the opportunity to develop your skills and learn. However, looking at the image you’ll see that if your skill level is too low and the challenge too high you will enter a state of anxiety.
You might make a connection here with the commonly referenced comfort, stretch and panic zones.
The control, arousal and anxiety states from the flow model can be thought of as the comfort, stretch and panic zones respectively, What Csíkszentmihályi's model offers is five additional states that you might find yourself in. It's worth reflecting on this for a few minutes to think about where you spend most of your time and how you can get in the more positive states more often.
If you’re looking for a challenge what better way than to undertake a transformative personal and professional development journey with #RideTheWave and train as a professional coach.
By Sonya Shellard.
A month off work has taught me a few things. Many things in fact, but here are the key reminders I now keep with me...
We can plan away to our heart’s content but the future is always unknown.
Whilst we know that the future is uncertain we often forget this and then look back and wonder why we spent such a lot of time worrying about things that never happened. What will happen, will happen and building the skills to deal with the unexpected are a key requirement of modern day living and professional working – in fact this is a core coaching skill. A bit like completing a 5,000 word jigsaw and discovering there that are 2 missing pieces – how would you feel, react and move on from that discovery?!
We must never let the fear of what might go wrong, get in the way of trying to make things go right.
Fear – our trusty companion and almighty disabler! It can feel very present and consume us when awake and disturb our thinking whilst sleeping (or trying to sleep). It can convince us that taking no action is by far the best decision. Play safe! Don’t raise your head above the parapet! Don’t do it, you’ll look like a fool when you fail! All messages we may have heard and tell ourselves now, allowing these beliefs to direct our current behaviour. But never turn your back on fear; instead turn to face it and work out what needs to be addressed to remove or reduce its impact on you. Frighten it! It’s been frightening you all this time and the world now needs you to be brave.
Giving is far more powerful than receiving.
True satisfaction comes from knowing that you didn’t have to, but you did anyway. It is the one gift we can keep on giving, regardless of our circumstances and which adds so much to others, ourselves and the world at large. When you feel that the world is spinning out of control, ask yourself, “What could I offer to others that would make a difference right now?”
So if like me you’ve used summer breaks to plan your return to “real life” then capture the essence of what you learnt whilst away. Be brave, trust your instincts & batter down the doors you closed on yourself a long time ago!! There is no end, just beginnings with each new sunrise.
Dare to get wet today?!
By Lucy Mullins.
The story starts with tennis coaches and ski instructors…
In the 1970s, tennis expert and Harvard educationalist, Timothy Gallwey, shook up the world of sports coaching with his book “The Inner Game of Tennis”. In his words, the core idea of the book is “the opponent within one’s own head is more formidable than the one the other side of the net”. He claimed that if a coach can help a player remove or reduce the internal obstacle to their performance, there will be much less need for technical input from the coach.
At the time this was pretty controversial, to be a tennis coach surely you need to have the technical expertise and ability yourself to be able to develop another player? It turns out not, and this is very exciting for the business world and possibilities for using coaching techniques as leaders, managers and team members.
There are many situations in which you will be leading, managing or working with people where you have no experience or knowledge of the technical or detailed nature of their work. You cannot advise them or tell them what to do because you don’t know. This is excellent. You’ll be able to help them a lot more. You can coach them…
The essential belief underlying the art and science of coaching is that people have the capability to develop, change, and solve their own challenges. People have all the resources required within them. A coach is there to facilitate the brain’s exploration of possibilities and unlock these internal resources.
In the words of the man considered to be the pioneer of coaching in organisations, Sir John Whitmore, “Coaching is unlocking a person’s potential to maximse their own performance. It is about helping them to learn rather than teaching them”. So, without any detailed knowledge of maths, law or finance, it’s possible to successfully coach mathematicians, lawyers and bankers. This is a wonderful skill when you are leading, managing and working with people whose professional and technical expertise might be a mystery to you, but you still need to be able to motivate and support them.
Think of coaching as facilitating somebody’s thinking process. To do this you need to do two key things: listen and ask questions.
Great. Tick. Tick. I listen and ask questions every day Lucy, let’s move on.
No, first let me ask you a question… when was the last time somebody listened to you? I don’t mean just listening to respond to a question, I mean really listened to you.
And another question… when was the last time you really listened?
The image below shows different levels of listening from cosmetic to deep listening. An example of cosmetic listening is the morning pleasantries as people arrive in the office, there is nodding, um and ahhing but the person listening is probably still checking their phone, or thinking about what they have to get done that day.
Moving to a conversational level of listening starts to engage the brain as questions are asked in response to answers. This is probably the most common form of listening and certainly has an important role, but consider that when you are in conversation what Mr Stephen '7 Habits of Highly Effective People' Covey said, “most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply”. Consider this the next time you have a conversation and try to really hear what is being said rather than thinking about how you are going to respond. You’ll be amazed at the powerful impact this can have on the person being listened to. It will deepen the relationship and trust, and you’ll find out a lot more about what is going on in their life. You’ll then be actively listening - Congratulations! This is a scarce skill!
At the deepest level of listening, which is sometimes called empathic listening, you are listening to not only understand, you are “listening” for non-verbal communication such as body language, tone of voice, and the underlying sense of emotion.
Sometimes excellent listening is enough, but sometimes you need to do a bit more to help people unlock ideas or open up new possibilities. You can do this by asking questions… but not any old questions.
What makes a great question?The answer is that it really depends on the context. It takes practice and experimentation to find the right questions, and the same question will resonate differently with different people in different situations. But here are a few simple guidelines to help your ask better questions…
1) Avoid yes/ no questions
By using an open-ended questions you get insights and additional information you might not have known existed. Questions with “would,” “should,” “is,” “are,” and “do you think” all lead to yes or no. Questions with “who,” “what,” “where,” “when,” “how,” or “why” lead to people giving some thought to their answers and provide much more information.
For example: “Does that feel ok?” could be asked as “How do you feel about that?”
2) Exploratory questions
Don't accept the first answer. Be curious and dig deeper with follow-up questions...
For example: “What makes you say that?”, "What do you think is going on?", "How do you know that to be true?", "What's the evidence?", "What else?"...
3) Frame questions is a positive way
For example: “What do you think is leading to you missing deadlines?” could be asked as “What could you do to help you meet your deadline? “
But remember the most important part of asking a good question…
Waiting patiently for the answer, and not interrupting. Don't be afraid of silence.
So, after all those questions, here’s an important one to ask yourself… WHY do I need to know about coaching?
Embracing a coaching approach can enhance your personal and professional relationships. As a manager or leader of people, working with the principles of coaching you get a two for one deal – you get the job done to a higher standard by giving the person responsibility, and you develop your team at the same time. We live in a VUCA world and in this age of data proliferation are constantly facing cognitive overload. The most common answer to the question “How are you?” seems to be “busy”. Taking time to ask people questions and listen, and giving people time to think isn’t a luxury, it’s essential for productivity, performance and wellbeing.
After this brief introduction to coaching I hope you feel inspired to try it out, and excited about the impact it could have on you and the people you interact with.
Hang on Lucy, at the start of this blog you promised me ski instructors…
Yes I did, and I think this is a lovely story to summarise the power of coaching and help you feel empowered to start trying out some of the techniques I’ve outline above.
Our friend from the start, Timothy Gallwey, was running a series of very successful tennis, skiing and golf coaching programmes based on his “Inner Game” series of books. On one of his tennis courses he didn’t have enough coaches, so he dressed two of the skiing experts in tennis whites and put a racket in their hand with the instruction not to use the racket under any circumstances! The quality of the coaching between the ski and tennis experts was indistinguishable, except on a few occasions when the ski experts outperformed the tennis experts at coaching tennis. Yes, that’s right, the ski instructors were better at coaching tennis than the tennis experts, despite never having hit a tennis ball before!
From what we’ve discussed about the nature of coaching, this shouldn’t be a huge surprise.
So, open your ears, listen deeply, believe in people, ask powerful questions and give yourself and those around you time to think. You might be amazed at what happens.
 Volatile, Uncertain, Complex & Ambiguous
Lucy & Sonya
Co-Founders and Course Directors of #RideTheWave.