Concentrate to create, focus to flow

I am really struggling to write this article because I am watching weightlifting 94 kilo male category with Ilia Ilyn of Kazakhstan setting a new world record- lifting 233 kilos with barely a sweat. Ever wondered how Olympians set records?

Yes it is the countless hours of repetitive training routines coupled with steel determination, perseverance and delayed gratification. But there is something else, a very specific state of mind that moves the boundary of possibility to an wholly monumental level. Flow, happiness derived from perfect balance between skill and challenge while a performing an activity, ignites humans’ mind with true potential for creativity. Focus with commensurate levels of skill and challenge converts flow into a growth oriented evolution and personal happiness.

Why bother talking about flow and for that matter creativity? Because flows sets the individual on the ‘right’ path to evolution. According to professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Hungarian immigrant turned artist turn psychologist at the University of Chicago who invented the concept of flow, evolution consists of two contrasting types: enthropy and expansion. Enthropy is evolution natural tendency- the world today is a result of individuals maximising personal benefits by exerting minimum effort. Expansion, on the other hand, is based on two opposing yet complementary forces: differentiation and integration, meaning, systems are different but integrated and flow increases the complexity of matter and hence the complexity of our consciousness, eventually paving a more significant evolution path.

To simplify this last point just imagine an animal- the fact that they live to eat and they rest after eating is their life purpose, which in turn is entirely based on survival. On the other hand, humans are different because connections in our neural brain structures permits a positive relationship between pleasure and challenge. This last realization is extremely important when we consider evolution because it suggests a positive growth oriented evolution through skill development and scientific discovery from joint individual effort reflected on the aggregate social level vs. entropic evolution, where very insignificant benefits are present.

Coming back to the Kazakhi weightlifter, Ilia Ilyn, you can simply notice from his eyes he was in a deep state of flow characterized by confidence, concentration and pure enjoyment while performing the lifts. Just like his adversaries at the Olympic games he has spend thousands of hours practicing the routine and complementary strength training to come on the stage prepared. Furthermore he ensured a corresponding challenge, altering the weight more in comparison to the other competitors. Finally, due to deep flow state, or ‘in the zone’ as athletes call it, his movements where almost automatic and pre-programs allowing you to acknowledge before hand that he will prevail.

I am entirely supporting the possibility of experiencing a pure state of enjoyment through the achievement of a perfect balance between skill and challenge. Before I started this blog, I really admired writing and dreamed to write. Still, in the beginning, insecure of my skill I changed my titles frequently, deleted sentences, stared into the blank screen for long periods of time. Today I feel more confident because I practice on a daily basis and it has paid of- that I can invent a plot out of any theme even without significant planning- titles stick to me and all I need to do when I am unsure about how to proceed with the writing is look at the blank screen and thoughts start to flow! During my travels I am even testing myself with late night writing because most of my time during the day is occupied with exploring the city’s cultural and urban sites. Now my body is even programed to save energy until I complete the article, switching to sleep mode only when close the computer.

You can imagine that flow is as beneficial on the aggregate or organisational level as it is on an individual level- creativity drives innovation. Still, motivational issues and payment schemes are never ending hot topics for any organisation serious about innovation and profit. Unfortunately so far, only a few of them are developing a state of the art motivational schemes for their employees. Besides looking for a perfect fit, organisations should place a high priority on training and educating their employees while delegating sufficiently challenging tasks that test the skills. The benefit companies will achieve from such a policy is insurmountable; employees will not only become experts at what they do but they will enjoy their projects and develop a learning oriented behavior.

Know what you love to do and go for it- doing hours of it and reaching higher levels of expertise will unravel creativity in you. Remember also that curiosity drives creativity, hence be open to trying different things and experiment with your routine. We are born with a set of genetic and cultural instructions that determine a path for us but we will never know who we truly are unless we test them, and we will never be happy unless we know who we are.


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