Discover your sense of ‘flow’ and avoid ‘running on empty’.
Sometimes, when I was a kid, dad would make birthday/Christmas gifts for me in his shed. He trained as an electrical engineer. One year (I must have been about 8) he gave me this contraption made up of parts he’d salvaged from broken-down bits of junk: transistors, capacitors, valves, light bulbs, relays, motors, a 12 volt transformer etc. And it came with a long roll of wire, a set of pliers, and a soldering iron.
Compared to (say) a train set, it didn’t ‘do’ anything when you plugged it in. But by connecting various bits together I could make the lights flash, or go dim, or make the motors go faster or slower. Stuff like that. And once, I attached a nail to the end of a motor, rigged it up to a wheel from my Meccano set and made a windmill. I made it go so fast that a screw flew off and stuck in the leg of a chair. That was a lot of fun for an 8 year old in the 1970s.
That’s a story I recalled recently when a client asked me for an example of ‘flow’. For readers who haven’t heard that phrase before, Positive Psychologists describe flow as that sense of being totally immersed and quietly content in mental endeavours that feel like ‘the real you’. Flow feels absorbing, energising and intrinsically rewarding.
My client said “I like jogging in the rain”. He couldn’t quite say why: “I just do.” I told him that I find great energy and clarity in contemplating how things fit together; and marveling at the inherent beauty of it all. “Y’know what?” he said, “I feel something like that when I run in the rain but I didn’t want to you to think I was a nutcase.”
On the contrary. I felt that we’d stepped into a space of deep connection and trust. We went on to have a breakthrough conversation about practical ways in which he can achieve states of flow in his day-to-day work as a senior business leader. That’s a goal that is important to him. He has quite a well-developed strength of perseverance but, in his own words, “I often feel like I’m running on empty.”
I retrained in recent years as an Executive Coach and adult educator, having spent most of my professional life as a business leader in other industries. And I’ve come to feel quite strongly that many of our workplaces lack a sense of fraternity: there’s a hole that could helpfully be filled with more meaningful conversations. Humans are complex, social creatures who crave connection. How much more productive, more creative, more collaborative, more pleasant would work be if we could achieve more flow and connection for ourselves, and our teams?
If you want to identify and develop your own sources of flow, but can’t tap into professional coaching resources through your employer, there are other ways to do it. A great (free) online resource is www.viacharacter.org. And I’d highly recommend the book Flourish by Martin Seligman, one of the founders of the modern positive psychology movement.
The concept of flow is just one dimension of strengths-based workplace interventions that we explore at Dramatic Difference. In forthcoming blogs I’ll return to this subject again. I believe passionately that employing strengths-based frameworks is an essential skill for leaders. Dad would have loved to see how his junk shop designs are creating new connections to light us up and turn the windmills of work.
Sean Worrall is a director of Dramatic Difference, a Hong Kong & Singapore based L&D consultancy that develops High Performance People.