One fundamental condition of Pilot Fire is to learn how to embrace the sublime, frequently. Making a life that aligns with our values, taking action to serve our beliefs, and achieving our goals is not enough. Our daily lives must also bring us moments of deep joy.
I personally know a virtuosic musician who compares her work to flipping burgers, an entrepreneurial millionaire who is haunted by loneliness, and a successful financier who is driven to please her estranged father. They are tremendously successful to the exclusion of joy.
In my opinion, they have lost their connection to Flow, and if they could reconnect, they’d burn Pilot Fire like no one else.
Let’s review Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s findings on the Flow experience. Depending on how you read his work, Flow is characterized by 8 to 10 qualities. Here is how I sum them up:
- There is a clear goal.
- You have a task you have a chance of completing.
- You have the opportunity to concentrate on it.
- You have control over the outcome.
- There is immediate feedback.
- The task in intrinsically rewarding so it feels effortless.
- Your sense of self disappears.
- Time disappears.
In his recent article, Beyond Flow, Cal Newport writes:
“… the practice habits of expert piano players are tough — not likely to generate the immersive, enjoyable state that defines flow.”
I really like Cal’s blog, but I think in this case he is missing something important about Flow.
While the sensation of Flow may feel effortless, it is far from effortless.
What makes the sensation of effortlessness is the intrinsic rewards to the process of focusing on a goal. This is an important, nuanced concept. Rewards can’t come easily or else they don’t feel rewarding. The reason practice habits of expert piano players are tough is because expert piano players are experts! And here is where I differ in my conclusion:
Because their practice habits are tough (and just the right amount of tough) expert piano players are always making opportunities to find Flow.
How this works for us non-experts
When performing any task, to give yourself a better chance to fully enjoy it, make so challenging it’s right at the edge of your abilities. Make the task hard (but not too hard.) This will make it more rewarding when you do accomplish the task, and you more focused as you try to accomplish it. And that focus— is Flow.
And you will excel.†
And you will grow.
And, if you keep it up, you will become an expert who knows how to find Flow, frequently.
My burger-flipping musician friend lost Flow, as did the lonely millionaire and the father-pleasing financier. To them and you, I offer this inspiration from an expert Flow finder:
“One of the satisfactions of bouldering is that it IS hard, and you’ve gotta try your hardest. And that feels good.”
- – Lynn Hill
† eXceling is is the X of SMART & SEXY goal checklist. I’ll write about it more in a future article.