Hi, it’s Paul Krismer, and I’ve got another film about emotional intelligence, which is simply a set of learnable skills that can get us to our best lives – best in terms of our workplace, best with our families, and best in terms of our individual experience and well-being.
Specifically, this film is about something called “flow” or being “in the zone.” And we all know what that’s like. Being in the zone is this wonderful feeling of just being geared down and highly focused. Athletes often get this. For example, I’m a hockey player, and if I’m playing hockey and I’m skating down on the right-hand side boards and I deke around one player, and then I’m moving in on goal and I shoot and I score in the top right-hand corner – I’m in the zone, I’m feeling so good.
Now, while I’m in the zone, there are some very clear, definable aspects of what puts us in that place. One of them is that there’s enough challenge but not too much challenge. So, if I’m playing hockey with a whole bunch of NHL players, well, they’ll skate around me like I’m a pylon, and I won’t be in the zone. Or if I’m playing with a bunch of little weak kids, I could skate around them like they’re pylons, and it wouldn’t be fun either. The way to get into the zone is to have the right level of challenge with immediate feedback. So, I know how I’m doing. I know if I deked around the one guy, I know if my shot hits the crossbar or actually goes in. I’m very clear with immediate feedback, and my objectives are clear. I know what the objective of the game that I’m playing is.
And so, I think we can all relate to that from an athletic performance. But the truth is, we can get in the zone with those same characteristics of feedback, clear goals, heightened focus, and attention. We can get that kind of stuff from all kinds of activities. And very often, science shows we’re more likely to be in flow when we’re at work than we are in our leisure time. And that’s because our work is filled with all kinds of activities that ought to be, by their nature, challenging – otherwise, they wouldn’t pay you to do it.
So, some people who are numerically oriented – they may be accountants working on a spreadsheet – and they can get in the flow. Other people might be teachers, and as they’re teaching, they’re in a real state of flow with their students. Or some other people are just problem-solving in teams, and they can have a great conversation. And some of those aspects of flow are flowing into their lives through the course of their work. And we want to design our work as best we can to have a lot of flow in our lives.
It’s beautiful. When we’re in flow, we are actually very happy. The odd thing about this one is we don’t recognize our happiness until the flow activity ends. So, if someone yells to me over the boards as I’m playing hockey, “Hey, Paul, are you having fun?” Well, in that moment, I’ll be pissed off at them. I don’t want to be distracted. But after I’m in the locker room at the end of the game, “Hey, did you have fun?” I go, “Yeah, it was wonderful.”
The same can be true of a great conversation or solving a problem with an Excel spreadsheet or organizing a task for my battalion – any of those things that I’m in a really good focused space is a really awesome high-performance, optimal performance place to be. And there’s actually some really cool things going on in terms of the science of the brain. When we are in states of flow, our sympathetic nervous system – that’s the one that gets us ready to fight or flight when some stressor comes into our life – is highly activated. So, we’re excited. But at the same time, this other part of our brain called the default mode network – it’s the one that’s constantly thinking and churning away about this, that, and the other plan – just quiets right down.
So, we get all the benefit of the stress reaction with heightened abilities to accomplish tasks, but with a relatively calm mind at the same time. So, it’s no wonder that this is a fun and super happy place to be. Yeah.
Now, I want to encourage you to get into small groups and actually play with this concept of flow. And maybe the first question could simply be, “Hey, what are some activities that you know put you into flow? What are the things that you can go to readily and with confidence to get a state of well-being as a result of that activity?” And secondarily, I’d like you to have a conversation about what could you, as a team, do to bring more flow into your work – whether it’s planning drill weekends, doing logistics, whatever it is that you need to do and organize for you and your teams – how could you do it so that you build into the process flow activities?