Thursday, June 4, 2009

In the zone – the flow

Have you got a talent? Is there something you are really good at? Can you remember being good at something when you were at school, but are not good at now? Here’s how you might feel, if the answer to those questions is ‘Yes’.

People who are exceptionally good at things – snooker players, athletes, chess players, often say that when they are doing the thing they excel in, they experience a state of being in which time flashes by – they feel on top of the world, their attention to what they are doing is such that everything around them fades into the background. Do you ever feel that way?

This state is termed ‘flow’ by some, being ‘in the zone’ by others. Sir Ken Robinson PhD, the noted British educationalist, has found that talented people - those that find their natural talent meets their personal passion – those lucky people have found what he calls, ‘the element’. Have you found your ‘element’?

Psychologist, Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, states that people are at their happiest when they are in a state of flow - the mental state of operation in which the person is fully immersed in what he or she is doing by a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity.
This is identical with being ‘in the zone’ and has certain characteristics.
1. Clear goals - activities align perfectly with your skills and abilities.
2. Concentrating and focusing – focusing attention on a very specific task like playing billiards, or writing a story, for example.
3. A loss of the feeling of self-consciousness – people in the zone report a certain loss of consciousness about their surroundings – and a heightened sense of awareness where their task is concerned.
4. Distorted sense of time – time flies – people report that the hours spent on the task feel like minutes.
5. Direct and immediate feedback - performance on the task is continually monitored, adjusted and perfected.
6. Balance between ability level and challenge – the activity comes naturally – it is not too easy or too difficult.
7. A sense of personal control – this is felt at maximum levels.
8. The activity is intrinsically rewarding – the activity required is effortless and feedback is positive.
9. People become absorbed in their activity, and their focus is narrowed down to the activity – awareness and attention merge and are totally directed toward the activity.
10. Note though that not all the above are necessarily required for flow to be experienced.

This ‘zoning in’ on a specific task, is also referred to as hyperfocus, and includes using the imagination, daydreaming and focusing on concepts.

Robinson’s main point in his book, ‘The Element’, is that each of us has this potential to find ‘the element’ – our own meeting of passion and talent. Most of us, he says, were benignly steered away from what we were liked or were good at as children, but that all is not lost – it can be found – it is still there, in our own minds.

Creativity, a mental and social process involving the generation of new ideas or concepts, or new associations of the creative mind between existing ideas or concept, is one way into this – being creative – coming up with new ideas that are of value, is aided by not being afraid to be wrong –
Paul McCartney thought up the name, ‘Eleanor Rigby’ whilst wandering around the streets of Bristol – “The name just came to me,” he says. We all know the lines of the famous song – but he couldn’t have known for sure how that name would be received by the public – he wasn’t afraid of being wrong – but it was so right, as it turned out.

Paul McCartney was fortunate – he found his ‘element’ early in life and benefited from it. We might feel it is impossible for us to be as successful as him, but in one sense, we can be; we can be at our happiest by finding our own ‘element’ and getting ‘into the zone’; we can excel at something we loved doing, but ignored as we grew into adult-hood. Scientists are now studying savants to find out which part of their brain is activated and where their amazing abilities come from.
“Talent doesn’t emerge until the conditions are right,” says Robinson, “individual teachers can make a difference.” The quality of the tuition, the materials used, and the techniques used to teach subjects do make a great deal of difference.

Amazingly, the musical abilities of both Paul McCartney and George Harrison were undiscovered at school. I would say most of us had talents that were either actively squandered or ignored at school, simply because they didn’t fit in with the narrow curriculum or the even narrower way intelligence was conceptualized and measured.

For some, their talents lay in music, others in math or science; for some it may be art, dance, or drama. If Robinson is correct when he says that many talented, gifted people think they are not, you may be one. What are you going to do about it? Rekindle areas of your past interests to find out what you are good at.
Robert L. Fielding

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