FINDING YOUR FLOW TOOLKIT
There is a built-in mechanism in all of us—designed to yield good—but often fails.
Like every system that takes in feedback for the purpose of re-direction, humans have the blessing and the curse of being able to gather large amounts of information from which to course-correct—only to be thwarted by misperception and ego—both of which get in the way of valuable learning and progress. The answer to this dilemma:
separating the “who” from the “what” within your performance.
This is where well-intentioned critical thinking kills “flow” and gums up the works.
Minimizing self-judgment, or being self-critical is easier said than done. Making this leap requires something that many western, competitive, Type A personalities struggle with: intrinsic and complete self-acceptance despite imperfections. Instead, we’re “all in” and “totally committed” to making the mark in order to justify our existence and value.
When we fail to reach our objectives we say things like: “I… sucked, tanked, failed,” or heaven forbid: “I’m a loser!” We judge, label, unleash shame and self-doubt—all in the twisted philosophy that deep down such self-depreciation will whip us into shape—even make us better the next time.
But it makes us worse…
Self-criticism is a destructive strategy when a constructive strategy is required. This is a flawed mindset improperly used in the Short Past (SP).
As discussed in previous tools, a mindset is a mental construct based on historical beliefs. Believe that you are 100% destined by your genes and any loss or failure means “you” are inherently a failure. Believe that you are 100% changeable within your environment and you never lose a game, contest or challenge—the clock simply ran out before you could figure out how to prevail.
Given the contrast of perception, perhaps it’s time to consider a new mental framework that will utilize self-critical energies and re-appropriate them towards greater technical understanding and mastery instead of mental and emotional misery.
If you remember the movie “Chariots of Fire” (still my #1) you may recall the despondent Harold Abrahams as he sat in the bleachers after a devastating loss to Eric Liddell. Frustrated and hopeless, he confides to his girlfriend that he’s finished—and that he doesn’t run to “take beatings”—only to “win”. Enter Sam Mussabini (famed athletics coach of the time) at just the right moment to tell Harold “I can find you two steps in the hundred”. Seeing that there was a technical solution to his problem, Harold is re-acquainted with hope and possibility and renews his commitment to beat his rival.
The essential skill:
putting a healthy wedge between your core self and the games of life.
If you cannot do this you will be a slave to your outcomes instead of the master of your thoughts, decisions, and actions. As a slave to your craft you are a winner if you win and a loser if you don’t. It’s a roller coaster ride that does not end.
Feedback is constructive; judgment is destructive. Feedback is a logical process of accelerated growth and improvement. Self-judgment closes the door to protect the ego; it displaces useful energy and hinders progress.
As you consider every MLA, see if you can drive a wedge between who you are and what you do. Hold the former sacred; the latter—a grand experiment that may take many iterations to get it right (think Edison and the lightbulb)—but in the long run you will align yourself with the proper calculus of the moment.
Take a proactive and aggressive approach to “looking under the hood” of every success and failure as both give you much-needed data to refine your strategies, processes, and tactics.
Avoid judging yourself personally because of outcomes. Instead, judge technically. You can admit that your “game” stinks (on any given day)—even embrace it so you can extract as much learning as possible—but do not hold yourself in contempt for technical discrepancies. Just like with a string in your pocket, after a short time, there is usually a knot in there somewhere for you to untangle.
Finding Your Flow is a process of letting go while simultaneously adjusting to the challenge at hand. For any performer it’s about getting everything ready (internally & externally), understanding the performance within the context of immediate and extended space (environment) and time (past, present, future), and then putting it all aside in order to execute without interference. There is enough of this in your external environment—best to limit it within yourself.
Remember, for every tennis stroke, aircraft carrier landing, brain surgery, legal argument, business decision, etc. there is the perfect solution or answer—but it rarely shows itself. There is usually some imperfection in it.
So instead of putting your ego at the center of imperfection, try opening a gap between you and your performance and utilize that critical energy to close the gap in your technical proficiency.
Oddly enough, the win/win/win (all to your benefit) is that you will accelerate learning, enjoy increased peak states of performance, and greater peace of mind!
EXERCISE AND PRACTICE:
- Five Questions to Minimize Self-Criticism