Week 47: Vol. 47. The Corridor Of Flow Part 2: Building Simplicity Out Of Complexity

04 Dec

VOL. 47

“I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.”


-- Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.


Last week we spoke about the corridor of flow:

We focused our time on building complexity out of simplicity--strategies for moving out of the deep blue and towards red--but not in it. Finding that sweet spot in the middle (some shade of purple) is where flow tends to reside.

Many of us live in the red. If we are to find our personal—even interpersonal, team, organization or community flow—we need to think purple (the central corridor) and identify the strategies that will help us manage our challenges more effectively.

This is often more difficult to do in the short-term than in the long-term. When pressed with immediate challenges, flow strategies often reside close to you—even in you. These strategies take on a self-regulation theme. When more time is available, strategies take on a more strategic and external focus. For this Flow Tool, I’ll seek to provide some common strategies for dealing with both… But first, some context.

For 30 years I have been in and around elite tennis players and I have seen many principles at play. One of the most profound is the notion:

The better you are the less you do.

Watch a novice on the court and you see a lot of unnecessary movement and swinging—sometimes at the same ball! They do all sorts of things with their minds and bodies that are incredibly inefficient. Why? —because they haven’t aligned themselves with the physics of the shot—in that moment.

Digressing for a moment… When Michelangelo acquired the massive slab of marble that would ultimately become “David”, his goal wasn’t to “make” the image—it was to release the perfected sculpture that lay inside. It was there all along—all he had to do was chip it out—remove the bits and pieces that were getting in its way.

But what lies between the perfect tennis shot, or a perfected sculpture: thousands of hours of mistakes and refinements—all designed to, through feedback loops, utilize principles and skills that produce a result—and to remove those that don’t. It’s a process of refining strategies until just a few become the central focus.

So, what can be done to steer you toward purple when the challenge is firmly in the red? At the simplest level, you can either decrease the real or perceived challenge at hand or increase the perceived or real skill to match it.

Given all that we have discussed over the past 47 weeks, perhaps a short list of strategies is in order to remind you what you’ve already learned. Each suggests that finding more flow requires you to place your attention in various places, at certain times, within a certain dimension. This is what I call: The Theory of Attentional Leadership.

Following this list of strategies, it’s time to give you something more comprehensive that will help you, not only to see how all of these tools play a role in your flow, but to recognize the importance of narrowing down your focus to identify one or two things that will help you move the needle on your performance.

So, when seeking short-term strategies for managing challenges, you might:

  1. Begin by maintaining a consistent sleep pattern. (8 hours highly recommended)
  2. Exercise daily to release stress, build resiliency, and release endorphins
  3. Limit foods and drinks high in sugars, fats, and stimulants
  4. Practice daily deep breathing and mindfulness in order to center your attention
  5. Be aware of irrational thinking patterns and take control of your inner self-talk
  6. Set realistic goals and manage expectations to reduce perfectionism
  7. Avoid comparing yourself to others or being overly self-critical. Play your own game and be satisfied when you have given full effort
  8. Maintain a variety of mental perspectives (seeing the long-term, finding humor, loving the struggle, etc.). This puts challenges into a healthy mental framework
  9. Keep track of the mini-victories along the way to maintain self-confidence
  10. Take strategic disengagement breaks to refresh, renew and re-engage

Thinking more strategically, consider these when dealing with longer-term challenges:

  1. Maintain your sense of why and purpose. Tap into your deepest values
  2. Seek to break challenges into smaller and more tolerable pieces
  3. If possible, give yourself additional time to address the challenge
  4. If possible, delegate a portion of the challenge to others. Ask for support
  5. Seek to create or find a lower stress environment
  6. Make sure you have an intact support structure (inside and outside the arena)
  7. Continue to build your knowledge and skills to address your challenges
  8. Make sure you have or can get ample resources
  9. Build in time to reflect on actions taken. Learn from each attempt
  10. Consider disengaging from the challenge altogether

These strategies are just a cross-section of a broader list of principles/strategies that can either help you enhance your “Flow Assets” or decrease your “Flow Liabilities”.

As we discussed at the very beginning of these Flow Tools, Finding Your Flow is about finding your “one thing” within a specific place and time. Indeed, you must see the forest (all of the 12 dimensions of flow) while also attending to the trees: the one or two things that need your focused attention now.

As we address the topic of building simplicity out of complexity, we are really talking about removing the barriers (Flow Liabilities) that interfere with your performance while at the same time growing your knowledge, skills, and abilities (Flow Assets) that help you better address your challenges.

Given how dedicated you have been to this point, I’d like to give you a gift—one that will not only increase your awareness but also help you put all of the information you have learned so far into a broader context of practice.

To accomplish this, I’d like to give you a free 720º Sweep Flow Assessment (online). By reading the instructions carefully and taking this assessment, you will have a more comprehensive “map” that you can use to address your performance needs today and in the future.

This is a good place to break, so let’s pick this up next week and discuss the need for different types of attention based on both your Flow Assets and Flow Liabilities.


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