Thursday, December 03, 2009

Flow - The Neurobiology of Excellence

Here is a very interesting excerpt on the concept of "flow" - from the pages of Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman :

A composer describes those moments when his work is at its best:

You yourself are in an ecstatic state to such a point that you feel as though you almost don't exist. I've experienced this time and again. My hand seems devoid of myself, and I have nothing to do with what is happening. I just sit there watching in a state of awe and wonderment. And it just flows out by itself.

His description is remarkably similar to those of hundreds of diverse men and women-rock climbers, chess champions, surgeons, basketball players, engineers, managers and even filing clerks-when they tell of a time they outdid themselves in some favoured activity. The state they describe is called "flow" by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the University of Chicago psychologist who has collected many such accounts of peak performance during two decades of research. Athletes know this state of grace as the "zone" where excellence becomes effortless, crowd and competitors disappearing into a steady absorption in the moment. Diane Roffe-Steinrotter, who captured a gold medal in skiing at the 1994 Winter Olympics said after she finished her turn at ski racing that she remembered nothing about it but being immersed in relaxation: "I felt like a waterfall".

Being able to enter flow is emotional intelligence at its best, flow represents perhaps the ultimate in harnessing the emotions in the service of performance and learning. In flow the emotions are not just contained and channeled, but positive, energized, and aligned with the task at hand. To be caught in the ennui of depression or the agitation of anxiety is to be barred from flow. Yet flow(or a milder microflow) is an experience almost everyone enters from time to time, particularly when performing at their peak or stretching beyond their former limits. Its is perhaps best captured by ecstatic lovemaking, the merging of two into a fluidly harmoniously one.

The experience is a glorious one: the hallmark of flow is a feeling of spontaneous joy, even rapture. Because flow feels so good, it is intrinsically rewarding. It is a state in which people become utterly absorbed in what they are doing, their awareness merged with their actions. Indeed it interrupts flow to reflect too much on what is happening-the very thought"I'm doing this wonderfully" can break the feeling of flow. Attention becomes so focused that are aware only of the narrow range of perception related to the immediate task, losing track of time and space. A surgeon for example, recalled a challenging operation during which he was in flow; when he completed the surgery he noticed some rubble on the floor of the operating room and asked what happened. He was amazed to hear that while he was so intent on the surgery part of the ceiling had caved in - he hadn't noticed at all.


1 comment:

  1. Wonderful piece. Could not have been a more appropriate time for me to chance on this.