Gratitude and potential are two seasoned guides on the journey between now and next. Each one works to build a connection between today and tomorrow. Everything starts with being content with today, which actually requires being present in today, not yesterday and not tomorrow.
Gratitude and mindfulness provide a gentle nudge to come back from the prefrontal cortex cab ride to the past or the future. It’s remembering that your heart beats without your explicit direction. It’s sending a note to someone that made you smile. It’s reminding a mentor of how much they have positively influenced your life. It’s in the acknowledgment that your lungs fill with air involuntarily. It’s the realization that all of the marvels of nature that surround you present themselves without your action.
Potential is showing up and working on something you love diligently without any expectation of the end result. Potential is seeded in deep work that is done for you and you alone. The path to your dreams cannot be realized without deep work. Thoughtful engagement of your creative brain can lead to opportunity that you never would have thought existed. New paths identify themselves where a dense, impassible jungle once stood. This kind of work requires commitment, focus and dedication. It is special and cannot be completed in parallel with other tasks. There is never a perfect time for this type of work. There is only the time you make for it. While the commitment itself is an individual effort, true potential is often shaped by pure, honest feedback. Potential is putting your work out there and really listening to trusted feedback. Trusted feedback is not negative noise. It is valuable insight from those who have traveled a similar path.
Flow is a concept that unites today and tomorrow through gratitude and potential. I recently finished a program called Flow Fundamentals that was developed by author Steven Kotler and high performance expert Jamie Wheal. Flow Fundamentals is offered through The Flow Genome Project (FGP), who’s advisory board includes ground-breaking creative minds like neuroscientist, David Eagleman, digital philosopher, Jason Silva and photographer/filmmaker Jimmy Chin. The main mission of the Flow Genome Project is to help people harness flow in all aspects of their lives. Their research supports that flow states can be cultivated rather than relying on the muse to suddenly appear.
Through FGP’s Flow Fundamentals course, I explored creating flow states instead of waiting on inspiration. I rediscovered my personal history with Flow, which was mainly related to music, sports and the idea of bringing people together for a common purpose.
Since reading Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s book, Creativity: Flow and The Psychology of Discovery and Invention a few years ago, I’ve been fascinated with the concept of Flow and optimal human performance.
(pronounced Mee-Hi See-Sent-Mee-Hi)
According to Csikszentmihalyi, Flow is … “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”
According to the Flow Genome Project, Flow is … “the peak performance state where you feel your best and perform your best.”
Here are a few examples of Flow states:
- Playing basketball effortlessly. Draining every shot without thinking.
- Writing a song and it almost seems to write itself.
- When six hours in a research lab seems to last just five minutes.
- Getting lost in a speech or presentation on a topic of personal passion.
- My son, Keller dancing in the park.
So why did I decide to take a course on Flow?
- To cultivate the ability to stay aware and present.
- To learn to create environments that support Flow.
- To find Flow in environments that are not in my control.
- To use discipline, focus and deep work as anchors for creation.
- To harness Flow to create in all aspects of my life (dad, writer, consultant, entrepreneur, coach, athlete, and musician)
- To develop a framework that acknowledges today and builds for tomorrow.
The course was based on a daily routine that was tracked through an app.
Each day my tasks included:
- Drinking a tall glass of water first thing in the morning.
- Some form of mindfulness practice (meditation, box breathing, Wim Hof)
- Some form of exercise.
- Tracking my online time through an app called Rescue Time.
- A daily lesson and writing assignment.
- Tracking my sleep with the goal of at least 8 hours.
- Protecting the first 90 minutes of my day.
- Flossing my teeth.
Water in the morning, meditation, journaling, exercise and flossing were not new to my daily routine, but I enjoyed the confirmation that others found similar value in these activities. I think flossing was included as an easy way to pull in a commitment to something simple every day. For today’s discussion on Flow, gratitude and potential, I want to focus on the notion of protecting time and the daily writing assignments from Flow Fundamentals.
By the time I started this adventure, I was about six months into the 52Musings experiment. I hadn’t really found a routine for writing, and the idea of protecting time for creation sounded really appealing. The course challenged me to protect the first 90 minutes of my day for focused work, which didn’t include checking email, social media or other distractions that always lead to the short-term dopamine-induced illusions of accomplishment. I loved the idea of starting with a fresh, clear and focused mind, which aligns nicely with the idea of MAKER time versus MANAGER time.
The new dedicated window made it easier to actually begin the work.
“There is a secret that real writers know that wanna be writers don’t, and the secret is this: It’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write. What keeps us from sitting down is Resistance.” Author, Steven Pressfield
According to Pressfield, Resistance (yes, it deserves a capital R) is what keeps us from the work that we want to do. It appears in various forms, and it can be a formidable opponent. Its FOMO and the draw of the social media rabbit hole. Its being critical of someone’s actions and spending 30 minutes gossiping about them. Its gathering your dizzied mind at the end of the day wondering what you’ve actually accomplished. When your fingers reach for your phone to refresh your email, that’s Resistance.
By protecting my first 90 minutes, I found that I could level the playing field a bit.
Battling Resistance requires commitment and the seemingly simple action of beginning. If you are a writer, start pushing the pencil to the paper. If you are a musician, take the eleven note palette and use the wonderful elements at your disposal to make them your own. If you are a researcher, get to the lab and look at that experiment from another angle. If you are an athlete, get your hands around that barbell and get to work. By dedicating yourself and starting, you will be rewarded with inspiration. Inspiration doesn’t always just hit you right between the eyes.
Inspiration is the reward that comes from dedication.
Just as Resistance can keep us from starting, ego can keep us from finishing.
Along with protecting my first 90 minutes, Flow Fundamentals also taught me something about the value of trusted feedback. Just as a beautiful piece of art can’t look at itself, we often can’t see the subtle textures, unique blends of colors, spatial awareness and environmental composition that make each of us individuals in this world. One of my favorite assignments from the course was designed to gather external feedback from those that I trusted on a particular topic. The important part of the lesson was to learn to detach ego from discovery and growth. Think about that question that you never asked because you wanted to make it seem like you knew the answer. That is ego at work.
You can’t learn unless you are comfortable being uncomfortable.
It’s okay not knowing the answer. It’s better to ask the question.
Okay, so if step one is asking the question, step two is accepting the answer and not defending your position. This is harder that it sounds. Your ego is a massive, well-evolved safety net built into your personal roller coaster ride. It makes sure you know you are the best, and it loves to maintain the status quo.
Ego doesn’t usually listen very well.
It seeks to respond and defend.
Me, change? Nah, we are doing just fine.
One quick personal example: I was at the gym a few weeks ago struggling with a movement called the Bar Muscle Up. I’ve done this movement hundreds of times successfully, but on this particular day I was struggling to complete just one. I knew what I had to do, but wasn’t able to execute. I asked my friend and one of our coaches, Dan to help me figure it out. With a beautifully insightful tweak to my approach, I was instantly and consistently pulling up over the bar with ease. If I let ego and Resistance win the battle, I would still be flailing about. Thank you, Dan.
Back to my favorite assignment from Flow Fundamentals …
I was challenged to get feedback on the following question:
What is the one big thing that you’d want me to know about myself to take my life to the next level?
Here are some of the responses that I received:
After about 15 minutes of thought, I would say that I think you are sometimes too generous with optimism when it comes to the impact of chasing certain ventures. I think you can learn to trust your instincts faster to gauge the actuality versus potential in some cases. When you find yourself using the word “interesting” when encountering an idea ask yourself if it is actually interesting, or just potentially “something.”
This quick note was a beautiful reminder to focus and finish. I tend to quickly latch on to an idea or concept and want to dive in 100%. The problem is that the majority of my 1,440 is committed. It was time to start doing what I do really well, instead of doing many things in a mediocre fashion. It brought me back to a time when I thought it made sense to launch a food hub and an advisory service before my existing ventures had become viable. I’ll always want to discover, learn and dream, but I will remember to say no to those things that pull me off course.
The only thing I can encourage you to do is to have a greater concept of time. Some people operate on a strict clock, others on a general suggestion of time. To those who strictly observe time, working with those who don’t can be very frustrating and insulting … a suggestion that their time isn’t as important as yours. This translates into professional as well as personal relationships. You will never be faulted for being early… As one of my medical school professors told me, “If you’re on time, you’re late…if you’re early, you’re on time”.
For anyone that knows me, there is no arguing this one. Improving time management is a priority for me. A greater concept of time is built upon organizing daily activity in general. Separating my day into MAKER activities and MANAGER activities has been very helpful. I am thankful for this observation and, while its still a work in progress, I’m headed in the right direction.
Stop acting so small. You are the universe in ecstatic motion (Rumi). Think bigger. Get out of your current ecosystem for a minute. Of course, pay the bills with it, but the real innovation will come from somewhere else.
Pushing myself further into the discovery of thematic interconnectedness is really exciting. The best ideas are deemed to be nonsense before they are eventually embraced. Those ideas are usually the combination of multiple disciplines, work streams and subjects. With this, I will remember to look beyond the obvious and consider the impossible.
“Nothing is as empowering as real-world validation, even if it’s for failure” Author, Steven Pressfield
My personal journey into cultivating Flow states has and will continue to influence my appreciation of today and my passion for tomorrow. Balance is an amazing phenomenon rooted in the physical world that demonstrates the relationship between the human body and its environment. Finding balance within the two states of existence, now and next, will have a profound impact on your life.
Now requires being here, not there, and flourishes with thoughtful participation in your daily interactions. Discovering now feeds off of a child-like wonder and insatiable curiosity. Now grows more stunning with each acknowledgement.
Now is the foundation for next. Next requires consistent focus and dedication to deep work. Deep work is not the hard part. Making time for deep work is the challenge. There will always be an easier task that presents itself as critically urgent. Urgent isn’t always important, and deep work is essential. The success of next also depends on your ability to silence your ego when asking for and considering feedback.
Flow connects now and next like a river bridges the cycle between rain in the mountains and the vast, blue ocean. Be truly content with today. Protect your time to work on things you love without expectation for the potential of tomorrow. Seek and embrace trusted external feedback.
Start with now.
For more on Creating and Flow, read these books: