After reading Steven Kotler and Jamie Wheal’s excellent “Stealing Fire: How Silicon Valley, the Navy SEALs, and Maverick Scientists Are Revolutionizing the Way We Live and Work,” I’ve been diving deeper and deeper into the concept of ecstasis, commonly known as flow.
For those that may not be familiar with the concept of ecstasis, it’s a elusive state of mind where a person become so engrossed in the task at hand that everything else simply melts away. As external distractions are eliminated, people find that their creativity and actions are guided by intuition, rather than rational thought.
Ecstasis is something that many high-performing artists, athletes, and academics draw upon when they’re in the zone, so to speak. It’s a magic state where your consciousness reaches another plane and creativity flows unimpeded.
Ecstasis is a drug in many respects, albeit a natural one that results from the release of various neurochemicals in the brain.
People are going to great lengths to experience ecstasis in their own lives, trying everything from transcendental meditation to microdosing mind-altering drugs.
Of course, for most of us, these extreme measures are neither feasible nor attractive. I believe that there is an important holistic solution that makes finding your flow state easier. I’m talking of course about fit.
In the world of business, poor performance and existential frustration occurs when an individual’s natural skills and proclivities are simply not a fit for the career they chose or the tasks they take on. That’s why I believe that finding the right fit, both in terms of natural skills and interest, is the most important factor when it comes to success.
This grounded vision of flow was popularized by Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in the early 1990s. According to Csikszentmihalyi, this toned-down version of ecstasis/flow manifests itself when a person’s natural skills align with the challenges they face in a given situation.
When people operate outside of their flow, problems arise. For example, if an individual works in a highly challenging environment in which their natural skills are outclassed, they tend to experience terrible anxiety and stress.
Conversely, if an individual’s advanced skills are wasted in an industry that is neither interesting nor challenging, boredom and apathy quickly set in.
Finding your personal flow in the context of work isn’t easy. Fortunately, there are a few key lessons I’ve learned over the years that can help you find your place in the workplace and avoid a life of quiet desperation.
Be honest about your strengths and weaknesses
I began my career in consulting, because that’s what young business school graduates do. I wanted to do something more creative and entrepreneurial, but I was afraid to take on the risk at the time.
These were tough years for me, because no matter how hard I worked it just didn’t feel right. I tried so hard to conform to the ideal of what a hot shot consultant should be, even though I knew that wasn’t who I was. As a result, I was constantly anxious about my performance relative to my peers and stressed out over everything.
It was only when I took the time to be honest about who I really was that things started to improve. I grew to understand that my natural strengths were found at the intersection of finance and the humanities instead of analytics.
Once I began to see myself as someone with the soul of an artist trapped inside of a finance guy’s body, things started to make sense. I realized that I’d never be successful or happy as a consultant and that my ideal state of flow would be found elsewhere.
This ultimately sent me down the path of entrepreneurship and ultimately led to the founding of my company, BodeTree.
Don’t let yourself get too comfortable
Now, the thing about financial consulting is that it generally pays pretty well. The personal comfort that came along with the job that I hated was the one thing that gave me pause when it came time to quit. I found that I could put up with a lot of short-term pain as long as I was well compensated.
Of course, this was an utterly miserable way to live my life, but I’d be lying if I said that money wasn’t a consideration. Ultimately, my desire to make a dent in the universe outweighed my desire for a comfortable lifestyle, but that isn’t the case for everyone.
For too many, the allure of comfort and the fear of financial hardship prevents them from ever making a positive change. My advice is to avoid getting too comfortable in a career that you know isn’t right for you.
Once you pass the metaphorical point of no return, you’ve committed yourself to a path that is both stifling and unfulfilling.
Learn to take risks
I’ll never forget the day I told my wife that I wanted to quit my well-paying job and start a company called BodeTree. She was months away from giving birth to our first child and here I was, proposing to eliminate any semblance of stability we had in our lives.
Still, despite the risks we both knew it was the right thing to do, and she gave me her full support. I was lucky in that when the opportunity for me to find my flow presented itself, I had the ability and support to take advantage of it.
Many people aren’t able to make that sort of a jump, and as a result, miss out on opportunities when they present themselves.
Fit leads to flow, and flow leads to ecstasis
Life is messy, difficult, and complicated. Nothing ever comes easy, and timing is rarely on your side. If you find yourself waiting for the perfect time or circumstances to make a change, you’ll never be able to move forward.
You have to get comfortable taking risks, both big and small if you want to find your perfect state of flow. This can be both scary and difficult, but risk and reward go hand in hand.
By putting yourself in the right mindset and aligning your skills with your endeavors, you make it easier to achieve the elusive flow state. It may not be as sexy or exciting as mastering transcendental meditation or experimenting with mind-altering drugs, but it just might prove to be a more sustainable path to achieving ecstasis.
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