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There is a lot of talk about finding flow these days.  Cziksentmihaly coined the term for his research that describes that state we crave when we are doing something and we lose all track of time.  We would do it for free.  Martin Seligman describes it in his book Flourish and Stuart Brown explores the power of Play to bring us to this state.

Cziksentmihaly notes that there are three aspects to flow.  It happens when we align our thoughts, feelings, and actions.  Said another way, when our hearts, our minds, and our will are moving in the same direction,  we experience a feeling of well being, or flow.  When the three are moving chaotically in our minds we feel uneasy.

Sometimes we do things to just numb the chaos like drugs, alcohol, and tv.  Or, we find ways to get a quick fix of alignment of our mind, body and soul like shopping, sex, or adrenalin sports.  Problem is, it doesn’t last.

Lasting flow is cultivated.  This requires a level of consciousness.

When I read on flow I feel like there is a missing piece in the conversation.  There are two drives in the human condition: fear and love.  In Balanced Leadership we call them two worlds because they don’t have the same operating system.  When you’re in fear mode you narrow your focus. set a clear goal and drive to completion despite personal sacrifice.  When love is the driver you meander,broaden your focus, caring for the moment, investing in yourself and the sensual, curious wonder of things.  Both modes will give you flow.

What if there are two types of flow, one that is fear-driven and one that is passion-driven?  We may gain more clarity on how to achieve Flow by knowing which type of Flow we are striving for and calling on the appropriate operating systems.

Flow in the fear-based world comes from pushing back the boundaries of your mortality.  We all have experienced that focus of our hearts, minds and will when we see something life threatening coming our way.  The elation of survival.  The key is to tackle a challenge just beyond your current capacity (See Jane McGonigal TED TALK on computer games) and to have the autonomy to develop the needed skills.  You must develop a strategy and plan.  This discovery of your agency builds a sense of well-being that you carry with you in all you do.  It is the knowledge that you can count on your own resources to build safety and even comfort.

Flow in the passion-based world comes from exploring your interior world and giving it a tangible form in life.  It is the creative and imaginative impulse.  It comes from simply following your bliss, with no particular agenda or goal.  Your thoughts, feelings and actions are fully engaged when you are being playful or engaged in your favorite music.  All the fear centers shut down and you proceed with curiosity, guided by deep feelings of joy or sorrow (See Charles Limb TED TALK).

To foster this kind of Flow people need to feel safe and loved.  They need gifts of inspiration to feed their passion (painters need paints, dancers need shoes, politicians need a gathering of active minds) and an atmosphere where unintended consequences (seen as mistakes in the fear-based world) are embraced with curiosity.

Leaders want to be able to cultivate Flow in themselves as well as in those they are leading.  It is the key to work satisfaction and engagement.  It also lowers the stress of the chaos.  Next time you are trying to motivate people, consider if it would make a difference to recognize there are two types of flow.