What’s Your Flow State DNA?

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Fair warning…I’m an addict.  Did a hit as I rolled off to sleep.  And another seconds after opening my eyes.

Heroine, ice, booze.  Not my thing.

Chocolate, crack, X.  Nope.

My drug of choice—Creation.

Can’t get it out of my head.  Pearl S. Buck wrote:

“The truly creative mind in any field is…[a] delicate organism [with] the overpowering necessity to create, create, create — so that without the creating of music or poetry or books or buildings or something of meaning, their very breath is cut off…  They must create, must pour out creation.  By some strange, unknown, inward urgency they are not really alive unless they are creating.”

So, I create…everything.

Companies, businesses, books, products, services, images, ads, interiors, brands, paintings, music, websites, speeches, lives and lifestyles.  It’s central to what makes me come alive. This is the thing that drops me into what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi called the “Flow” state. It cultivates within me a sense of effortlessness, absorption, even in the midst of intense work.

It’s my Flow State DNA.

Put me in a setting defined largely by operations, slow-growth, minutiae, day-to-day t-crossing and i-dotting, though, and I melt faster than a fudge-pop on the hood of a ’57 Chevy on an August afternoon in Austin.

Creation fuels me, operations sucks the life out of me.

Not that operations is “bad.” There’s nothing inherently wrong with operations. I know people who love nothing more than to be cooped up all day long, breaking down, refining and implementing operating tasks. I have friends who’d gladly proofread 10 hours a day. It’s like manna from typo heaven.

The world is filled with Checklist Charlies. And, no doubt, any viable venture needs operations freaks as much as it needs creative madmen (or women). Two sides of a coin.

So, challenge number one is to find your Flow State DNA.

Look back into your past and recall the activities, processes, tasks and settings, whether at play or at work that:

  • Allowed yo to work toward a clear goal with a well-defined process .
  • Cultivated deep-concentration
  • Allowed you to lose your sense of self-consciousness
  • Created an altered sense of time
  • Provided for ongoing, direct feedback
  • Was highly-challenging, but doable
  • Gave you control over the means, and
  • Was deeply meaningful or intrinsically rewarding, by the very nature of doing it

These are the things, big picture and small that make you come alive. For me, it wasn’t so much content based, but rather the opportunity create.

The more present these qualities are in anything you do, the more fulfilling and effortless the adventure. The less present, the more burdenson the journey.

Now, we get to challenge number two:

What do you do when you end up in a scenario that asks or even requires you to work without a single element of flow? That “violates” your Flow State DNA and makes you engage in the very processes that are not only devoid of flow, but outright empty you out?

Being pigeonholed into processes that violates your Flow State DNA sucks.

Avoiding this very scenario is one of the reasons I’ve become an entrepreneur. Because being in charge affords me control over what tasks, activities and processes I keep for myself and what I hand off.

The moment I have the chance, I delegate, partner or outsource those processes. I’ve even gone into the hole financially to be able to pay other people to do them. Because handing off what you hate and are not great at accomplishes two massively important things.

One, it gives you more time to do what you’re really good at, which not only makes you happy, it takes greatest advantage of what you do best. It maximizes your “asset value” within any organization. And, two, it places the things that equate to personal drudgery (a/k/a Flow State DNA violations) in the hands of people who’ll do them waaay better than you.

Of course, there’s one big exception to this.

And, that’s when you’re in “start-up” mode or “financial triage” mode.

There is almost always a phase in every new project, venture, idea where resources are tight and the concept hasn’t proven itself on a level that would justify the cost of bringing in others to do the things that suck for you. Or, as we’re seeing in the economy now, even existing ventures can drop back into this place when dealing with limited resources and a lot of work to be done. And, yes, for a short time, that will mean you may have to do things you’d rather not do.

Know what they are, do them as diligently as possible and work your ass off to get to that place where you’ve got the resources (or the political juice) to hand them over or source them out to people who will do them way better than you.

The bigger message is…know what big picture processes make you come alive.

And, know what processes crush your spirit. Find or create opportunities to build your life, your ventures, your career around the big picture processes that make each day as breathtaking as possible. Build around your Flow State DNA. Then, find people who’s DNA vibe deeply with the other side of your “process” coin and tap them to do what they do best.

As always, just thinking out loud.

What do you think?

What processes make you come alive?

And, which suck the life out of you?

Let’s discuss…

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14 responses

14 responses to “What’s Your Flow State DNA?”

  1. Like you, I love creating things. Creating something is like a drug and I’ve never thought about it that way before. I get such a rush when I write or paint or make something. I agree that it’s so important to “know what big picture processes make you come alive. And, know what processes crush your spirit.” I’m definitely going to give some thought to this!

  2. David says:

    This article is right on time for me. The last two years have been difficult for me and my family. My 2 year-old grandson died 2 years ago and then my mom’s identical twin was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s 6 months later. Anyone who has been a caregiver to an Alzheimer’s patient knows how devastating the disease is to the patient and how much stress it puts on the caregivers. Still, I’m glad I did what I could. She died this April. Also during this time I lost my job and have been unable to find any source of income since. I was fired for being depressed following the death of my grandson. This led to my home being on the verge of foreclosure which I was able to avoid short-term but I still need income. Finally, I think I’m on the right track.

    I’ve created several blogs. This seems natural since all of work experience is in IT and my M.S. is also in Computer Engineering. I get into the “zone” when I create and design pages. I keep working and refining this theme. Now I see that it’s writing and especially writing songs that put me into the “zone.” I’m also writing some longer pieces.I’ve met another writer/musician and we’ve begun to collaborate. Both of us are social activists and plan to perform for homeless shelters, recovery missions,nursing homes,and schools as well as other places with a social conscience. I feel for sure I’m on the right path. I just haven’t made any money yet.This is the area that makes me come alive and where I totally lose track of time. I just have to keep on keepin’ on.

  3. Hey Jonathan, awesome post. this really struck a chord with me probably for a different reason than you really intended. 🙂

    It was the fact that you have a “overwhelming passion to CREATE”. Lately, I’ve been re-examining myself high and low to find my “passion” to focus my energy on (like the book suggests) – and I’m not coming up with too many ‘concrete’ answers.

    I feel the same way you do about what brings me to a state of flow. It could be programming, fixing a car, designing a website, or even building a deck outdoors. Maybe the very act of “creating” or improving something (regardless of the topic / niche, etc) IS the jones that I should be seeking instead of trying to compartmentalizing the subject matter into one specific thing.

    Maybe having multiple smaller ventures based on my various interests will eventually reveal to me what I should be doing?


  4. Briana says:

    Thanks for this, I love the idea of flow and found it especially powerful the way Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi explained that we only reach this state when we’re attempting something that borders on too difficult, that challenges us to the very edge of our ability.

    The post also reminded me of the work of Kathy Kolbe & how our conative styles affect the way we learn, the work we enjoy, and why teaming with people different from ourselves can create such powerful synergy.

    Thank you!

  5. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ positivelypresent – Creativity can also be massively addictive, just gotta watch out for the dark side, too

    @ David – Wow, sounds like you’ve survived a lot in a short period of time. Glad to hear you’re coming back, refocusing on what’s right and positive in life and pouring some energy into making those things grow.

    @ Ryan – yeah, birds of a feather. I am happy creating a wide variety of things, though there is a common “content” thread in that they are usually things or experiences that revolve around impacting peoples’ lives in some positive way.

    @ Briana – Isn’t it interesting how discovering this state almost always happens in the context of great work/challenge. People think hard work sucks, but it’s a lie. We don’t mind work at all, when it’s being driven by something more deeply, personally compelling. I love working hard, makes the process and the outcome that much more meaningful

  6. Allan Bacon says:

    Jonathan – great post.

    @ryan – I can also totally relate to having lots of interests and I think you are on track.

    What I’ve done is used the combination of “flow” + higher energy afterwards as my yardstick for finding things that are part of my calling.

    Then I set up lots of bite-sized tastes of the things I think I will like. This let me do lots of them. Take your interest in fixing and make it into something small – something you could do in a couple of hours or less. Then try lots of ways and see how you feel during and after.

    If you do this with lots of different interests, you will start to see the common threads…

    – Allan Bacon

  7. @Jonathan Fields – Agreed. I feel the same way, but its harder to conceptualize a plan based on helping people (which is also what I love to do) – even if that’s the direction I think I’m heading. I think it’d be easier to “strategize” if it were something simple like “Wine”, “Smurfs”, or “Yoga”. 🙂

    @Allan Bacon – Thanks for the advice Allan, I think that’s a really good approach. I like the idea of setting up mini “Flow Experiments” and gauging the results. Cheers!

  8. Amy says:

    I, too, love to create! The problem I run into is the follow through. I seem to have a lot of little projects left unfinished. Sometimes I decide it really isn’t worth it, but I realized with the help of a life coach that I live for the rush, so that helps me realize that sometimes I’ll have to do the mundane to accomplish the task.

  9. Leo says:

    This post instantly resonated with me.

    I am definitely a creative beast. I’m the idea guy. I frequently am asked “Where do you get these ideas?” and the answer is that I’m always thinking, dreaming, creating in my head.

    I am definitely not the operations guy. I can create all the systems, forms, guidelines, etc., to execute my ideas. I’m just not the guy you want doing them. Don’t misunderstand me – I will do them, and do them well. But I will not be happy. There are others will be very good at executing these, and my best function is coming up with the next idea.

    My current goal is figuring out how I get to where my life is focused on the creating for me, and not for the big corporate entity. One of the things that sucks the pleasure out of the creating (for me) is when that creation is simply another cog in the machine.

    Great post – thanks!

  10. Paul says:

    What about the situation when you can’t create? When you can’t live without your drug? Life becomes a nightmare, you are like in a cage… and probably the best thing to do is to buy your book and start acting 🙂

  11. Roy Murphy says:

    Yep. any “creator” will know those words well. the difficulty is always in the same sphere

    1. being able to switch off
    2. sorting the great ideas from the what-the-hell-was-i-thinking-i-might-take-up-accountancy-i’ve-crashed-and-burned-so-badly ones

    Half the fun is finding out

  12. Hey Jonathan! This is my first time at your blog and I’m glad I’m here! Previously I’ve read a lot of mentions of ‘Jonathan Fields’ from other sites but never really came over to take a look at your blog. Glad that I’m finally here! I love your writings and they have such rich insights in them.

    Personally, my flow state DNA is to grow. I love growing. I love challenges; I thrive in them. Anything that lets me stretch myself and push beyond my limits are much welcomed. Like you, I left my well-paying career (last year) to pursue my true passion – to grow and help others live their best lives. Having been in large organization before, I found the bureaucracy sucks the life out of me – not a surprise, since this sits at odds with my desire to grow and be doing value-added, meaningful work.

  13. Hey Jonathan, I am somewhat similar. I love to create things, then I get bored with them and have to move on to new things. It’s crazy… I can’t get creation of new things out of my mind, and my wife absolutely hates it.

  14. Eric Deeter says:

    I heard somewhere that a sign of character is giving excellence in a task you dislike. For me it was painting. I loved remodeling, but hated putting paint on the wall. I took this saying to heart & learned how to do it quickly (to get it over w/ ASAP) and well.

    Now it is how we make our living. I dropped the remodeling & joined my wife in faux painting. I discovered a joy in the flow of this work. And while I’m rolling paint my creative mind is at work with ideas for our next business venture.