Are you struggling to find your flow and create the results you want?
Whenever I'm coaching a client, our discussion invariably turns to the times in our lives when we have been at our most effective and the times when, by contrast we have been less than effective. My client can usually see how our most effective times have involved them being able to access a state of flow or deep focus and connection with their subject matter that enabled them to be more creative and more productive, oblivious to anything else happening around them or anything else on their "to do" list . Yet, at other times or circumstances they have found themselves unable to focus, generate ideas or find their stride.
What gets in the way of us being in our flow more of the time?
What I have come to appreciate, is that our effectiveness anytime all comes down to the level of noise inside our heads: what we are thinking/believing/feeling about ourselves/the situation and, crucially, how much attention we give to any and all of these. The more thinking we do, the more distracted by our feelings or emotions that we are, means that the thinking seems to get louder and more layered up and our associated feelings intensify. We simply get more deeply enmeshed in our own head and as a result, less effective. Full stop.
Throughout school and university, sitting exams was my forte. Early success in school tests had formed a belief in myself that, provided I made sure beforehand that the knowledge was not only in my head but that I understood it, I would perform in the test/exam itself. Consequently, the overthinking and nerves would take place at the revision stage if I struggled with understanding something fully. But come the exam, I would have very little thinking on my mind. I intuitively knew that the words to form my answers to the questions asked would come to me as I focused. From that space of calm clarity, I would find my flow.
What's your experience of being in the flow?
By contrast, fast forward a few years of exam-free living whilst building a career in HR. At this point, almost a decade after graduating I embarked on my Chartered studies for the CIPD qualification. My exam experience began all over again except this time it felt different. Suddenly, my mind was filled with self doubt about my effectiveness at both revision and exam performance. Thoughts like
"I've had a nine year break for goodness sake, how can I possibly pick up where I left off?",
"What if I just can't retain the information like I used to be able to?"
"There's so much more to juggle now. How will I find the time to revise when I'm working full time in a demanding role?"
I had also spent my career writing on a computer rather than by hand. When this fact entered my awareness, attached to it was more insecure thinking - "Surely I won't be able to handwrite as quickly or my writing flow as naturally during the exams?"
It also mattered what people thought of me. It always had done but I created a reality that my line manager's and colleagues' opinions of me going forward was dependant on my exam success. The fact that most of them were unaware I was even doing the qualification never entered my awareness.
Because thinking and feeling are both sides of the same coin, the feelings that I was experiencing with these thoughts were anxious, fearful, nervous whenever I was thinking them.
What the thinker thinks the prover proves.
As my previously unshakeable belief in my own capability was well and truly shaken up with the passage of time, my head this time heading into my first set of exams was full of unhelpful thinking. Instead of confidence, my overriding emotion as I revised was anxiety. I wanted to run away and hide. All this study, in my mind, no longer guarenteed exam success. I entered the exam room the with my head filled with knowledge accompanied by layer upon layer of my new loyal companions, insecure thinking and insecure feelings. From this place of mental noise I realise now that I had no chance of finding my flow. That sense of ease and wellbeing that I used to feel was being tiled over by my insecure thinking and fear of failure.
I managed to pass the first tranche of exams and my results improved markedly with each exam I subsequently took. But there was always that shadow of extra unhelpful thinking getting in my way of feeling fully at ease throughout. I had created a new reality for myself where exams were an ordeal to be got through rather than an opportunity to showcase my understanding.
I now know that my ease and clarity never actually abandoned me. It was always there to be tapped into. It was simply concealed beneath this mass of insecure thinking and feeling. Without the benefit of understanding this back then I had to rely on my exam results to lighten my thinking and let the confidence come through more frequently. As I continued to pass and get good results I started to feel calmer in an exam setting but my worry about not being able to write as quickly and fluently by hand persisted.
So how can we connect with our flow- state more of the time if insecure thoughts are so powerful?
During that entire period of self-doubt, I believed that the presence of exams in my life , my handwriting speed, my colleagues opinions, the prize of the CIPD Chartered qualification that were causing my anxiety. So I became a sort of victim - caught between a rock and a hard place, wanting to run away yet at the same time feeling forced to drag myself through it. "When this is done, I'll be happy" "When this is done, everyone will be impressed that I did all this while working full time" etc etc
The reality is, I was creating my own interpretation of each of those outside elements (the revision, the exams, my colleagues' opinions, the qualification) through my own thinking. Instead of glass half full, my perspective was glass half empty. The reality I had created felt so set in stone, so concrete that I believed my happiness and my future success depended on my success.
Yet my fears were only ever made up of my own thinking and my thinking could have had an infinite range of perspectives about exams, my capability, my colleagues and whether I qualified or not. I was actually only ever a thought away from a totally different perspective that would have created a very different experience.
So what do we do when we get so caught up in the compelling story that our thoughts are telling us that it looks like we are in a helpless situation or start to doubt our own capability? What can we do to quieten the noise and busy-ness in our mind?
Simply by paying less attention to that thinking. By not getting caught up in it. By reaching a real understanding that our our personal thinking is the only thing getting in the way of finding that space of clarity, confidence and that deep state of focus from where new ideas and words can flow with ease.
If you were wanting the dust to settle along a dirt path after the passage of a car would you open the path up to lots of vehicles? No, of course you wouldn't. When you notice feelings of anxiety or overwhelm and you know they are being created by your thinking - would you carry on deliberately pursuing that chain of thought? Or would you consciously step off the treadmill, and mindfully allow your thinking to settle - and it always will - and thus invite new possibilities to enter your thinking/ feeling experience?
This is simply how our design as human being works. As personal thinking settles and that feeling of centred focus, confidence and resilience opens up, we cannot fail to find our groove and from this place of flow we can thrive.
If you would like more information on my one-to-one coaching and mindfulness courses and bespoke therapy soloutions to help you overcome the barriers, including unhelpful thinking habits and limiting beliefs and find your flow so that you can the results that you are capable of
Contact me on 07876 795871