When you stop to ask, “Why?” and are open to hearing the answer, everything changes. The answer isn’t always what we expect it to be. And instead of feeling right, it ties our stomach and intestines into reef knots. It mimics the most unbearable case of constipation, the kind that forces you to bend over in pain. While there’s not over-the-counter relief, the cure is simple: go into the zone that holds you to your why.
When it comes to ‘the zone,’ or what is referred to in psychology as the flow state, the definition often comes from the work of the Hungarian-American psychologist, Mihály Csikszentmihalyi. Flow is described as a state of “complete immersion in an activity.” If you’ve experienced flow, or been in the zone, you know what it feels like. Everything but the task at hand disappears. You don’t realize how much time passes until something finally breaks your concentration. In that moment, whatever you’re doing, is all that matters.
I often go into that flow state when I’m running. It’s not instantaneous. During the first five to ten minutes, I spend that time working to stabilize my pace and focus on my breathing. Because when a run starts out hard, and I feel like I want to turn around ago home, setting the right pace makes a difference for me. And that’s when I’m more aware of my breath, my body and each movement—how my foot lands, how I’m swinging my arms, what hurts. Then running becomes ‘effortless.’ My mind goes blank. I am in flow.
Out of Flow
While I’d like to say it’s only been the past few months, it’s been more like the past couple of years that I haven’t been able to achieve that flow state with my writing. More specifically, since the end of the pandemic and stay-at-home orders, which forced me to rejoin the workforce. It’s been challenging to go all-in on my writing while working a demanding, and exhausting day job. Even getting up at 3:00 am to write, it hasn’t felt like I’ve been committed to writing the way it seemed during the pandemic and before.
I kept trying to do everything—work, write, run, create content for social media, along with all of life’s other responsibilities. In a lot of areas, I was still making progress but not the kind that comes when I’m in the zone. And that left me frustrated and discouraged. But it wasn’t until recently that I realized, in part, what was wrong. I was out of flow.
Being out of flow, I had to take time to reflect not just on how I was spending my time but what it was, ultimately, that I wanted to achieve. It took me back to my why—telling engaging stories that challenge the assumptions we have of each other and ourselves. But I’d been spending an exorbitant amount of time creating and posting content on social media because I was so caught up in the comparison trap. I’m not against social media, and I see its value. But trying to make the most of the time I have in a day, I wanted to get back to my why, to succeed there.
And as Tim Grover writes in Relentless: From Good to Great to Unstoppable, “[…] it’s ultimately your mental focus and concentration, your ability to control your environment and the heartbeats of others, that determine whether you succeed or fail.”1 To get back into the zone when writing, I knew I had to take control. And to increase the likelihood of that happening, I chose to…
Delete Social Media
Shortly after my Instagram page went dark, I received a concerned e-mail from a follower. They didn’t want to be the bearer of bad news, but they feared—because all of my content had disappeared (I’d archived everything)—my account had been hacked. I chuckled, then wrote back that I’d deleted my account.
In his book, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, Cal Newport argues that before permanently deleting a social media service, that we ban ourselves from these services for thirty days.2 I’ve been there before, done that. I don’t need to ban myself for thirty days to know that my life will be notably better without using the service. (Newport asks: Would the last thirty days have been notably better if I had been able to use the service?3) And apart from that one follower, no one else seems to care, or have noticed, that I’m not there.
Decide What’s Important
In this life, we have the opportunity to make the most out of it, and to focus on what is most important to us. I’m choosing to focus on the telling of those engaging stories, because I know from past experience that they can have a powerful impact on even just one person’s life.
And writing those stories gets me into the zone, in that state of flow, and that is where I am living my best life.
What takes you into that state of flow? Life is too short to spend your time doing things that don’t matter to you.
1 Grover, T. (2013). Relentless: From Good to Great to Unstoppable, New York, Scribner, p. 52.
2 Newport, C. (2016). Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, New York, Grand Central Publishing, p. 204.
3 —, p. 205.