Posts Tagged ‘flow’

I choose things by how they resonate in my heart.
Rita Coolidge

[I’m having a hard time figuring out how to start this post and not make it a “I haven’t been writing, but see there was this thing…” post. The thing is, though, that’s exactly the kind of post this will turn out, so I’ll just go ahead and start it.]

For a long time, I didn’t feel like blogging. There were a lot of things tangled up, keeping me from logging into my Dashboard and typing something, anything. In the spirit of experiential learning, I’ll try to reflect on that experience to be able to learn something from it and transform my immediate experience into something more theoretical, more general. You’re welcome to join me. πŸ™‚

The Changes

Last August, two things happened. One, I started working full-time. Two, I found out I was expecting a baby. Both of those changes came with an abundance of learning moments and interesting communication incidents. In other words, I had lots of material to ponder.

These changes brought with them other changes, though. I fell off the Shiva Nata wagon due to changes in my daily rhythm as well as pure fatigue. Pregnancy totally kicked my behind when it came to mental and physical resources. I waited too long to cut back on activities that I’d scheduled when I was not pregnant and not working full time. No surprise, then, that I almost burned out during the winter. Blogging and Twitter were among the first casualties when I had to streamline my schedule.

All this could have been a fruitful source of blog posts, though, if it hadn’t been for the fact that I was stuck.


The job I was working for the past fall and winter, right up to my maternity leave, had plenty of great features. As far as timing goes, it couldn’t have been more perfect. The hours were great, the colleagues were great, I had responsibility and a pretty free reign to develop my area and improve my skills.

The only problem was I didn’t really resonate with what I was doing. I was relatively good at it, I did get a kick out of succeeding and meeting the goals I was aiming to meet, but it didn’t make my heart sing. And to someone who’s spent the past six years at the university, turning more and more towards really inspiring courses and modules, that was a huge deal.

The fact that I didn’t really resonate with my job meant that I didn’t really talk about it when I was not working. I might think about a case or go through my todo-list in my head, but it really wasn’t something I shared with others. And that really clogged up my mind, which exhausted me even more.

And then there was the fact that a lot of my other projects were causing a lot of stress, guilt and extra work. Being all clogged up from work stuff, I hardly shared my extra-curricular stresses and guilts with anyone, either, and that clogged me up even worse. I’d go through the day feeling all these emotions – stress from work, joy about the pregnancy, worries about my own health, guilt about other projects, longing for a connection with my friends – and not really doing anything with them except boiling them in a pot inside my head. Nothing was resonating, nothing was flowing in or out.

The only emotions I really could talk about were the feelings related to the pregnancy. At some point of the past year, my pregnancy and marriage seemed to be the only two things that were bringing me real joy. (In hindsight, I’m grateful that I managed to keep the resonance with my husband. Then again, that’s one of the reasons I married him. πŸ™‚ )

Resonance and flow

Energetically, I feel that being pregnant is more about containing, nurturing, maintaining and protecting than about constant flow (if that makes any sense). My body was in a “hold, keep, stay still” mode for nine months, which is excellent – a “letting go, setting free” mode might have meant problems with the pregnancy. I don’t know if that had a lot to do with my mental blocks, or if my creative powers were just being spent on growing a new life inside.

I do believe, however, that the resonance factor affected my creativity immensely. I didn’t notice it at the time – I just felt really really tired, and thought it was because of my schedule changes and the pregnancy hormones. The fact that I wasn’t resonating with my life, though, meant that I was spending all this energy holding on, keeping up, and staying on the ball.

Imagine riding a public transit bus that’s packed full, and you have to stand. You’re holding on to a railing, and the bus bounces and jerks as the driver navigates through the traffic. If you hold on tight and stiffen up your entire body to remain upright, you’ll bump into your fellow passengers, dislocate a knee, or fall and hit your head. If, on the other hand, you relax and try to surf the bounces, you’ll be much better off.

This past year, I was the stiff girl. I didn’t resonate with the ride, and my response to the bumps and bounces was to stiffen up some more. All my energy went into staying upright and not falling down. No energy for creativity, for blogging, for sharing. Paradoxically, though, sharing could’ve helped me find the resonance. At least that’s what it is doing right now.

At the moment, I resonate more with my life than I have in a while. My days are filled with taking care of our daughter, reading, doing crafts, taking care of the home and writing my Master’s Thesis. As a result, I’m finding it easier to share my thoughts and feelings on my life, even if they are tiny, mundane ones. The fact that I’m striving towards resonance also means I can adjust to the little bumps and bounces life throws my way, whether positive or negative. Going with the flow, if you will. πŸ™‚

Thank you for joining me on this insighting-catching journey. Have a wonderful day, and keep catching your own insightings!



Read Full Post »

He who knows that enough is enough will always have enough.

When I was little, and had only learned a bit of English, I wrote a story. In English. I don’t remember what it was about,but I remember writing a sentence “She cried and cried until she had cried anaff enuf e n o u g h.” I tried and tried my best, and eventually had to go and ask my sister how the word was spelled. I found the story a few years ago, and as I read it, I could still remember the frustration I felt trying to get it right.

Coincidentally, it wasn’t the last time I had problems with enough.

Last Christmas, we got a total of eight chocolate boxes as presents. I love chocolate. In early January, I also became intimately reacquainted with the “eurgh” feeling you get after eating a bit too much chocolate a bit too fast. Somewhere in between removing the plastic wrap and not wanting to see another piece of chocolate that week was, again, the “enough chocolate” zone.

Every year, I promise myself I won’t drown myself in duties and activities. Every November and every April I notice I’ve wound myself too tight and bitten off more than I can comfortably chew. Somewhere in between I’ve passed the “enough duties” zone.

This spring, I’ve been doing my teacher training, and as a part of that I’ve had to teach sample lessons. The procedure is that first the trainee and the instructor go through the general topics and contents of the entire stretch of sample lessons. Then the trainee writes a lesson plan proposal, and the instructor gives comments. Based on those comments, the trainee revises the lesson plan and submits it to the instructor before the actual lesson.

Since a trainee only teaches between three to five lessons per group, and a maximum of two groups at a time, there’s theoretically plenty of time to write and revise the plans. If, however, the trainee has little or no experience in teaching that specific topic (which is often the case), writing one plan can take two hours, especially when you need to explicate your goals, timing, and different stages of instruction for each activity.

There is a point where little else can be done to improve the plan. That is the “good enough” stage. Knowing when to stop planning and move on is, I think, at the heart of becoming a teacher who won’t burn herself out three years into the profession.

The difficulty with good enough

For me, the only areas of life where I can honestly trust my judgment of “good enough” are those where I’m honestly pretty skilled. I can evaluate whether a situation requires my all-out effort – if I take an example from my singing context, this would be a situation where we’re recording the vocals for an album.

If it doesn’t require my one hundred per cent commitment and effort – like singing with a friend at a karaoke bar or at a relaxed band practice – I can go with “good enough” and focus more on the social situation or just having fun with the song.

If it was this simple with every area of my life, I would never have problems with “enough”. However, if I’m still learning something, like teaching grammar or organising a theater-in-education workshop, I don’t have the good-enough-meter calibrated properly. I need to put extra effort into consciously evaluating whether or not my actions meet the basic quality criteria.

In the learning stage, the best performance I can possibly muster might reach the general “good enough” standard – if I get lucky. However, the perfectionist in me doesn’t understand I’m in the learning stage, and only sees the shortcomings compared to the perfect standard. Even though I’m way beyond my personal “good enough” stage (and past the point where I could possibly improve it on my own), the little perfectionist urges me to work more, because we’re not quite there yet.

When this happens with about seven different activities – a few different school and work projects, social life, student organization duties, et cetera – it’s no wonder I’m pushed way past my enough zone into the zone of coping and survival. No more energy to spend on having fun or getting creative.

In terms of flow, this is the situation you get when the challenge of the situation exceeds your skills. Instead of a flow experience, you encounter anxiety and stress.

“I’m still learning”

It’s super difficult to admit to yourself that you’re incomplete. It’s even more difficult to admit it to others. Still, it’s the only way (that I know of) to avoid the perfectionist’s trap of being pushed off your enough zone in every single area of your life.

I’ve tried to remind myself of it by repeating “I’m still learning” to myself in stressful, way-past-enough-zone situations, and somehow it seems to help. It gets my focus off the fact that I’m not perfect, and onto the fact that I can calibrate my own “good enough” to my skill level. If I’m doing the best I can with the resources I’ve got, then it’s good enough – be it a lesson plan, a translation, a theater workshop, or something else.

And the fact that I’m still learning doesn’t mean my “good enough” won’t be someone else’s “fabulous”. That is the ultimate goal, isn’t it? To have such a high performance standard in your field of expertise that your “good enough” will knock the socks off everyone? Even when you’re ridiculously skilled, there’s still room for learning.

Enough for now. πŸ™‚ Thanks for stopping by, and if any thoughts came up, I’d love it if you shared them in the comments. Until next time – keep catching your own insightings!



Read Full Post »

This is a series of posts about motivation, based on Richard Ryan and Edward Deci’s Self Determination Theory. In each post, I will talk about one of the three key needs that are linked with intrinsic motivation: Competence, Autonomy, and Relatedness.

1. a feeling of enthusiasm or interest that makes you determined to do something.
2. a reason for doing something.
(Macmillan English Dictionary)

“I just can’t do it, Captain. I don’t have the power!”
Ace Ventura: Pet Detective

It’s no shocker that getting yourself motivated isn’t always a piece of cake. One of the big elements of studying to be a teacher is figuring out the things that will, or will not, keep students motivated. The plus side is that in the process, you (i.e. me) might find something to apply on your (my) own studies as well.

One such thing is the concept of basic needs that, when met, contribute to motivation. Say I’m feeling like there’s absolutely nothing that could ever compel me to do this thing I really have to do.

Hypothetically speaking.

Like the hypothetical mountain of dishes fermenting in the kitchen, or the essay I have to write, or that e-mail I was supposed to work on two nights ago. Or any item on my Todoodlist, for that matter. Man, there’s a bunch of stuff on there.

This is when I summon the Three Motivation Musketeers to the rescue! [insert appropriate jingle] Here they come, eager and intent to save me from the horrors of demotivation. The first Musketeer to draw his imaginary sword *zzing* is Competence.

If the problem is skill, there’s mostly one of two things going on. Either the task is so horribly and overwhelmingly difficult that I lose hope just thinking of doing it. Master’s Thesis, anyone? It could also be so ridiculously easy that I just can’t come up with the necessary energy to do it, choosing to spend my time doing something more inspiring.

When you’re happily in between those two extremes, you’re likely to achieve the elusive flow Csikszentmihalyi was all about. (For the record: I did have to check and double-check the spelling.) When your skills more or less match the challenge you’re facing, you’re home free.

The thing is, increasing my skill level is not really a viable solution for an acute problem (with the exception of using Shiva Nata to totally activate my brain, of course). So whenever Competence steps up to fight my battle (gently and nonviolently, of course), he’s not really increasing my skill levels as he is tweaking the challenge I’m facing.

Just Too Darn Hard

Daunting task ahead? No way you could ever ever do it? Pick one thing and work on it for fifteen minutes. This is what FlyLady is all about, and her half a million fans can’t all be desperately wrong. Is it the Master’s Thesis? Spend fifteen minutes writing everything and anything that comes to mind about the topic. No topic? Fifteen minutes on brainstorming what it is that you’d like to research.

My Mom and Dad are considering moving house after living in their apartment for twenty years. Imagine the amount of stuff they have, then multiply it by two. That’s how much there is. Whenever I have an afternoon off, I’ll go over, we’ll have some coffee, after which I’ll set the timer for fifteen minutes and we’ll attack (again, gently and nonviolently) a dresser drawer, a bookshelf, the linen closet, the sauna… (Yes, they have a sauna they’ve been using as storage space. That much stuff.)

We’ve sent a lot of stuff to the local equivalent of Goodwill. Although there’s still a lot to do, the biggest change has been my Mom’s attitude. Before, she’d spend her energy fretting about how she never gets around to decluttering and woe is me, for the house looks horrible. Now, she’s actually getting something done. Just yesterday she called, said she was decluttering a bit, and that she’d found a piece of retro clothing – did I want it for my drama prop collection or should she just toss it? I’d call that motivation right there.

Just Can’t Be Bothered

The other extreme is the task that you just can’t be bothered to even start, because… Blah. Boring. Would much rather be doing something else. Enter the pile of dishes fermenting in the kitchen. Not exactly rocket science there, quite the contrary.

My two best self-delusion i.e. motivation-increasing tips for getting around to the apathy-inducing tasks:
1) Multi-tasking and
2) Racing the clock.

They both work because they increase the challenge I’m facing, although in a different way.

1) Multi-tasking

This is really the only reason I’d purposefully multi-task. In everything else, the end result is more or less slipshod and half-assed. On the other hand, if doing the dishes (hypothetically, again) won’t give me any mental challenge whatsoever, then it won’t affect my ability to e.g. listen to an educational podcast, like French for beginners, either.

In fact, it’s giving me the perfect excuse to just spend ten minutes listening to the podcast and actually repeating the model phrases (something I avoid doing when listening to the podcast on the metro, for obvious reasons).

This also applies the other way around. If you’re sitting in front of the TV for your favorite show anyway, why not fold clothes, stretch, or do some other boring and mechanical task. Too much effort during the show? There’s always the commercial break.

2) Racing the clock

This is another FlyLady tip. Say the living room looks like a frat house on a Sunday morning, minus the passed-out people lying on the floor. If I set my timer for five minutes and start clearing the coffee table, the “competition” will spark me up up to get it done in that time. Without the positive time stress, I’d just be sitting on the couch, looking at the mess and poking at the nearest thing out of place. (Again, this is purely hypothetical. Our living room hasn’t looked like that in days.)

For some people, this is the reason they leave everything to the last minute. “I work better under stress.” “I thrive three hours before a deadline.” If you recognise yourself, and it totally works for you, no problem. If you don’t actually enjoy starting every single task at three a.m. on the night before the hand-in date, try creating a “fake” deadline by using a timer.

What if tweaking the challenge doesn’t help?

Some tasks are right up your alley in terms of challenge. Any more difficult, and it’s overwhelming. Any easier, and you’re yawning. And yet you’re not in the throes of the flow, creating a masterpiece or making someone’s life better. In fact, you’re this close to calling it a day and finding out if anyone has anything interesting to say on Twitter. Competence has fought a brave battle, but the Daunting Task and the Horrible Demotivation are putting up a fair amount of resistance.

It’s time to bring in the second Motivation Musketeer – Autonomy. Tune in tomorrow to find out what happens next – Will I Ever Manage To Get Anything Done? [insert dramatic jingle]

And until we meet again, keep catching your own insights!



Read Full Post »