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Effort and Flow

“Fatigue can teach us where effort is being misplaced.”- John Jerome, The Elements of Effort

“The optimal state of inner experience is one in which there is order in consciousness. This happens when psychic energy—or attention—is invested in realistic goals, and when skills match the opportunities for action. The pursuit of a goal brings order in awareness because a person must concentrate attention on the task at hand and momentarily forget everything else.”
― Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience

Becoming immediately overwhelmed with the list of things that must be done is no way to start a Monday. When it bleeds over into Monday night and Tuesday morning, well, you find yourself confronting misplaced effort. We all have those weeks that start off way tougher than a week ought to start out, but the irony of it happening when I’d teed up the Jerome quote above isn’t lost on me. When things seem overwhelming, find your way towards back to the center.

You don’t reach mastery and flow without slogging through the tough days. You don’t grow without challenge. If you’re feeling challenged, that’s a good thing. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and exhausted, well, that’s something else entirely. Fatigue is a teacher, pointing us towards a better way that we might not see in the moment.

Effort and flow each inform. There’s a balance between the two that we intuitively understand. Yin and Yang. Surfing the edge between order and chaos. Flow requires effort, and yet it seems effortless. This is the desired state for the meaningful work we seek out.

Momentarily forgetting everything else in the pursuit of something of importance is where flow happens. You can reach this state when you focus to such a degree on the task at hand that you literally forget time is slipping by. We’ve all had those moments where everything is clicking, we are in our element, and things flow. It’s a desired state on the path to mastery, where skills and passion and focus are channeled into the task at hand.

When things seem overwhelming, take a deep breath, reset, and look for another path towards the goal. Place your effort in a place that brings you where you need to be instead of fighting forces that bring you nowhere. Gain strength from adversity, and apply it to insight and direction. This too shall pass. What will we create in the interim?

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  1. You must recognize when feeling overwhelmed, to know it is time to focus on fewer tasks, or maybe only one. Choose and pretend the others (regardless of importance) don’t exist. Dedicated attention with mental accuracy accomplishes, and rewards. Before you realize, that time before you vanishes… and voila, you’ve accomplished that micro-goal portion, and feel the rush and satisfaction, that sense of accomplishment. Baby steps, man. You’ll get there.

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