When Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the pioneer of positive psychology, writes about the "flow" state, he describes it as a quality of being, with certain traits:
- Challenges are higher than average.
- Skills are higher than average.
- You're doing what you really like to do and are completely involved.
- You have clarity; you know what needs to be done and how well you're doing.
- There's a feeling of serenity; of going beyond the bounds of the ego.
- And timelessness; you're totally focused on the present; time disappears.
This pretty much describes how it was on July 31, New Hampshire Day at Fenway Park, when I was invited to sing the National Anthem at a Boston Red Sox game. I was honored to be in this position. And I knew it was going to be a test of sorts and an opportunity to practice what I teach.
It was a perfect summer evening for baseball, and when it was time, I walked to my place on the field, the sound man pointed, and I began. Challenges were high (35,000 fans!), skills were higher than average (I practiced like crazy), and I was doing what I really like to do. I was singing!
Afterwards, people asked if I was nervous. And I wasn't. I was too excited. I often tell audiences of presenters that when we're centered, we can redirect that nervous energy into the purpose for the presentation. We can reframe it as excitement and the body's way of preparing. I experienced that first hand in July. It's all true. I was totally focused on the task at hand, time disappeared, and it turned out to be an amazing life experience I won't soon forget.
Csikszentmihalyi says the flow state can feel like an altered reality. When I finished singing and started looking for my seat, I couldn't read my ticket; I saw a long narrow thing with numbers and letters, but I couldn't put them together. Fans were cheering and high-fiving me, loud speakers were announcing the start of the game, and I just looked at the Red Sox Ambassador, who took me by the arm and led me up into the grandstands. She'd obviously seen and done this before.
I'm back at home now, and life goes on. And, this was an experience I want to recreate every day. Unfortunately, you can't bottle the flow state, and I'm looking for ways to find it in daily activities.
When are you in the state of flow? When are you so completely present with the task at hand that time disappears? You know what needs to be done and how well you're doing. You're in the moment, the ki moment.
Sometimes I find it walking in the early morning, or swimming, or standing in front of a group doing work I love. I feel it in moments of connection with friends and family. And singing, of course. Anytime I'm singing.
So, if you have any pull with the Patriots, Celtics, or Boston Bruins, would you tell them I'm available? I want to do this again.