Have you ever heard of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi? The psychologist who made breakthroughs with the concept of focus? The individual who valued positive psychology at a time when B.F. Skinner and his reinforcement theory dominated American psychology?
I encourage you to read more and find out how Mihaly’s work applies to you and Foundation Training.
Born in 1934 in Fiume, an Italian town close to the Yugoslavian border, Mihaly’s childhood was cut short due to World War II. By the age of 10 he had lost one brother in battle and another to a Siberian concentration camp. Post war, he and his parents ended up in a refugee camp where Mihaly discovered the wilderness by joining a Scout Troop. He recalls the feeling of being alive when faced with the challenge of living in that environment. A few years later he ended up in Rome but the experience of the wilderness called him to Switzerland. When he made it to Zurich at age 15, he saw an advertisement for a lecture by Carl Jung, a Swiss psychoanalyst. This led Mihaly into the field of psychology as he was curious about how the human mind works especially after his childhood experiences.
Soon Mihaly discovered he was unable to earn a psychology degree in Europe and he moved to the United States. At the time, America was fascinated by B.F Skinner and his reinforcement theory. Skinner believed that human beings could be reprogrammed as long as reinforcements were there based on his research with animals.
Mihaly had a different view of human psychology. He recalled his time in the wilderness and how alive he felt. He wanted to focus on positive elements of psychology as opposed to hollow mechanical responses and turned his attention to artists. He focused on the process of creation. For the artists he observed, rewards were not driving their work. Mihaly observed that when these artists finished their work they put them away and started on another one.
Ok... so what does this have to do with me?
We all love rewards. Look at social media. You could argue that those who created Instagram looked back at Skinner’s work and asked “How do we get people to post selfies?”
Answer: People send each other likes in the form of hearts.
Instant gratification. Of course!
Unfortunately, instant gratification is not always an option. Sometimes things require deep work.
Enter Mihaly’s flow state.
After observing artists, Mihaly created what he called the “flow state.” At this point you have reached your deepest sense of focus and are so focused on the task at hand that you can block everything out and fully embrace the experience.
Many people can recall moments when they have experienced the flow state. I know I have.
Here is a personal example.
On October 27th, 2014 Taylor Swift released her 5th studio album 1989. I was a sophomore at Kenyon College and we forced our coaches to play the album on repeat that evening at swim practice. As many of you know I am a huge Taylor Swift fan but could not recall a single song playing from the speakers. I was focused on the sprint set. I was in my flow state in the water. For those two hours, I could not hear the pop album playing, I was focused on my time in the water and everything else washed away.
So how do we reach this flow state?
According to Mihaly, there are three components.
1. Clearly define your goal- you set out to achieve this and put everything else on hold while working towards it.
My goal was to break 23 seconds in a 50 yard freestyle at the end of the season. That meant when I was in practice, I was in practice. Focused, having fun but focused.
2. This goal has to be something that is meaningful to you.
For me, swimming is my happy place. I was surrounded by 60 of my closest friends working towards a common goal of being the best athletes that we could be, setting goals as a team and as individuals.
3. When you are working towards your goal, work at the edge of your abilities, make them realistic, not unattainable.
Day in and day out I pushed my body to what it could do that day with the ultimate goal in mind, I trained safely and set a goal that felt attainable to keep myself going.
I found my flow state that season. At the end of the season, I achieved my goal when we set a national record in the 200 yard medley relay.
That flow state day in and day out led to an intense focus that I am so grateful for.
Ok so how does this relate to Foundation Training?
I could give a similar flow state example in life with Foundation Training. In 2015 I suffered a labral tear in my hip early on in my swim season. Without realizing it I found myself in a flow state that season as well practicing Foundation Training to heal my injury and eventually compete at the highest level at Nationals swimming best times. A year later the goals were different, but the mindset was the same and I was able to utilize Foundation Training to achieve that state of focus.
What is your goal?
Relieve back pain? Grow an inch? Increase your VO2 Max? Take full advantage of what your body has given you? Live a long healthy life?
Discover how Foundation Training will help you in all areas of your life. We are losing focus these days. I encourage you to take the leap and add something new into your routine.
I hope you enjoyed learning more about Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and his contributions to the world of psychology. There are still positive things in this world, I know with all that is going on right now it is hard to see that. But trust me, this work has changed my life and continues to do so on a daily basis.
Treat yourself to the Foundation Training Workshop and find your flow state today!