Ain’t Got No Flow

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If you’ve been reading this blog and thinking ‘I have no flow in my life’, you are not alone.

Flow is something that gets squashed out with responsibility, scheduling, stress & anxiety. Lack of flow is intrinsically linked with lack of sleep. Put those 2 scenarios together – anxiety and lack of sleep – and it may just be impossible to find flow in your life right now.

Okay, so what then?

High five, because you’ve just identified some lifestyle opportunities! You’ve taken a moment to realize you need more self-care. And keep going . . . let’s problem-solve together to open some possibilities! Continue reading

The ‘Dark Side’ of Flow?

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Some of you know I’m a recreational long-distance runner – I train for Half Marathons (21.1km) twice a year. I co-coach the Half clinic which keeps me connected to the community and giving back, and it keeps me in shape. Having said that, after 13 years of running, I’ve peaked and I’ve valleyed, many times over.

Let’s be frank. Running long distance is hard. The mental game is a challenge EACH run, no matter how short. My body seems to adapt pretty well, in spite of how much my hamstrings complain on hills. Yes, I do a lot of yoga to compensate for the toils of running!

Back to the mental game. Someone has said that running is 50% physical and 50% mental. There are days when I’d say it’s more like 20/80!

I was chatting with some friends this weekend about their last race experience. Each had trained really well over 4 months; no injuries, did all the hard training of intense hill work and speed work, negative splits (coming in faster on the last half of the run), hitting their pacing, etc. And, on race day, they PB’d (achieved a personal best in terms of finish time).

Yet somehow, they were rather depressed the week after the race. What if they’d held their OMP (‘Ordinary Mortal Pace’) on the downhill so they had more gas in the last 4k? What if it hadn’t been pouring rain and sideways wind? What if they’d taken another gel at 16k?

Runners high can come with an equal dose of runners low.

As I heard their mind game reel out, I thought ‘What is this? The dark side of Flow?’ No, this rumination is the opposite of Flow. Even tho they PB’d, they fell into a negative, disappointed state. They were absorbed with looking back, ‘what ifs’, negative bias and self doubts. They lost sight of their significant accomplishments over the course of training and in the light of race day.

I gently helped them remember their excellent training season – pushing and holding their paces for the various training runs, different kinds of speed work, AND that they were injury free. That’s all progress and highly significant. They had too much hanging on the race day result, and lost focus on what else they’d achieved.

With the risk of sounding trite, they’d downplayed the journey and put too much focus on the destination. Flow, my friends, is all about the journey. The challenges and moments of small victories. Of course, moving toward a reach-goal, AND acknowledging each small piece of progress and celebrating in the after glow!

Tal Ben-Shahar, my Positive Psychology teacher, describes this phenomenon as the difference between the Perfectionist, and the Optimalist. “While the Perfectionist rejects failure, the Optimalist accepts it as a natural part of life, and as an experience that is inextricably linked to success.” He also puts his spin on the Pareto Principle, the ‘80/20’ rule and applies it to the Optimalist: ‘investing our efforts in the 20% that will give us the 80% of results we want to achieve’.

Flow, my friends, is all about the journey.

Would love your thoughts and experiences on this topic!


Creating Space for Flow

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We talked last week about cultivating the state of Flow: where you become so engrossed in an        activity – a challenge – that you lose track of time. Have you thought about what takes you into that state? Some mentioned they find flow while swimming, while cooking and while making Christmas cards. What is your ‘sweet spot’ activity, and how can you enable more opportunity and possibility?

Mihaly defines what he calls ‘the Flow Channel’ as an ascending balance between the tension of    facing a challenge and matching with your skills. This is the path to the Sweet Spot!

It may seem happenstance to find yourself in Flow – the perfect storm of conditions. However, you can create the opportunity and possibility by building in steps and rituals. Rituals signal your subconscious memory of Flow. Here are my suggestions: Continue reading

Cultivating Flow

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“Happiness is not something that happens. It is not the result of good fortune or random chance. It is not something that money can buy, or power command.

Happiness, in fact, is a condition that must be prepared for, cultivated and defended privately by each person. People who learn to control inner experience will be able to determine the quality of their lives, which is as close as any of us can come to being happy.” Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

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Trying Not to Eat Crow

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Have you ever realized that something you confidently remember as easy and ‘in the bag’, now suddenly isn’t? What happened to my strength?!

I believe practice makes perfect, and that we can accomplish pretty much anything we put our minds to (thanks, Dad!). 12 years ago when I started my yoga journey, I embraced many strength challenges, including standing balances, arm balances, and inversions.

Setting up Crow pose

Standing balances like Vibrahadrasana III (Warrior III) and Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon) were daunting at first, but with strong legs and core I soon figured them out (pretty much!). Arm balances and inversions brought up deep-seated fear about falling and breaking my neck, no kidding! I learned gradually how to do Forearm Headstand, that was a big day! And, I did master the arm balance pose called Crow or Crane (Bakasana). Ahem, but all that was over a decade ago.  Continue reading

Let’s Get Physical

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Whenever one hears the word ‘strength’, we typically think of physical strength . . . squats and bicep curls and the like.

Of course, strength as a concept affects all layers of our being: mental capacity and stability, emotional intelligence and resilience, and spiritual perspective. The real strength comes when all aspects are both independently and synergistically vibrant. I certainly found that to be true and lacking, years ago when I was working in the corporate world.

Back in those days – running a brand strategy business, married and raising 2 kids, managing a home – I had no time or energy for fitness. It pretty much felt like running a marathon every day, just getting everything done. My stoicism kept my nose to the grindstone, and the stress kept getting stuffed down. My ‘tricky’ back, low immune system and GI challenges meant I was almost always working thru illness and discomfort. I thought that’s what I had to do!

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Building Strength and Resilience

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Research has shown that shifting our focus to building our character strengths boosts positivity and resilience. The truth is, we accomplish far more in life by building on our strengths than by focusing on our weaknesses. And we make our life journey more self-concordant with a strengths-focus, building our self-esteem along the way.

“Only when you operate from strengths can you achieve true excellence . . . One cannot build performance on weaknesses . . . it takes far more energy to improve from incompetence to mediocrity, than to improve from first-rate performance to excellence. Peter Drucker ‘The Practice of Management’

Want to work on your strengths?! Give yourself this awesome experience!

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We truly are what we eat . . . consistently

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We are what we eat, oh yah. Heard that before, I’m sure! And, if that’s true, why do we eat badly: skipping meals, binge eating, consuming sugar, starchy carbs, greasy fats and processed meat, too much alcohol, etc? So many of us struggle with food choices. And more fundamentally, with our body weight and image? Here’s what I think:

Our day to day food intake Is a dance between our physical need for nourishment, and our emotional need for love. That’s it, in a nutshell.

If we’re in a place where we feel safe and loved, we can let go of the ‘hunched shoulders’ of stress and self-protection. The cloud in our mind and heart can start to lift. We can see a clearer way to nurturing ourselves with nutritious food, our optimism builds, and our stress levels reduce. Continue reading

Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater

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What do you do when you find inconsistency within your consistent structure? And what does THAT mean? Well, sometimes we get so caught up in the immediate experience of our work, training & goals, that we lose sight of the bigger picture.

Last Sunday, we had a perfect day for our long run. I had my oatmeal 1 hour prior, felt ready to go, looking forward to the route. Truly enjoyed the company of my fellow runners training for a Half Marathon in October – easy chatting and banter as we maintained our steady long-run pace. This went on for about the first 8k, and then, my gut started telling me I needed to find a washroom.

Seriously? Now?
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Is Consistency Really King, or Does it Get in the Way of Brilliance?

I started this blog with the claim that ‘showing up’ consistently yields undeniable benefits. I also said that Consistency is Key to Creativity.

Guess what? There are strongly opposing views to this idea of Consistency being King!

It’s much like the controversy over clutter. Many claim that removing clutter from your work space and your home will allow one to be calmer and more productive (ex. Marie Kondo, Karen Kingston). Others, such as Mihaly Csikszentmihaly in his book ‘Flow’, argue that what might appear as clutter to one, may actually be stimulation and inspiration for others. And another great mind takes this stance: “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?” Albert Einstein

Indeed, there are stories of Leonardo da Vinci (a tidy, controlling, prolific and brilliant artist) who apparently used to mock Michelangelo for his very messy, chaotic studio (in which he produced phenomenal masterpieces).

Alexander McQueen & Studio

Personally, if I have a day where I need to be productive, the ‘tidy up the clutter’ approach works best: turn off email, make lists, clear the workspace, set a time for each task, etc. However, if I’m in the throws of a creative endeavour, such as writing, creating a workshop, cooking, or working in the garden, I surround myself with the makings, references, books/articles, colour and tools – probably the ‘messy chaotic’ look to the outsider. Continue reading