You can’t grow without the flow: the secrets to being the best
Only when you master something that's aligned to your values will you reach creativity, happiness and wellbeing
You’ll be familiar with the phrase, “when the going gets tough, the tough get going”, a motivational quip attributed to JFK’s father, Joseph Kennedy. Most of us think it applies only to an initial decision, of whether or not to take on something difficult. However, anything worth achieving demands more than a mere squaring-up to a challenge.
What are the secrets that allow you to keep going, despite setbacks and tempting diversions?
The first, according to Christopher Utman at Northeastern University in Boston, is to think about why you want to achieve your goal. He looked at the results of 24 studies comparing learning goals or intrinsic motivation (where the aim is to achieve mastery) with performance goals or extrinsic motivation (when your desire is merely to show you’re better than others in a particular way). Although the outcome may be the same, the type of motivation that got you there is critical.
If you’re internally motivated, you’ll keep working on that skill until you believe you’re completely competent. If, on the other hand, your motivation is entirely extrinsic, you’ll stop as soon as you outshine your competitors – and, as John Nicholls at Purdue University points out, that also means you may never achieve full competence, because your competitors’ best performance may not be the best possible.
Nor does extrinsic motivation allow you to experience flow, a feeling associated with increased creativity, greater happiness and wellbeing, according to positive psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Flow is when your body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something you believe to be difficult and worthwhile. When you’re in flow, external rewards are irrelevant.
This leads directly to the second secret that will see you through difficult times.
Try always to work towards goals that are inherently interesting and important to you. There’s little long-term satisfaction linked with achieving a first at university or a promotion at work if you gain it only to please others.
Richard Ryan and colleagues at the University of Rochester found this when they observed 98 outpatients who enrolled in a treatment course to overcome alcohol abuse. The more internally motivated – those who wanted to prove to themselves they could overcome their drinking problem – were less likely to drop out and to reach their goals than the extrinsically motivated, those who embarked on treatment because it was a legal requirement or to please a partner.
Ryan also noted that participants who asked to be actively involved in planning their treatment and setting targets were more likely to reach their goals. Your energy is precious. Whenever possible, put effort into goals that align with your personal values. Aim for mastery. Choose experts to help you, but take an active role in goal setting and pacing. Then enjoy the experience of both mastery and flow.
– © The Daily Telegraph