Micro Goals and Micro Adjustments
It seems as though we are always looking over the horizon as to what is next never truly being present with what we are doing now. In a way writing is like that also endlessly hunting for the next word or phrase to express what it is you are trying to get onto the page but we will leave that for another day. What I was trying to get at was the constant need to look forward or back and not being present. Humor me on this thought for a few moments and let’s see if it makes much since, chances are if it doesn’t it won’t make the blog anyway. Picture yourself in a car driving down the road, the road is in the country with a soft gravel shoulder and rolling fields on both sides. It is a late summer day somewhere in the north of the country where the evenings are cool and dewy and the days are hot and dry. You are traveling along this country road by yourself, the car is comfortable and you have the windows down to let in the country air. You can smell the grass and wild flowers that are scattered in the fields on either side of the road. There aren’t any other cars in site it’s just you driving on a perfect stretch of road with a seemingly perfect backdrop to view as you drive along. After a few minutes of this your mind will wonder from the beauty of this backdrop and you will begin to think of something other than your current beautiful surroundings, perhaps It’s another place or thing, but your mind will wonder. You’ll be transported to another place and you’ll no longer be present.
So why is it we lose interest or lack the focus to be present in even the most beautiful surroundings for more than a few moments. Is it that we become dulled so quickly to things even those that we deem beautiful?
I think the answer lies in understanding levels of engagement first and how it relates to attention and what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi termed as flow. In his book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience professor Csikszentmihalyi explains the differences between merely engaging in an activity or being a spectator and being truly engaged. Setting fourth his eight characteristics of flow he details common characteristics of flow experiences worldwide.
Csikszentmihalyi eight characteristics of flow:
Complete concentration on the task;
Clarity of goals and reward in mind and immediate feedback;
Transformation of time speeding up/slowing down
The experience is intrinsically rewarding
Effortlessness and easeThere is a balance between challenge and skills
Actions and awareness are merged, losing self-consciousness
There is a feeling of control over the task
After you review these you can see the common trait is a level of engagement that far exceeds the level of a spectator. Going back to the country road we were just on, you can see how it is easy to be a spectator even while driving a car. So how do we increase our level of engagement, enjoy the beautiful surroundings and perhaps tap into a flow state. If we can agree for the most part on the principles that higher concentration, challenge, micro goals and engagement are a large part of what is missing from our driving down the country road scenario. We can understand how we can change our behavior to incorporate them and increase our concentration and attention.
Let’s try the scenario again but this time we will incorporate what we have just learned to push ourselves to a higher level of attention. You are still driving down the country road same as before with the same soft gravel shoulder and rolling fields on both sides littered with wildflowers. Now increase the speed a little and correct you’re driving position from one of relaxed to one of engagement. You hands are softly controlling the steering wheel and your core is tight to be able to engage the pedals quickly. You are looking down the road in preparation to adjust your speed up and down as you see corners, bends and hills approaching. You begin to scan the side of the road and hills for anything that may come into view. You take in the smells as you travel down the road making a mental catalog of them. You start to compare your cornering and make mental notes based on the feedback you are getting form the pedals and steering wheel to improve on the next bend. You smile as you enjoy the exhilaration of a drive in the country fully present.
I think we can agree it’s a bit of a paradox in this case to be fully present you need to look toward the horizon to see what is coming up next. In a larger sense to have a chance to tap into flow states you have to start to frame things differently with even the most mundane tasks. You need to increase your level of engagement, and observation of feedback so you can go from sweeping adjustments to micro ones. By doing so you can go from participant to artist in a matter of seconds allowing fuller levels of observation and joy.