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  • Tamar Balkin

Should I occasionally just “Go with the flow”?

Updated: Mar 15, 2023

"Water flows because it's willing".     

Photo by Zak Boca on Unsplash


Yesterday I was working with a client who is a senior manager in a training organisation with a strong desire to improve her influencing skills to ensure that her innovative ideas are heard and supported throughout her organisation. Whilst discussing her role and responsibilities it was apparent that her diary is full of training delivery, and management of clients and staff, thus leaving little time for the more strategic aspects of her role.

As she was describing her situation a number of hypotheses formed in my mind to explain her predicament:

  • Budget /KPI pressures

  • Rigid organisational culture 

  • Lack of support from management to set boundaries with demanding clients

  • Inefficient internal systems

  • Poor delegation skills

  • Lack of understanding of the career aspirations and skills gaps in her team and peers

  • Limited understanding of how to gain support for a new idea

  • Fear of trying something new.

When she told me that she was highly engaged and motivated when delivering training and hence it was where she spent most of her time, I realised that experiencing flow at work could be getting in her way.

Many readers may have come across the concept of flow in 2000 in the famous article in American Psychologist by Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. In simple terms Flow is the feeling that you are totally absorbed by an activity that you don’t notice time passing.

Some of the benefits of flow include:

  • Better management of stress

  • Enhanced wellbeing

  • Job satisfaction

  • Discretionary effort

  • Better moods at work and at home

Csikszentmihalyi found that typically “when we flow, we take challenges and changes in our stride”.  It is something that generally enhances our wellbeing and often I will challenge my clients to carve out pockets in their day where there are no distractions to help them experience flow. Flow can be one of the reasons why people who are experiencing stressful life events outside of work find work fulfilling, engaging and relaxing. Readers who are looking for ways to create flow, remember you are looking to engage in an activity where your skills are fully involved in overcoming a challenge that is just manageable.  

Will my client find flow in her new work challenges? The short answer is she won’t know until she tries. However, anyone who has swum under a waterfall is aware that you need to swim against the flow of the current in order to experience the magical sensation of the powerful water falling on your head at the base of the waterfall.  ----------------------------------- References:

Seligman, M & Csikszentmihalyi M (2000) Positive Psychology an Introduction. American Psychologist 55, 5-14

Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly; Lebuda, Izabela (2017) .A Window Into the Bright Side of Psychology: Interview With Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Europe's Journal of Psychology; Bucharest Vol. 13, Iss. 4,  (Nov 2017)

Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly; LeFevre, Judith. (1989) Optimal Experience in Work and Leisure Journal of Personality and Social Psychology; Washington Vol. 56, Iss. 5,  815.

Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly.(1997) Finding flowPsychology Today; New York Vol. 30, Iss. 4,  46-48+.

Donner, Edward J; Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. (1992) Transforming Stress to Flow Executive Excellence; Provo Vol. 9, Iss. 2,   16.

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