Sue is a registered psychologist with a specialization in sport psychology, and is an expert in flow and its application to performance excellence. Sue has been involved in the psychology of flow since completing a PhD on flow state in elite athletes in the early 1990s. Sue’s work in flow has helped to make this optimal psychological state understandable and more accessible to all levels of performers, from weekend warriors to Olympic champions.
Sue has extensively researched with her mentor and the founder of flow, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Sue has written the popular book on flow for athletes and coaches with Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow in Sports: The Keys to Optimal Experiences and Performances. In addition, Sue has an extensive publication record on flow in sport, and has worked in academic positions in sport and exercise psychology for many years. Sue has developed a suite of Flow Scales, self-report instruments that have applicability across a diverse range of settings.
In addition to her work in the psychology field, Sue is a yoga and meditation teacher, and has undertaken training in a variety of psychological approaches that emphasize the importance of mindfulness. Mindfulness offers a great skill set for facilitating flow, and Sue provides consultation, coaching, and workshops in both mindfulness and Flow. Sue coaching and conducts consultative work with individuals and groups includes a focus on the following areas: developing present-centered awareness and attention, aligning life with identified values, reaching for performance excellence, and finding flow in life endeavors.
In this podcast, Sue and Cindra talk:
- How improve your potential to experience flow
- What lead her to her pioneering work in flow
- Why finding an activity you enjoy is important to flow
- The role of mindfulness in the flow state
- What gets in your way of flow
Cindra: Sue, welcome to the High-Performance Mindset Podcast. I am so excited to talk with you and interview you. I’ve been really looking forward to this interview and I feel like I am speaking to a legend. I heard so much about your work and I’ve read your book Flow in Sports, and I heard a lot about your work. We both got our PhD at the same place. So, I cannot wait to talk with you today. How are you doing from Australia?
Susan: Yeah, it’s really lovely to talk with you, Cindra and so thank you very much for inviting me on to your podcast, which is an amazing event that you’ve had going for several years now so good on you for doing that and yeah, so it’s great to be able to make that connection and yes the connection does go back to having shared PhD advisors at UNC, Greensboro, and the legendary Dan Gould and also the legendary Diane Gill and so I think that you arrived maybe eight years after I left and yeah, it was a great time being there and being a grad student, as you know, it’s a great time to really get immersed in knowledge and learning, but also just in interacting with them your, fellow grad students and the professors and so on.
Cindra: It was a great time. And I know we both loved living in North Carolina. So, I can’t wait to send this to Dan and Diane and say, look who I talked to.
Susan: Hi Dan, Hi Diane.
Cindra: I feel like I’m talking to a legend right now and we’re talking about your work on flow and I can’t wait to talk more about it. But just to start, tell us a little bit about your passion and what you’re doing right now?
Susan: Yeah. So I think that that’s a really hard question. What is my passion? Like, I think it’s probably this challenge. As you understand the flow concept is a central concept to understand your flow. And I think challenge is something that I have throughout life sort of been just directing towards sometimes intentionally sometimes not. But I find that it’s through being exposed to challenges and then being open to challenges that we can then find new pathways that we might not have otherwise and then we learn more about ourselves through the process and we may tap into that wonderful state of flow that I know we’re going to be talking about.
Susan: I think I just start reflecting on that question. I think I’ve seen that in my life both personally and professionally. And an interest in challenge and in growth is that mastery mindset idea.
Cindra: Well, just to start off the interview, like that Sue, I think about what some people might think to themselves wow, challenges and embracing challenges and how they can help you grow and learn. That might be a new concept of people or a concept that they struggle with. So, I look forward to talking to you more about it. So briefly tell us, I know you grew up in Australia, you came here to the US to get your masters at University of Illinois. And then your PhD at the
University of North Carolina at Greensboro and just tell us a bit about after you finish your PhD, you know a little bit about your journey to do what you’re doing now?
Susan: Hmm, well, I think the journey to actually end up at the University of Illinois and North Carolina Greensboro, there were important parts of what I’m doing now, when I learned about sports psychology, it was a burgeoning field. But here in Australia, there wasn’t a lot in terms of training options and so when I decided, oh, that, that sounds great, my love of sport, my love of understanding and analyzing things and people and behavior, put those two things together. And so I decided to go across and do both my masters and then eventually my PhD in Sports Psychology at UI and North Carolina Greensboro for both were fantastic experiences. Very different experiences and so, then I think I went into doing those degrees thinking, I would like to work and help athletes and coaches, I’d already been during that in my work as a physical education teacher and coach and so I thought that’s what I’d be doing. But then I got so immersed in the research side of things as a grad student as you do, and you know like you know, you just got to get like really into it and I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed what I was studying, which was this concept of flow and motivation and so then I had a bit of a crossroads probably had many of those throughout life, as everyone does. But at the end, towards the end of my PhD, I got offered a job back in Australia at a university to do an academic, you know, start on that academic journey and excuse me, it’s winter here and I don’t have COVID. In fact, we don’t even have active cases in our state at the moment. I have bit of a cough so excuse me, but I had the option to come back to Australia, which I wanted to do and do an academic, embark on that academic journey and continue my studies or to do an internship at the USOC and to go down that pathway of being able to immerse myself in high performance and working directly with athletes and coaches and it was a real tough one. And obviously, if I had chosen the other path that would have been very different journey that I would have gone down on and I think the deciding factor was that I wanted to come back to Australia and so that that won out and so then I ended up being in the academic setting for many years. So from then I started to go part time in that role when I had my two sons who are now almost 22 and just 20. And so I decided I wanted to be part-time during that part of my journey. And then I was realizing that part time academic work was just pretty hard to sustain typically in the Australian university system wasn’t really catered for or supported at that time. So then I started to gravitate back more towards working directly with people. And I guess to come back to where I am right now is, that’s what I’m doing is I still have any involvement in research and curiosity and a love for research, but I’m not connected in with an academic program and I am working as a psychologist, working with high performance and working with people that are struggling and working with, you know, the whole continuum. And so that’s been. I don’t think I really anticipated that. That’s just the way the way things are at the moment and that’s been again a lot of learning for me to be to be doing the role that I am right now.
Cindra: Yeah, absolutely. So what a cool, interesting journey and what I’d love to hear about is what made you decide to study this idea of flow?
Susan: Sure, yeah. Yeah, well that um for me was just an eye-opening experience to learn at the time. So that was when I was at University of Illinois, which was 1986 to 1988 and Glenn
Roberts was my master’s advisor and I really enjoyed that opportunity to learn from Glenn and he certainly extended me intellectually and really encouraged me to think about what was my passion. What did I want to study what was I really interested in, and it was definitely within the area. He was working in which was achievement motivation and I was so fortunate at that time when I was at the University of Illinois to learn from Glynn, Marty Mayor, Carol Dweck who was at the UI at that time and Carol Aims and then John Nichols who worked very, very much in the achievement motivation space until his untimely death. All of these people were contributing to my understanding, and it was just an amazing experience to learn about what motivates us and how to understand it through the lens of achievement motivation theory and how perception of ability really matters and how whether we have a fixed or growth mindset matters. So that’s what I was really interested in. And then I read Csikszentmihalyi’s first book on flow. It’s called Beyond Boredom and Anxiety and I just happened to have it here. This is the book that I read.
And I read that and when I was still working out what I was going to do for my graduate thesis and in that book I was reading about the best experiences I’ve had as an athlete that I before having read the book, didn’t have a language for it. I didn’t have. Like I knew that there were these times that really stood out for me and that were fun and that were high performance times and just nobody had talked about them and certainly there was not, I wasn’t even familiar with the term flow until I read the book and then I guess I just want to read the book. I’m like, this is it. You know this and in the book Beyond Boredom and Anxiety, which is, as I said, Csikszentmihalyi’s first book on flow. He has studies with people in a number of different areas. He’s also sign my book, which is really lovely. I like a three, but I’m just want to get so he looks at some flow in chess in rock climbing in dancing and in surgery and so those are pretty diverse activities and yet they experience was very consistent. So, whether the person was playing chess or they’re a surgeon performing an important operation. This experience of being fully engaged in a task was quite a consistent experience is what Csikszentmihalyi found. So my interest was then tapping into willing sport is that something that athletes experience and is it important to them and in what ways and so on. So that’s how I got interested in it.
Cindra: That’s wonderful. And you know it was your award-winning dissertation that really studied how flow is applied in sport or how it manifests in sport and I love that if I got this right. You just had coffee with Csikszentmihalyi, and if people don’t know who he is, he’s like, he’s like the flow master right. He claimed the term and I think about how awesome that was you just met him, and had coffee with him and then you partnered up to write a book called Flow in Sports. So, tell us a little bit about how that actually happened?
Susan: Yeah, well, I am when I read Beyond boredom and Anxiety I noted that he was at the University of Chicago. And I was at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, which is three hours south. And so, I thought, oh, well, he’s in the same state. I wonder if I could contact him and I think it was maybe an email or a phone call to begin with. I’m not sure, but I was just reaching out to ask him, you know, do you think it’d be worth me looking at flow in my research and in athletes and you know and is that, have you got any ideas or suggestions on that and you know as grad students do and I was just very fortunate to have Csikszentmihalyi or Mike. So, his name is Csikszentmihalyi, Hungarian born and in America he decided that Mike was a lot
easier to pronounce than Csikszentmihalyi. So Mike was very gracious in his time. And so I was able to meet with him and a few different occasions and I am I included an aspect of flow in my masters and then I went on and I included what flow became my PhD dissertation. And the reason that it did. The reason that flow became my focus, one of the big reasons I think was
in my research at UI, I was doing my research with those athletes different efforts that you have I across number of sports and looking at motivation and performance.
I decided to interview or subsample. So while it was a quantitative self-report study I decided that I also was going to interview a small subsample and in that interview I was going to start asking them about flow, just to see, you know what I find and that became for me, the most powerful part of the whole research process actually sitting in this little tiny grad office doing an interview with these athletes and just being blown away by how important flow was to them. And they to generally didn’t have a language for it, but it was the driving force in many, many ways, and it was it was and then the curious thing was that I get up, we’d finish the interview, you get up to leave and I’d have several of them thank me for asking them about their experience rather than their performance. They would say things like everyone always asks me about my performance, you know, how did you go you know what was the result. What you know what happened and yet he was I asked him about or what’s your experience like when you’re performing? And I realized that that was a really valuable area to tap into. So that then became my PhD is to look at that a more in depth.
Cindra: Wonderful. So just in case people, I think the word flow and zone maybe people might call it right. I think it’s in our language we use it a lot. I think we should define exactly what it means is we talk more about, okay, how do we more consistently experience flow? And so, I heard you say being fully immersed in the task. How would you describe what flow is for those people who are listening?
Susan: Yeah. It’s being totally engaged in a task and words like immersion, absorption are useful words and that total task engagement leads to a somewhat different state of awareness or consciousness than what our normal state of awareness or consciousness is and it’s a heightened state of awareness so that we are much more in tune with what we’re doing, we’re much more aware of the relationship between ourselves and the performance. So, if we’re an athlete with the equipment that we might be using all the surfaces on which were performing or the teammates like this. There’s just much more of an intuitive connection happening there because of the total task engagement. So that’s the thing that that then allows you to experience a heightened state of awareness that then is often associated with your best levels of performance. And as I learned just as importantly with your most enjoyable experiences as in the things that make you do what you do and that you remember the important aspects of your time in that activity.
Cindra: So, Sue do you think that you just mentioned that, you know, it’s often related to high performance or peak performance if we’re performing at our best. Could we also experience flow when we aren’t necessarily performing at our best?
Susan: Yeah, I mean I think that, I don’t think you’re going to perform poorly when you’re in flow. However, you can perform, you can be doing something that’s not even a performance and be in flow, like you can be reading a book and Csikszentmihalyi, one of his books is actually on finding flow in everyday life. So I think it’s called The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life and there was a 1997 publication and that was a summation of his research looking at people through the research lens that he did the experience sampling method, looking at people living their lives and how flow might appear in their lives. So flow is not just reserved for high performance. It’s more an experience that we can tap into. And that if we are performing it’s likely to enhance our performance and if we’re not performing it’s likely to enhance our experience and so, it’s, yeah, it’s a really valuable state to understand
Cindra: Yeah. One of the things I wanted to talk more about with you is this idea of the challenge and skill balance. And so, tell us a bit about this concept, how it relates to flow and how would you describe you know this challenge and skill relationship?
Susan: So operationally Csikszentmihalyi has defined flow as a balance between challenges and skills were both are being extended for the individual. So you’re stepping out of your comfort zone with a level of skill that will enable you to do so effectively and so both challenge and skill are relevant to the experience of flow and it’s thought that when you’ve got the challenges slightly extending the skills, that’s going to be most conducive to a flow experience. And we had a little discussion before we went on to the interview about, you know what, what might that ratio be and I think that it’s probably an individual variance factor there as to how, what is the size of that gap between the difference between challenges and skills, but I think that just that sense that you’re going to move beyond wanting to be fully in control of the situation, which is a state that you know, in an achievement situation, we often want to gravitate towards, we want to feel in control. It’s being able to step out of that a little bit and to at the same time, trust your skills will be able to allow you to perform at that next level.
Cindra: Absolutely. And so we were talking, to catch people up on our conversation. We were talking about the book The Rise of the Superman by Steven Kotler and we are talking about in this book, I was asking you about it before we hit record and Stephen talks about how to experience flow what you’re doing should be 4% greater than your skill level in order to keep your attention or release dopamine, and so he suggests that when we move beyond the 4% that we can become over challenged. And we were just talking about. That may or may not be 4% but you’re kind of saying Sue, that it’s individualized. Can you kind of describe that a little bit more. And I think really the point is that the challenge should equal the skill. So I think about if I was playing Michael Jordan at basketball like neither of us would get in the flow.
Susan: I think Michael Jordan can probably get into flow pretty much anytime Cindra: What did you say?
Susan: I think Michael Jordan can get into flow pretty much on demand. I think that’s one of the things that separates him or separated him as a as a player. He is very much a great
example of someone that could just flick a switch and go into, you know, an optimal state. And most of us don’t have that switch to flick, unfortunately.
Cindra: Do you think it’s something we can develop?
Susan: And yeah, we can certainly get better at it. But I think that Michael Jordan is a rare exception and he’s not the only one of course, there are other people that are outstanding performance as well. And right now.
Susan: That was my cat.
Cindra: That’s awesome.
Susan: When she feels like she’s alone. She gets all upset and she cries, she’s okay sorry.
Susan: Um, so I think that to get back to your question. We can all improve our potential to experience flow, we can train for it. It’s not something that most of us in my opinion, and maybe this is me putting limitations on that. I don’t think most of us will just be able to flick a switch and get into flow. But I think that I suppose the example of Michael Jordan shows that there’s that potential for us as human beings to be able to do it and certainly there are other examples of, you know, outstanding performers who probably have got that level of control and for Michael Jordan, I think, was very much a motivation factor as well that that was so strong, you know, having watched this documentary recently the I thought that was a great insight into the mind of a high performer.
Cindra: Yeah I did as well. And when I watched it, I thought about how he found motivation in everything, and sometimes he would even make up stories. Right. Yeah. And he was able to kind of what you said flip that switch really quickly. So I like what you said Sue, is like improve our potential to experience flow.
Susan: Yeah. And so I think, you know, getting back to what’s that ratio of the challenge to balance, you know, for someone like Michael Jordan. It was probably he wanted that ratio to be quite large, because his skill set was so high and as you said, I’ll keep want to find ways to motivate himself and whatever it took to motivate himself, just so that that challenge would be upped for him. And so I think it’s about having a good self-awareness and this is where mindfulness is for me, you know, the pathway to learn to get better to tap into your potential to experience flow. So having an awareness of what your skill set is in the task. It’s the situation that that you are wanting to experience flow in and that you’re wanting to perform well in and understanding what the challenges are. So being clear on the challenges being clear on your skills and then recognizing that both of those are modifiable.
Susan: We can modify challenges, up and down, we can always build our skills we generally we don’t want to downgrade our skills. Unless, for example, Michael Jordan’s playing Cindra in a one on one on basketball and then perhaps you know, but those sort of situations like mostly we are wanting to be constantly getting better. I mean, that’s what motivation is, it’s to be learning. It’s to be developing it’s to be getting to a higher skill set and for high performers that that’s what drives all high performance, isn’t it, it’s about okay, can I get to that next step and then can I get to that next step, and so on. And having said that, I just like a caution that that I have learned through experience and through talking with athletes too is that if it’s always the focus on the next step, then you can also lose the joy of the moment. And so the journey is what’s important and that’s come through with my research with elite athletes and it’s certainly something that Csikszentmihalyi would strongly emphasize is that the performance is important, however, it’s the experience that you have along the way that determines ultimately, the quality of what that experience is like and how it’s remembered. So if you have an absolutely terrible experience in a high performance setting, whatever that setting is whether it’s the corporate world or the elite athlete world or performing arts, you achieve amazing things but you are absolutely unhappy. And so, you’re constantly challenged and you can build your skills and so on until you can tap into flow. And you may be gifted and so you’re more likely to get to really high levels, but if your experience along the way is horrible than you’ve got to question that and so I have learned over the years of researching flow and sort of reflecting myself on my experiences that that journey is really important and that it’s about being able to be in the experience of what you are doing and to find a way within that experience to get immersed in it to get yourself focused on the task to find a challenge skill balancing whatever you’re doing, and to allow yourself to experience positive qualities and to if you can’t be experiencing positive qualities to see what can you do, what’s within your control to enable you to find some level of positive qualities, you know, we’re living in a time now where that’s pretty demanding all around for everyone. So it is more of a challenge. But yeah, I do recall that athletes, no matter what level they had attained. And that was, including, you know, those who attain the very top of this sport; So won national championships won Olympic medals. And for them, the message that I was getting was what was important was the experience that they were having and those flow experiences was what was motivating them to continue in what they were doing equally, if not more so than what next level of achievement. They could attain.
Cindra: And Sue do you think that this intrinsic motivation of just enjoying what you’re doing is that I know that’s one of the components of flow, but is that a prerequisite like meaning, can I not get in flow if I’m not enjoying what I’m doing?
Susan: I think that it’s not regarded as a prerequisite. It’s actually regarded more as one of the outcome experiences of being in flow that then becomes a driver for you to seek out more flow is that you’ve tapped into it. It is enjoyable and then that then becomes a motivator. Oh, that was a really enjoyable experience, I would like to experience that again. And so I think it’s more once you’ve experienced flow, that then sets the stage for you to, to, well, if, if you want to be motivated by it like it’s totally everyone has a choice whether that matters to them or not, but I haven’t come across anyone that’s like oh yes flow is great and I don’t care if I experience it
anymore. Like it’s flow is great and I’d really like to experience it some off. Yeah, then yeah, it’s about how do we help people to do that.
Cindra: I think one of your messages that you just said is really powerful that we can modify our challenge and modify our skill and what I heard you say is like that we can continue to improve our skill. But we can find this challenge and skill balance more often. I’d love to learn more from your perspective on like how do we actually do that? I’m thinking about people that are listening who might be, you know, business leaders, how can I tap into that or coaches or athletes?
Susan: So how do we develop the challenge skill balance?
Cindra: Yeah. How do we find it, develop it? Tell us a bit more about how we might modify that?
Susan: I think sport and that might have been why Csikszentmihalyi was interested in helping me develop my interest in looking at flowing sport, by its very structure has inbuilt challenges and probably in the corporate world there’s inbuilt challenges in terms of like levels of achievement and levels of attainment and so on. And so when you’ve got something structured like sport or work the challenges, they’re generally evident and it’s a matter of then developing the next precondition for flow which is clear goals. So then you need to set for yourself clear goals. So, the challenges are there and then you define which challenges are going to be relevant to you. And then, what skills do you bring to that. And then in an ongoing process, it’s this, it’s not like, oh, I found the challenge to balance. I’m here. Now you know it’s like, that’s the starting point and then an activity by definition is like moves forward. Like, it’s not just a static thing. And so, it’s about continuing to find that challenge your balance and continuing to move forward. And that’s where the other two preconditions flow from Csikszentmihalyi and Jean McNamara, his long-term colleague have identified from the dimensions of flow clear goals and an ambiguous feedback. So first of all, having clear goals about what, what for me is the challenge. What skills do I need to bring so that’s like putting the, it’s kind of putting a process to the challenge skills balance is the clear goals. And then taking on board feedback as you go. So being able to receive feedback. So you need to have a situation where there’s feedback about your performance. And then being able to take that on board in a way that will then allow you to continue to work in a place where that balance is moving forward.
Cindra: Excellent. So, Sue earlier you said like we can improve our potential to experience flow. And that’s what I wanted to talk about next is like how do we, when we’ve talked about little bit about that. But let’s talk about it more in depth. It’s like how we experience this more often, because honestly, I’d love to experience it multiple times in one day, I want to experience it more often is, I know the people who are listening do as well so yeah. What would you say is one of the main ways that we can improve our potential to experience flow?
Susan: Yeah, so I think find an activity that you enjoy is a good starting point, because you’re more likely to be able to tap into flow in that activity. So for you Cindra. What activity do you
find flowing like most all, most of all, or you know that it’s more likely to occur. And what for what for you? Would that be?
Cindra: I would say to that coming to my mind right away like running for sure, particularly when I’m really fit and it goes by a little bit quicker and then writing I really like to write and so sometimes I can write for a couple hours and I’m like, whoa, what just happened to the time?
Susan: Yeah I’m like very, very similar like definitely for me writing and reading and then doing different sports. And so I think if you can tap into. So if you’re wanting to cultivate your understanding of flow and your experience of flow is start with an activity that you’re already able to immerse yourself into. So it’s not like it’s really hard for you to concentrate because we already discussed how the defining feature of flow is being totally engaged in the task. So you want to choose a task where that’s going to be facilitating for you. And then, and then once you’ve got the ability to experience flow in that activity, then you’re learning about what, what does it take from you internally and what in your external environment does it take for you to be able to experience flow and you can apply that to other activities. So, I think that’s probably a good starting point and then in terms of one’s internal world, I think learning to understand that we can be in the present moment, and that we have that part of being a human being is having an awareness of our experience. And another part of being a human being is that we have a thinking mind and it’s the thinking mind that we tend to get emphasized, and particularly, you know, going through that academic life. You know, it’s that thinking mind that’s really important and for school kids and for university students and then if you’re going into a job, you know, it’s about learning the skills, getting the information. And so it’s always emphasized about our thinking. But as we both know, our thinking isn’t always helpful or accurate and this is another part of being a human, which is about being able to tap in to the information our senses are giving us. And so, we’re talking now about this whole realm of mindfulness. And so being able to develop the awareness of where you are, like, where you are in terms of your focus of attention and it’s the first point and then being able to train to bring your attention back to the present because our minds will always wander away from the present. And but we can definitely get better at becoming, noticing when we’re not in the present and bringing ourselves back to the present more quickly and then without judgment. So mindfulness for me is, is the key pathway to flow.
Cindra: Nice. That’s really helpful to hear that perspective that developing mindfulness is the way to tap in or a way or the main way to tap into the flow experience so, we’ve talked about on this podcast in the past about, you know, how do you be in the present more often. But what would you say is, as people who are listening who want to experience this more often. So, what would you say is maybe the way to start?
Susan: To start being in the present more often. And, you know, practicing with a very simple mindfulness practice like your breathing and following your breathing and developing the amount of time that you might you might start with one minute of just following the breathing and that’s all you’re going to pay attention to and you’ll notice in that one minute that you probably, your mind wandered and then you know you’re starting off a new skill and so then
you’re gradually develop the, the challenge there in terms of what you pay attention to and you might start that breathing practice lying down on the floor where there’s no distractions and then ultimately, you might be in a really chaotic sports moment in terms of, you know, a lot of things happening or you’re in a very chaotic and high pressured performing situation in the corporate world and you’re still able to notice your breathing and you’re still able to connect with the present moment through that so yeah, it’s learning the skill and then being able to develop that skill and then to be able to apply it to the situations where you’re going to most need it, which is in those performing situations. Now you can’t just expect that okay, yeah, I practiced once or twice. And so now I’ve got it. It’s for anyone that is familiar with mindfulness. And if you are already working in that space. It’s a, it’s a lifelong journey.
Cindra: Yes that’s helpful. Just to say that that it’s not something that you just practice once, and you can be mindful. So it is a lifelong journey, you know, what about those people who say I just want to flip on a switch to get into flow. What would you say to that Sue?
Susan: Good luck. If you’re Michael Jordan, then yeah, you probably don’t even need the luck, you know, we all know those people that are highly gifted and have that ability to flick, flick on a switch or just move into a different zone. But, but for most of us it’s a pathway and it involves a dedication, it involves first of all, a motivation. So you want you want to decide is it important for you was once you once you make something an intention, then it’s more likely to be in your awareness and to be something that guide you and also you become aware when you’re not when you’re moving away from that intention and then developing skills in your in your arena, whatever that is. And being open to feedback. Taking on a mastery mindset or a growth mindset, rather than a fixed mindset because obviously, if you have a fixed mindset, you might achieve flow, but you’re not going to continue to achieve flow because you can’t ever improve your skill. So, you know, by definition, if you if you only have a certain level of skills and reached it, there’s not going to be a pathway to flow. So, it’s very much about having an ability to see failure as learning and to be able to become resilient in that way to challenges or knock backs if you want to call them that. And then I think also what’s important is while I’ve said, having that intention for flow is important. It’s not what you want to be focused on while you’re doing the activity, like if you’re like, it’s kind of like it’s no use if you’re doing, if you’re in a race and you say your focus is on you want to win. Like, you just keep coming back to that. I mean, most of the time, that’s not going to be helpful and if you similarly going to that race and you’re like, I want to be in flow, I want to be in flow. It’s like you’re making yourself further and further away from flow because you’re kind of trying to force something versus letting go of all of the things that get in the way of getting into flow.
Cindra: That’s really, really powerful. And I’m so glad that you said that that’s gonna be my next question like, should we have a goal of experiencing flow more often. And if we’re so focused on you know, getting in the flow, then that prohibits us from getting there because we’re thinking more about the outcome, instead of like being fully, fully immersed in the present. Besides, like, you know, thinking about getting in the flow prohibits us from getting there. What other things in your opinion prohibits us from getting in the flow like I’m wondering if an
outcome focus, like focusing on you know that the score or if you’re winning or you’re losing that would get in my way of really immersed in the present.
Susan: Mm hmm. Yeah. And yeah, so definitely forcing it focusing on outcomes, focusing on yourself. So there’s a difference between focusing on the task which involves yourself and focusing on yourself as something to evaluate and so we, as humans, we get very much caught up in what’s called self-consciousness, worried about how are we presenting ourselves? how are we performing? Are we doing well enough? What’s so and so going to think? What are they thinking of me right now? I’m no good. So once you get caught into that self, self, self, then you’re just so far away from anything positive, including flow because you’re not focused on the task, you’re focused on yourself in a way that’s got that’s just layered with judgments and evaluation. So, one of the dimensions of flow that has been consistently found across different settings is a loss of self-consciousness. So you let go of that worry about yourself and about evaluation. So I think that’s a real critical one. And probably one of the more challenging ones, and it’s when you do get that, that I think that’s what makes that’s one of the things that makes flow so special is that you can just lose yourself in the activity and stop worrying about yourself for that period of time. Yeah, yeah. So one of the things that makes flow so special is being able to get totally absorbed in what you’re doing and to forget about yourself for a little while and forget about your worries and forget about evaluation and performance and that, that I think is, is really what sets flow apart is that ability to just become really so involved with what you’re doing that. Nothing else matters. And yeah so you’re really, you’re fully engaged and you’re living life fully at that moment.
Cindra: So I think about how flow is how it’s connected to failure and mistakes. And I think what you just said is really powerful Sue that if we’re beating ourselves up after making a mistake right then, all of a sudden we don’t have that loss of self-consciousness. We’re thinking too much about the task at hand and thinking about ourselves, you know, tell us a bit more about how do you think the flow states connect to mistakes or failure?
Susan: Well, I think I’ve been talking about how flow is connected in with mastery or growth mindset. And that was one of the things that I was looking at in my research both as a grad student and subsequently was looking at relationships between the achievement motivation model that will define a mastery mindset and an outcome mindset and an experience of flow and definitely you know mastery wins every time like having that growth mindset, being able to take on personal challenges and to define success by achieving a next personal challenge, whatever that is, and then and then you’re already like into that that place of you’re aware of challenge and skills and you’ve defined challenges and skills in a way that you have control over. So you’re clear goals are about things that you have control over which is your performance and the process of your performance versus all of those other things that we can get caught up in that we don’t have control over, like the weather, like the opposition, like the fact that we tripped when we didn’t think we’re going to fall and things like that because there was something in the environment that made us trip. So, all of these things that we don’t have control over. There’s no point making that our focus our focus is okay, so what is my goal here? What, what is the what is the thing that I’m wanting to develop and learn and achieve here and
then getting the feedback about how your how you’re doing in relation to that because as you know like if you’re if you’re doing something and you get not getting any feedback you start to question, so the problem with not getting feedback as you go along is that mind that question in mind will go well how am I actually doing? And is this good enough? And why am I doing this? And so yeah the getting the feedback is important so that that’s something to coach. You know, a coach or a mentor can help with is providing feedback to help you. And I guess that’s why coaches and mentors are so important. One reason is that they’re be able to provide feedback to you as your on your journey. It’s really hard when you you’re doing it alone. And when you are not able to get feedback about how you’re doing.
Cindra: Absolutely. Sue, I think I could talk to you for several hours about flow. I’m so grateful that you were here spending the time with us today. I’m going to work to summarize today and then would love to hear about how people can connect with you and any other final words that you have. So, we defined flow as a being fully immersed or engaged in the task at hand. And we talked about how many times when you experience flow you’re also experiencing a peak performance and that it happens when there’s this balance between the challenge and skill, but we can modify that. Which I think is powerful just to consider. You talked about how mindfulness is the gateway or pathway to experience the flow and that we can improve our potential to experience flow, but it’s really about, you know, I think, I think the mindfulness part is powerful because it’s about being engaged in the present moment. And then I loved at the end when we were talking about like what gets in our way of experiencing flow with like forcing it or focusing on the outcomes or focusing on yourself being self-conscious and really being free of judgment is really key. So, Sue, thank you so much for joining us today on the podcast, I’m so grateful to talk with you and to pick your brain about the flow experience. So how could people reach out to you connect with you as I know that they’ll want to tell us where we can find you maybe on social media or the web?
Susan: Well, first of all, thank you again it was really enjoyable to chat with you and I think you summarized where we went with this interview really well. And yeah, I just encourage people to be curious about flow and to know that the more flow experiences you build you’re building a library of special experiences that will define your life and that will make your life worth living. And so it’s really worth the journey and people can find me my website is bodyandmindflow.com.au and I came up with that name many years ago, and I think the reason that I did is that I’m very much interested in the connection between body and mind and so you can find out about what I do there at my website also on Facebook under the same
tagline bodyandmindflow, Instagram is Sue Jackson_flow. So, SusanJackson_flow and very occasionally on Twitter. Dr. Susan Jackson. But I think if people wanted to learn more about what I do the websites, a good place to start. And then they can also contact me through there and so like if anybody wanted to, to engage in some consulting or coaching obviously with zoom now and with online platforms. You don’t have to be in sunny Queensland to be able to connect and so that’s been one of the beauties of one of the few positives of this really challenging time we’re living in is, is that how technology can connect us and so, yeah, it’s possible to connect with anyone, anytime really and the book Flow in Sports that you mentioned. So that was a publication that came out many years ago now, 1999 and it came out right at the time my first son was born. So there’s like two achievements. Same time. And so that was co-authored with Csikszentmihalyi, and that’s like a nice practical book about, you know, what’s flow. How do you achieve flow in some way. You don’t have to be an athlete to get something from that book. It’s called Flow in Sports but it’s about how to how to tap into flow. And I was very fortunate to have Csikszentmihalyi join me on that journey. So that was a real special opportunity for me.
Cindra: Absolutely. An incredible book I’ve read it multiple times. It’s in my office at the university or I would have had it to show you today, but incredible book. And Sue I’m just so grateful that you spent the time helping us think about how we can experience flow more often. And I think what you said at the end was perfect, that it really allows us to be more fulfilled in our lives and I think that we are all seeking. So Sue, I’m grateful for our time that we had with you today.
Susan: Thanks very much. It’s lovely to speak with you. Thank you Cindra.