Flow. In the Zone

A New Zone Focus: (RE)Turn to Working Differently

change and transition emotional intelligence - self actualization emotional intelligent leader post traumatic growth ptg Jul 08, 2022

Are you preparing for your return to work? If you are returning after a personal or professional event such as recovery from critical illness, caregiving, job loss, or the pandemic, this blog will provide a shift to a new healthy mindset for the transition.

For many, a return to the physical workplace is a great relief: a “normal” routine, friendly faces, steady income. Even when the pandemic is declared as over, our ways of work have been transformed. New routines will replace the former “normal” routines. Friendly faces might still be veiled behind a mask and work hours and schedules will have already been tested as “doable”.

A sense of uncertainty, fear, and agitation is still to be expected. New levels of performance and recovery will depend on our ability to address anxiety within us, around us, and our ability to restructure flow – personally and professionally.

We have suffered loss, re-examined our values, and grown in surprising new ways. According to Dr. Erika Felix, a psychologist at UC Santa Barbara who treats and studies trauma survivors, “Most people will be resilient and return to their previous level of functioning.1 However, by definition, a crisis is something that exceeds our ability to cope. Fortunately, there are steps leaders can take to help everyone cope better and thrive.

Return to Work Requires Anxiety Management (Self-management, Self-leadership)

Dr. Julia DeGangi, neuropsychologist and expert on the effects of chronic stress on our brain and our behaviour, wrote in Harvard Business Review (June 2020)2 that three strategies can help leaders manage anxieties. I agree. These are timeless strategies that are being validated by the New Emotional Intelligent Leader:

  1. Allow greater flexibility in performance management. Avoid over-investing in processes and micromanaging schedules.
  2. Communicate clearly. Provide clarity, context, and reinforcement of priorities – not rules.
  3. Demonstrate mental toughness. This means perceiving, understanding, using, and managing your feelings. Mental toughness (resilience) requires appropriate demonstration of emotional vulnerability at the highest leadership levels. To be tough, you must first get soft.

Remember that anxiety can be a sign of productive growth in the moment. Leaders who communicate appropriately about messy issues can alleviate anxiety and model resilience. This sets the stage to restructure flow at work.

A New Zone Focus

Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a psychologist at the University of Chicago, has studied the phenomenon of "zone focus"3  or "flow" throughout his career. “Flow” is the zone state in limited form with the same attention characteristics. I usually think of “flow” as a precursor state before entering the zone that leads to new levels of performance. I have been fortunate to experience being in a state of flow and in my zone many times. Then there are times when I struggle. Being aware of the concept, validates my sense of joy and awe when I am there.

Based upon his research, Dr. Csikszentmihalyi theorized that four elements must be present to get into the flow state:

  1. Presence of a challenging activity
  2. Perception that your skills match the challenge
  3. Clear goals
  4. Availability of instant feedback concerning your performance

When these elements are present, an "order in consciousness" occurs, a lovely flow of joy and awe. This phenomenon helps people immerse themselves in an activity and have fun doing it.

As you (re)turn to a new way of working, use these four elements to create the best mental, emotional, and physical environment for your “return to new levels of performance” and the joy of working.

What do you think? How have you prepared for your return to work? How will you restructure a new zone focus?

References and Resources:

  1. Life after COVID-19: Making space for growth. Resilience vs. post traumatic growth. Erika Felix, PhD., cited/written by Kirsten Weir, American Psychological Association (June 2020).
  2. Feeling Uncomfortable with Reentry? You're on the the Right Track, Julia DeGangi, Harvard Business Review (June 2020). Three strategies that can help leaders manage anxieties.
  3. Flow (psychology) In the Zone. Wikipedia, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, psychologist at the University of Chicago.

Your Next Steps:

Are you ready to work with a qualified coach to help you develop skills, techniques, and strategies that work best for you?

Explore the connections I make with this topic and emotional intelligence. You can reach me on LinkedIn. Or click to Get in Touch

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