Seeking to be “in Flow” rather than to attain

Michael Jordan and Flow

In this last week of the year, I have been writing some simple daily musings on themes such as slowing down (here and here) and being patient (here and here). Today, inspired (as I often am) by the thoughts of my friend Chip Conley, I reflect on what happens when we choose to be patient, to allow our thoughts and actions to slow down.

When we stop pushing to attain, to drive, to push towards goals and attaining achievements, we can attune, “tune in” more. We can be “in Flow”.

Read on for more on “Flow”, what slowing down and patience can bring to this, then for Chip’s post that inspired me.

When we are so attuned, we can both be more present and “in Flow” to what we are doing in the moment, and we can also then recognise where we can step off the path and make new choices.

What is “Flow”? My favourite all-time moment was from Michael Jordan in the 1992 NBA Finals, and (when I was a competitive athlete) I can vividly remember key moments of Flow myself, where time slowed down, everything felt easy, I was totally relaxed and at the same time playing at my best. For more, visit this past post featuring Michael Jordan, Jason Silva and Mikhail Csikszentmihalyi and his now legendary TED talk from 2004.

A great example of this for me was from 2018, where I had two of my sons visiting me for the summer and, by allowing myself to be “in flow”, two wonderful experiences were created, as told in: “Only enough Structure to allow Flow“.

So, as we reach the end of the year, many will be looking at goals and even resolutions for the New Year. Sure, do so if this works for you, and in so doing, I encourage you to also be “attuned” (and perhaps read back through the last few posts in sequence to support your attunement).

Today I leave you with Chip’s post that inspired me today:

Attain or Attune?
Attain: “to achieve through effort”
Attune: “to adjust as to be harmonious”
Atone: “to make reparations for a sin, crime, or error”
At one: “in a state of harmony or accord”

Living most of the year on a street with no name that faces the Pacific Ocean gives me time to calculate my emotional balance sheet for the state of affairs brewing in my body, mind, and spirit. One can contemplate one’s life on a back alley of Mumbai or on a subway in Manhattan, but it’s uncrowded paradises like Baja that offer us the wide margins in which to make our notes about how we’re spending this “one wild and precious life.”

And, wide open spaces often reveal what’s lurking behind the mask. Baja can be a magnifying mirror in unexpected ways. This can accelerate a relationship break-up or a new romance, it can reveal an old emotional pain that you thought had healed, and it can illuminate ways of being that don’t often come to the surface when we’re in more contained, manicured and predictable metro livelihoods. Baja is a raw, revelatory, untamed ‘hood.

One of the fascinating observations that has surfaced for me in the past few years is how this place reveals one’s default operating system. Do you “attain” or do you “attune”? One litmus test is how your body acclimates to Baja. This adventure sports capital of the world attracts “attainers” who sport fish, jet boat, mountain bike, or ATV or off-road 4×4 on deserted beaches. It also attracts “attuners” who do yoga, surf, kiteboard, scuba, kayak, or bird and whale watch. Attainers tend to “achieve through effort” or tame nature. Attuners “adjust to be harmonious” or attune with nature.

Let’s be frank. Someone can practice yoga using an “attainer” way of being or they can mountain bike in a fully “attuner” flow. When I go to my restorative yoga classes, which are very “yin,” I fall into a beautifully harmonious love puddle. But, recently, I went to a vigorous yoga class and strived and compared myself to no end. Chip, the Achiever was on full display complete with my epically-tight hamstrings and impenetrable rhomboids. Suffice it to say, I didn’t enjoy myself.

While I’m a novice surfer and can’t say I’ve taken my board to the beach more than a half-dozen times in the past half-year, I can say that I feel most at peace when I make myself harmonious to the waves. The more I attune, the more at one I feel. Strangely, when I am in my attain mode, I often feel I have to atone afterwards because of my “take no prisoners” competitive spirit (which can mean cutting off a few other surfers). So, I’m not attempting to become an expert surfer at 59 years old. But, I am learning to attune myself to the constant waves of life and enjoy my wipe-outs as much as my epic rides to the shore.

In sum, I’m not saying you should stop trying to attain or achieve in your workplace. But I am saying that it may be time for you to imagine a sport or way of being in your life where being in harmony with your surroundings pays great dividends in your experience and achievement. This won’t necessarily solve you meeting a crazy deadline for next week, but it will likely give you a new rhythm and ability to ride the waves that constantly emerge in your competitive work life.

Also published on Medium.