Ever heard of the phrase to have a mind like water? I did, when reading the German translation of Getting Things Done years ago, though somehow when reading it, I didn’t put to much of a thought into it. I don’t even remember how it was translated.
Now I got myself the audio book (which is in English, as I often read that the English version is far better than the German translation) and while hearing it, this concept somehow started to interest me. I started thinking about the mind like water and it’s implications, and I even started googling for it. Getting Things Done author David Allen describes it in the following way:
In karate there is an image that’s used to define the position of perfect readiness: “mind like water.” Imagine throwing a pebble into a still pond. How does the water respond? The answer is: Totally appropriately to the force and mass of the input; then it returns to calm. It doesn’t overreact or underreact.
It reminded me of another concept from psychology that I know of, which is called flow. Flow describes a state that is right in-between the states of mental overload and mental underload – or sometimes also referred to as the states of fear and boredom – and it is described as enduring happiness while in a state of high creativity and/or productivity, where you are highly concentrated while working, but have the feeling of effortlessness, adding a high degree of playfulness to your task. Being in flow, everything else loses importance, one doesn’t even realize how time simply “flies by”. An important factor of flow is, that you don’t try too hard, but also that your tasks are not too easy – there’s a balance between the own abilities and the tasks requirements, so that the requirements are always just slightly (and increasingly) higher then your abilites, making it neither boring nor frustrating. Or to put it in Allen’s words by describing the mind like water: you neither need to overreact nor underreact.
The state of flow is the most desirable state you want to be in, when solving tasks, because it makes you most efficient and effective, unfolds your full potential, and by doing so raises your abilities and yet you are totally relaxed, stress-free, feel content and a inner harmony. You’ll love doing what you’re doing – it won’t feel like work but like recreation.
The term Flow was coined and first researched by the Hungarian psychology professor Csíkszentmihályi Mihály in the 1970s and it is still actively investigated, having stakeholders from various fields, like business (e.g., creating environments that increase the possibility for workers to reach a flow state), medicine (e.g. for helping people with concentration disorders), or the entertainment industry (e.g. figuring out how to create computer games that have a high and long lasting success rate).