Do you have clarity about why you do what you do? Clarity of purpose not just with big goals and aspirations but with the moment-to-moment activities you engage in is a fundamental property of life satisfaction as researched by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi for other three decades. The idea of clarity of purpose but more specifically knowing requirements was focused on during a recent interview I participated in. When we know the requirements associated with what we do at work, we have clarity of purpose. This clarity drives us to be effective and efficient in achieving those requirements without which we lose profit and long-term sustainability. Is this not true of our personal lives as well? Having clarity of purpose in our daily tasks and affairs leads to an enjoyable life. Have you ever noticed how time slips away when you’re so focused on what you’re doing that lose your sense of self. The ego stands aside for a moment while you climb that mountain, practice martial arts, perform in an orchestra, or build legos. This can happen in our work as well as our life maintenance activities like cooking, cleaning and taking care of kids if you have any.
The first step of achieving what Mihaly calls flow is clarity of purpose. From a quality perspective, this is knowing what the requirements are. As you do what you do, there are requirements for getting it done. If you don’t do what is needed then why do it? The second step of achieving flow is to control your attention on what matters and let the rest go. When we don’t do this, we wind up being bored as we are not challenged or we have anxiety as the challenge of everything we pay attention to is beyond our capabilities. We get distracted by other things and our performance deteriorates. If this occurs often enough, we become disassociated from what brings us joy and meaning in our lives. We lose connections with our work which can unweave other aspects of our lives leaving us unfulfilled. So, what can we do if we find ourselves in situations like this?
Another property of flow can help us here. Taking time to center ourselves in our lives and particular situations is of vital importance. In the interview mentioned above, we talked to the candidate about moving into a different modus operandi (we didn’t use Latin). The candidate was a go-getter and the type to provide point solutions to the problems brought to her. This new position required a new skill of understanding how software user problems relate to overall system architecture and administrative settings. Most of the time providing point solutions does not take into account system and strategic implications. In this new role, she would have to ensure changes don’t have down stream impacts. We told the candidate that she would have to switch into a different mode and either say “no” or ask “why” five times in order to drive to the requirement, the purpose, or the why. We talked about the importance of centering and determining an appropriate path prior to committing to a solution or particular action. And, here it is. The same is true of our personal lives. To find that state of being where we are neither bored nor anxious, we have to center ourselves, control our attention on the requirements for the present moment. In doing so, we flow with what’s happening. Time, the fire in which we burn changes into the river in which we float along between life and death. Sometimes the river will flow fast, sometimes slow. The key is to enjoy the ride instead of being burned alive.
In the quality realm of business, it’s all about knowing our requirements. In the systems and tools side of business, it’s all about getting requirements prior to making changes to software or products. So, the next time you find yourself stressed out having anxiety issues or bored out of your mind, why not ask yourself, “Got Requirements?” This can also be the phrase to keep you committed to the task at hand, “Got Requirements!” Whether you are finding flow or immersed in flow, it’s all about having clarity of purpose and the discipline to control your attention. With regard to controlling our attention the phrase works as a personal mantra to remind ourselves of what’s needed now.
On a side note, “got requirements” helps us to manage our particular balance of life, work, family, friends, and personal time. Having clarity of purpose in these realms enables us to create healthy boundaries facilitating our different lives. If using clarity of purpose, controlling our attention, and committing to the task at hand is not managing the biz of you, then I know not what is. Managing the biz of you has at its core the principle of finding life satisfaction and meaning which is exactly what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s flow theory is about. Finding flow in our work or personal aspirations enables us to find the same state of consciousness as we go about our daily lives. Walking can be a state of flow just as much as climbing a mountain. Clarity of purpose and controlled attention enables us to extract more joy out of our work, hobbies, and pleasurable experiences. This leads to one of Mihaly’s thoughts I totally relate to. “Act for the simple joy of being alive.” This mirror’s the quote I have on my smart phone home screen from Marcus Aurelius, “When you arise in the morning, think of what a privilege it is to be alive, to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.”
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