A Coaching Power Tool created by Kylie Johnstone
(Health and Wellness Coaching, AUSTRALIA)
We’ve probably all experienced the sensation of pressure in our lives. It’s the feeling of tension or burden that sometimes wells up when we’ve committed ourselves to something and then feel a sense of obligation, to ourselves or others, to follow through on the commitments made. Pressure can sometimes make the simplest of actions feel like drudgery, and take the joy out of an otherwise enjoyable and beneficial action. Prolonged intense feelings of pressure, whether externally or internally applied, can sometimes result in psychological issues including stress and anxiety, and even manifest physical pain and chronic illness.
Pressure can either be internally driven (when we pressure ourselves to change) or externally driven (when someone else wants us to change, such as a boss, partner, or parent). Either way, feelings of pressure don’t always empower us to take positive action. Sometimes the outcome is that we feel frustrated with ourselves and our efforts, and our language becomes infused with “shoulds” and references to our lack of willpower, discipline, or self-control.
Flow, on the other hand, is our highest state of motivated, generative progression. According to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Flow is completely focused motivation, representing perhaps the “ultimate experience in harnessing the emotions in the service of performing and learning”. Within his book, Csikszentmihalyi outlines his theory that people are happiest when they are in a state of Flow and argues that within this state, the emotions are not just contained and channelled, but positive, energized, and aligned with the task at hand.
Some people, athletes in particular, prefer to use the term “Zone”, or more specifically, being in the Zone to describe their experience of Flow. As an example, picture a professional soccer player experiencing a moment “in the Zone”. Spectators can see there is something about his gait, his ease of movement, his concentration, his rhythm that makes it appear he is no longer governed by earthly laws of physics and physiology. He receives the ball and directs it through the oncoming opposition as if they were stationary obstacles. He barely looks up to face his opponents as they swarm around him in futile attempts to defend against his assault on goal. He can’t be tackled, and won’t be diverted from his singular objective of putting the ball in the back of the net. It’s as if he is channelling all the greatest players in the history of the game and interrupting his forward motion would be akin to damming a flowing waterfall. Such is the inspired momentum driving him toward his intention.
This free flowing, unpressured state of Flow is not exclusively the domain of gifted athletes. While demonstrations of Flow may not always be quite so potent or public, we each have the potential to move into heightened states of inspiration, motivation, commitment and productivity. As coaches, we are uniquely positioned to support people manifest their own state of Flow.
Much of the literature on Flow has been developed through observations of people in Flow and having subjects describe their experiences while in this state. The lessons learnt from these observations are indeed valuable to those who find themselves “stuck” and unproductive in prioritised areas of their life.
If we consider the available information relating to the elements which characterise the state of Flow, we can extract those we consider transferable and creatively integrate them within our coaching sessions. In this way we can support clients to relieve themselves of unproductive pressure, and facilitate the manifestation of Flow into daily life.
This Power Tool seeks to:
i. Describe the positive and negative potential of pressure for the accomplishment of personal goals and objectives, particularly as it relates to personal health and wellbeing
ii. Describe the characteristics and precursory conditions of Flow
iii. Outline a process relevant to the coaching context for harnessing the positive potential of pressure, and combining it with the precursory conditions of Flow, to facilitate a deliberate and attainable state of optimal generative action and wellbeing