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FREEDOM FRIDAY: Flow beats struggle

You can listen to the podcast version of this episode on Apple, Spotify, or these audio player:

Some men will glorify the struggle all the way to the grave.

Others will follow the "Struggle Pornographers" (plenty of them here on LinkedIn) right off a cliff.

And yet others will hit the wall before the cliff and finally realize that, in the words of the late, great Stuart Wilde...

"Life was never meant to be a struggle."

Flow Beats Struggle

When you get to heaven, there are points for how much you struggled on Earth.

That, of course, is a joke — yet there are plenty of men out there who act as if it is a truth.

They may not consciously admit it, but subconsciously, they're programmed to believe it. The "need" to struggle gets programmed into our subconscious from an early age.

We saw our mom and dad struggle and so, whether we want to or not, we seek out struggle, as well.

Seek out struggle? "That's preposterous, Curt!"

Remember — the subconscious is responsible for 95% of our cognition, and your subconscious is always "turned on." It's always downloading everything from your environment, even if you don't "consciously" realize it.

So what you saw from your parents, your teachers, your peers, your bosses, your politicians — all got downloaded into your subconscious.

(And, by the way, keep in mind the fact that your kids' subconscious is downloading EVERYTHING you do and say. If you're programmed to seek struggle...they will be programmed that way, as well.)

Let me be clear: We should be prepared to overcome adversity, but we are not required to seek it out.

It was really damn easy for me to build a 7-figure agency, but I constantly felt "less than" or like an "imposter" because I didn't struggle to get there. It took me years to realize that I was subconsciously self-abusing my mind by thinking that way.

So I learned to identify, clear, and clean these subconscious limiting beliefs — and now I help driven men learn to do the same thing.


Because these limiting beliefs — including the belief that you "have" to struggle, form a dam that prevents you from getting in the state of Wu-Wei, or effortless flow.

And, believe you me, flow beats struggle.

The Importance of Flow

A talent for “guiding water from one place to another” is one of the many skills Leonardo da Vinci claimed when applying for a job with Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan.

da Vinci made the claim despite the fact, as Walter Isaacson pointed out in his bestselling biography, Leonardo da Vinci,” the artist/inventor “… had done no hydraulic engineering.” A fascination with water and how it moved, however, was a common theme throughout Isaacson’s book (and da Vinci’s life).

During the course of his amazing life, da Vinci had designed and proposed ways for cities to manage, divert, and utilize their waterways for everything from public health to transportation to fortification.

As Isaacson writes, the roots of da Vinci’s fascination with the movement of water had much to do with what he saw as the stark similarities between the flow of the waters of the earth and within the human body.

As da Vinci wrote in a 1490s notebook entry...

“As man has a pool of blood in which the lungs rise and fall in breathing, so the body of the earth has its ocean tide which likewise rises and falls every six hours. As the blood veins originate in that pool and spread all over the human body, so likewise the ocean sea fills the body of the earth with springs of water.”

In his now-famous notebook, Codex Leicester (now owned by Microsoft founder Bill Gates), da Vinci wrote...

“The body of the earth, like the bodies of animals, is interwoven with ramifications of veins, which are all joined together and are formed for the nutrification and vivification of this earth and its creatures.”

He continued that for the earth...

“… its blood is the veins of waters; the lake of the blood, which is throughout the heart, is the ocean; its breathing and the increase and decrease of the blood through the pulses in the earth is thus: is the ebb and flow of the sea.”

da Vinci also examined how certain obstacles would impact the flow of water below the surface, how they would change the currents and the visual patterns created by the water.

In the flow of water, da Vinci saw one of the foundations of the health and life of the earth, the human body, and even of cities and towns. In fact, whether that water was impeded, or allowed to flow naturally could determine the life, or death, of these entities.

Flow Systems

More than five centuries later, author Max Borders further examined the impact of flow on the world in his book, Superwealth. His purpose is to show the impact of flow on market economies and draws upon the work of Duke University physics professor Adrian Bejan, who wrote that “… living beings and inanimate phenomena” have what he defines as “flow systems” in common.

Borders wrote...

“Flow systems — from animal locomotion to the formation of river deltas — evolve in time to balance and minimize imperfections. Flows evolve to reduce friction or other forms of resistance, so that they flow more easily with time. This view has been termed the constructal law, which Bejan first stated 13 years ago.”

In fact, Bejan, recipient of the 2018 Ben Franklin Medal for “constructal theory,” has written...

“… for a finite-size system to persist in time (to live), it must evolve in such a way that it provides easier access to the imposed currents that flow through it.”

The flow system can apply to anything in nature, including the human body. The idea is that systems work best when things are most easily allowed to flow from one point to another.

Borders applies the idea of “flow systems” to market economics. That is, the economy works best when it is allowed to flow like a river — but stops up when too many obstructions (like a dam) are put in the way.

Can such “flow systems” be applied to our lives?

Optimal Experience

Long-distance running wasn’t something that came naturally to me. I’m short, stocky, carry a good bit of muscle, and don’t have the long, sinewy legs usually identified with long-distance runners. What I lacked in natural talent, however, I attempted to make up for in grit and mindset.

During our high school cross-country practices, I was always breathing a bit harder and my heart pumping a little bit more than my fellow teammates — even when I was even or a bit ahead of them. The number of strides I took over a three-mile race was considerably more than most of my teammates.

In short, running long distances was more of a grind for me than more-natural runners. There were those days, however, when everything came more easily. There were runs where I found myself in a total rhythm — when my strides, my breathing, my heartrate all seemed to be in sync. It was during those runs that I lost all track of time. Not only could I rip of 14, 15, 16 miles at a time, I did so in a seemingly effortless fashion.

It seemed as if there were no obstacles in my way. The wind, the ground, the weather, my lungs — nothing felt as if it was holding me back. In other words, I felt like I was in a state of … flow.

Hungarian-American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (who passed away earlier this year) referred to this state of flow as one in which we have an “optimal experience.”

As he wrote in Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience...

“The key element of an optimal experience is that it is an end in itself. Even if initially undertaken for other reasons, the activity that consumes us becomes intrinsically rewarding. Surgeons speak of their work: ‘It is so enjoyable that I would do it even if I didn’t have to.’ Sailors say: ‘I am spending a lot of money and time on this boat, but it is worth it — nothing quite compares with the feeling I get when I am out sailing.’ ”

In the case of my running, it was during these “flow runs” where I didn’t dread being out in the cold, the endorphins were rushing to my brain, and I was just in a state of bliss. It wasn’t about getting in shape, nor was it about winning a race (in almost every case, my flow runs were alone). It was about the very run itself.

Csikszentmihalyi wrote of these experiences as “autotelic..."

“The term ‘autotelic’ derives from two Greek words, auto meaning self, and telos meaning goal. It refers to a self-contained activity, one that is done not with the expectation of some future benefit, but simply because the doing itself is the reward.”

He explained further...

“When the experience is autotelic, the person is paying attention to the activity for its own sake; when it is not, the attention is focused on its consequences.”

In a September 1996 interview with Wired magazine, he described flow as...

“Being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”

How can we work to get ourselves in a state of flow? What are the characteristics of such an optimal experience? According to Csikszentmihalyi, there are eight such characteristics:

  • Complete concentration on the task

  • Clarity of goals and reward in mind and immediate feedback

  • Transformation of time (speeding up/slowing down of time)

  • The experience being intrinsically rewarding

  • Effortlessness and ease

  • Balance between challenge and skills

  • Actions and awareness are merged, losing self-conscious rumination

  • A feeling of control over the task

In order to cultivate your life of joy, fulfillment, and freedom, it’s vital to be intentional about creating a state of flow as much as possible in our lives. Whereas it’s become popular for social media influencers to talk about "grinding," or post that "your struggle is your story," it’s actually much more important to spend your days “flowing.”

The Final Pillar of the Freedom Lifestyle

In my book, Five Pillars of the Freedom Lifestyle, the reason that flow is the final pillar of the is that it can result from the cumulative effects of adapting the other four pillars to your life.

  • Superpowers: It’s when you work in your “superpowers zone” that things come more easily to you. Writing with your dominant hand is much easier, efficient, and less sloppy than writing with your non-dominant hand. This is a simple example of using your superpowers. You “flow” with your dominant hand, not so much with your non-dominant. You’re able to do more challenging activities with greater ease, and it’s when you’re in this superpowers zone that you can lose track of time during the activity.

  • Vision: A clearly defined vision provides great clarity in terms of your desired outcome for your life — and if it is big and audacious, as I’ve suggested, it is absolutely intrinsically rewarding.

  • Alignment: The very notion of alignment implies a flow between the three facets of your life: family, self, and work. When you are fulfilled in your life, your days are certainly more intrinsically rewarding, and you have more of a sense of control of your days — rather than a feeling that any one facet of your life (namely work) is in control of you.

  • Outcomes: The vision you’ve defined is the clear goal for your life. Building a radically outcomes-focused life ensures that you’ve got those rewarding goals set for every day, every week, every month, and every year. It’s also about removing the needless inputs that dam up the rivers of your day. Remember: The key is finding the shortest, straightest, simplest line to your outcomes. In other words, making sure the river to your outcome flows freely.

Perhaps nobody summed this up better than Csikszentmihalyi himself, when he wrote...

“Even the simplest physical act becomes enjoyable when it is transformed so as to produce flow. The essential steps in this process are: (a) to set an overall goal, and as many sub-oals as are realistically feasible; (b) to find ways of measuring progress in terms of the goals chosen; (c) to keep concentrating on what one is doing, and to keep making finer and finer distinctions in the challenges involved in the activity; (d) to develop the skills necessary to interact with the opportunities available; and (e) to keep raising the stakes if the activity becomes boring.”

In other words: Let your freedom flow.

And if you'd like to learn how I can help you dissolve the dam of limiting beliefs that's impeding the flow of your life, please click here to schedule a call with me.

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