More on Flow~

In my new book, Thrive: The Highly Sensitive Person and Career, I introduced the concept of flow as a uniting factor among all HSPs.  Seems like a great concept right?  Choose a task that is challenging, not too much so, that provides immediate feedback, removes you from an awareness of time, and provides you with a sense of potential control, even if not actual control.  Flow is fundamentally operating within our spheres of proficiency, but challenging ourselves through taking on an odd, unusual, or different task.  We are suited to the task because it is within our realm of knowledge and experience, but because it is different in some way (presents a unique challenge that calls into play all of our past knowledge and experience with similar tasks) there is a growth opportunity.

Judy Glick-Smith, in Integral Leadership Review’s August-November edition, relates her experiences working with firefighters and the flow experience.  Reading her article triggered a memory for me that takes us back to 1985 when I was in the U.S. Army at a tactical air defense missile site near the border of what was then West Germany and Czechoslovakia.  It was a bright, sunny, warm day on the “hill” and I was selected for an elite crew whose task that day was to assemble a HAWK missile in under 60 minutes.  The catch?  We had to perform this most complex and technically challenging process while wearing full nuclear, biological, and chemical gear (NBC)!

The gear consisted of our normal camouflage uniform with undershirt and outer-shirt, camouflage pants, socks, and combat boots, plus an outer jacket that I can only describe as a medium weight winter coat (designed to resist chemical attacks with activated charcoal embedded in the material), additional pants made of a similar material, cumbersome rubber booties one had to lace up and tie securely, rubber gloves (rather like tall kitchen gloves), and to top it all off a gas mask with a hood that pulled over and around the head and down the upper chest and which was then secured by  Velcro straps and completed with a steel pot combat helmet for the head.  In short, most of the senses were greatly diminished.  One could see through the two lenses in the mask, but there was no real peripheral vision; voices could be heard, but were muffled, which meant we had to speak into each others ears directly; the sense of touch was greatly diminished due to the rubber gloves, which soon filled with sweat and became slippery inside; and perhaps the biggest issue: it quickly became quite hot inside the suits as we received the signal to “go!”

The entire scene looked something like the photo below, though this particular photo depicts an already assembled HAWK missile dangling from straps attached to a loader (a tracked vehic1005568_4974970943265_978762724_nle with hydraulic arms used to move missiles).  Our crew’s task was to carefully remove the missile from the “can,” of which you can see several lying horizontally in the photo, and move through the process of removing all of the components which make up a HAWK missile (including the wings), and attach a bracket to the missile itself after it is pulled out of its sliding rack, so that it may be picked up by the loader and moved to a separate assembly rack.  Doesn’t sounds so very difficult right?  Until you factor in the heat, which quickly meant the NBC suits filled with sweat and breathing through the gas mask required a real effort to contain a natural sense of claustrophobia, all while under a strict time constraint.  Without this certification as a crew the air defense unit would not have been allowed to go “online” as an active combat unit protecting the skies of southern Germany from the Warsaw Pact at a time when the Cold War was still very real to all of us.  The moment was now when we were called upon to rise to this challenge.

I am happy to report all went well.  The crew was able to assemble a complete HAWK missile in 56 minutes.  The moment I recall best is when we left the assembly area and pulled off our gas masks, which released a quantity of sweat as the rubber seals released from our soaked skin.  Stripping off the heavy, sweat-soaked NBC suits was undoubtedly one of the most fulfilling things I have ever Tracy 84felt.  The fresh air was a delight and our bodies soon cooled down.  We had risen to the challenge, entered a flow state where we were all matched to the task, lost all sense of time as we focused on the tasks at hand, and experienced a flow state where, at the end, we all knew none of us would forget.

Dr. Glick-Smith articulates that “there are five pillars of flow that must be in place for flow to happen: knowledge of our own triggers of flow, preparation, physical readiness, mental alignment, and spiritual connection.”  Many HSPs find themselves with entirely too much going on cognitively, emotionally, and socially (at least in terms of intensity of the interpersonal experience).  For HSPs entering the flow state, even being able to trigger it, may be a true lifesaver and offer a growth avenue we should not ignore.  Nearly all of the HSPs I have ever spoken with seemed to be individuals of high potential.  However, I have also often sensed a milieu of thoughts, emotions, and feelings that confuse, irritate, or otherwise may impair growth opportunities.  Flow states for the HSP is likely where we are going to be performing at our best, grow the most, and experience the exhilaration and sense of control so many of us desperately need.

One last aspect of the flow state I’d like to mention is that the experience itself, when it’s really good, becomes autotelic, or worth doing for its own sake.  When one is engaged in such a state, or finds activities that offer this possibility work ceases to be work and becomes fulfilling and gratifying in ways other forms of compensation can never reach.  In Thrive I offer a window into the many varied experiences of HSPs (chapter 9 specifically) as they relate to us their stories of challenge and engagement, hope and pain, compromise and pragmatism.  To read more about flow and many other aspects of life related to the HSP and work I invite you to consider picking up a copy of my new book Thrive: The Highly Sensitive Person and Career.

You may purchase the print version of the book at:

The Ebook version may be found at:

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